WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23:  White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during a daily briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Spicer conducted his first official White House daily briefing to take questions from the members of the White House press corps.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sean Spicer’s Abnormal Press Conference(s)

Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, made it clear in his first official briefing that, like his boss, he would break with Washington precedents. After he stepped to the lectern yesterday and read a lengthy readout of the President’s day—three Presidential memoranda signed and several meetings with corporate C.E.O.s, union officials, and congressional leaders—he called on his first news organization, the New York Post.

The Post, of course, has been documenting Trump’s career longer and more closely than any other paper in America. If you grew up in New York in the eighties, the Post is the reason you knew more about Trump than you would have liked. It’s the paper that Trump, masquerading as a P.R. representative named John Miller, would often call to leak details about his romantic conquests and the soap opera of his three marriages. Decades later, the paper, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has remained a reliable Trump booster. On Sunday, the day after Spicer shocked reporters by reading an angry statement that included at least four easily verifiable lies about the crowd size for Trump’s Inauguration, the cover of the Post promoted a “40-page souvenir section” on “Trump’s Road to the White House.” Yesterday, its cover featured Ivanka Trump in a gown—“Hail to the chic”—and included three pages of pictures on “Ivanka’s style.”

From the Post, Spicer moved on to a reporter from the Christian Broadcasting Network, who asked about abortion policy. Spicer eventually came back to the mainstream outlets in the front row. He did a commendable job of taking questions from a wide range of news organizations in a briefing that lasted well beyond the typical time period. He announced one change to the format: he would soon bring in reporters from outside Washington to ask questions via Skype, a modernization that seems harmless. Once Spicer got going, the briefing seemed almost routine—almost.

Sitting along the wall that leads into the West Wing were several of Trump’s other new communications staffers, including Omarosa Manigault, the well-known villain from “The Apprentice”—who recently told “Frontline” that “every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump,” because “it is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe”—and Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, who, in 2015, falsely accused a reporter of making up a story about being grabbed by Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.* (The event in question was recorded on video.) Sitting beside Manigault and Hicks was Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s third campaign manager, who on Sunday became an Internet meme after she insisted that the Trump White House would battle the truth with “alternative facts.” They are all now assistants to the President, the most senior title for White House staffers.

One of the dangers in covering an abnormal Presidency is that journalists will constantly be on the lookout for signs of normalcy, and exaggerate and even celebrate them as proof that things aren’t so unusual, after all.

 

 

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