Spicer Makes Another Mistake
On April 11 Press Secretary Sean Spicer compared Hitler and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a press briefing. He said Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” and referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”
Perhaps an untimely coincidence, April 11 marked the second night of the Jewish holiday Passover.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Anne Frank Center, were two of the many who called for Spicer’s resignation.
Later that day, Spicer clarified his comments in writing and apologized during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
All three networks led with the story.
ABC’s David Muir called it a “firestorm over comments made at the White House today,” and titled the story “White House Hitler Gaffe.”
CBS’s Scott Pelley began, “The job of the White House Press Secretary is to articulate the positions of the president and to clean up the occasional presidential mess. They are not supposed to create any messes for the president, but it happened again today when Sean Spicer made one colossal error.” CBS titled the story “Presidential Mis-Spokesman.”
NBC’s Lester Holt said the White House “finds itself suddenly engaged in damage control after spokesman Sean Spicer tried to draw a moral comparison between Bashar al-Assad and Adolf Hitler…” NBC called the story “Hitler Comparison.”
ABC devoted four minutes and nineteen seconds to the story. NBC came in second with three minutes and eighteen seconds. CBS spent the least amount of time with two minutes and forty seconds.
Other stories of the day included Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s confirmation that the Syrian regime had carried out the chemical attack, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Russia, and the White House’s accusation that Russia tried to cover up the Syrian chemical attack.
Jim Toedtman, former editor of NY Newsday, gave his thoughts on how the networks handled the story.
“The United Airlines brouhaha may have been the best single story of the day,” said Toedtman in an email. “But the combination of Syria-Russia-Trump meant that any network was bound to devote more time to that combination of incremental developments than any other single item.”
“I think they all handled Spicer fairly and evenly. They showed his gaffe, provided the fact-check, then quickly showed his apology.”
Toedtman explained that newspapers and television broadcasts are different.
“This really highlights the difference between television and news at the major papers — namely the much deeper bench,” said Toedtman.
“The collection of video of Mattis, Tillerson, the Syria bombing, Spicer press briefing and historic films were easy and pictorial in a way that distorted the importance of events. The Page 1 stories of the Post and Times had the benefit of extra reporters and extra reporting,” Toedtman added. “Further, a TV report on Peter Baker’s NYTimes story (mystified reaction to Trump’s flip-flop on Russia) would have been mostly a series of talking heads — pretty deadly compared to bombs and Nazis.”
Yet Toedtman had his concerns about coverage of Spicer.
“Overall, I worry a little about piling on [Spicer],” said Toedtman. “The late William Safire once warned Peggy Noonan, ‘never join a pile-on.’”
Toedtman continued that the media might be taking things a little too far.
“I worry that the media, particularly television, believes to have seen weakness in Sean Spicer, collectively believes he’s in over his head and is going overboard in highlighting his inaccuracies, his inadequacy and his ineffectiveness.”
Yet, he explained that Spicer isn’t helping the situation.
“He compounds this of course, which justifies in part the media focus on him. The other justification of course is that he is speaking for the most powerful man in the world. That’s no easy task. But clearly, Spicer should have handled this a whole lot better.”