Press Secretary of the United States Sean Spicer (Image via CNNMoney)
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Press Secretary of the United States Sean Spicer (Image via CNNMoney)

Sean Spicer’s appearance at the Emmys has deeper implications than its face value.

Sean Spicer appeared at the 2017 Primetime Emmy Awards on September 17 and stirred up controversy just as he did during his seven-month stint as the White House Press Secretary. Hollywood and Spicer alike are both under fire for his appearance at the award show meant to honor outstanding prime-time television shows and performances.

However, he might have belonged at the event more than viewers realized. His performances throughout his brief term under Trump’s presidency just might have been on par with the celebrities being honored for their work as actors, but Hollywood’s inclusion of Spicer at the Emmys has greater implications than a few surprised laughs.

Spicer’s Term as Press Secretary

Sean Spicer was President Trump’s first White House press secretary. His career launched after Trump’s inauguration when he reported to the media, affirming, “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period—both in person and around the globe.” He continued his speech, remarking on how much bigger the turnout was for Trump’s inauguration compared to former President Obama’s inauguration, despite earlier claims that “no one had numbers [of the crowd size], because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out.” His statement to the media, given the day after Trump’s inauguration and on the same day as the Women’s March, contains one fleeting remark about the roughly 470,000 people who marched on Washington that day.

A few days after his controversial speech, Spicer clarified his comments during his first White House press conference. “It was the most watched inaugural,” he argued, referencing the event’s online streaming and television viewing. He then clarified that President Trump’s inauguration had “the largest crowd in person,” but then emphasized his reference to “in person and around the globe,” which seems to contradict his earlier statements. Spicer’s clarification turned into a cycle of reaffirmation of his previous accounts to media sources, which the public would soon realize was his power play.

It is in this first White House Press Conference wherein Spicer assured the American public that “our intention is never to lie,” but also that he believed, “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” The problem with this statement is that facts, by definition, are indisputable. And with that argument, Sean Spicer’s reputation was born. Spicer continued this type of behavior and cyclical arguing throughout his seven-month term as White House Press Secretary.

Spicer issued one of his most benighted remarks in April 2017 at a White House Press Conference. Spicer claimed that, “despicable” Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to… using chemical weapons” and that “he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Shortly after, he called Nazi concentration camps “Holocaust centers.” These remarks are so egregious that they epitomize the point that Spicer’s term as Press Secretary was riddled with blunders beyond repair—the Holocaust is never an appropriate example to use carelessly in any situation or comparison.

During his time as Press Secretary, celebrities were often critical of Spicer and the way in which he relayed information from within the White House to the media. Talk-show host Chelsea Handler noted, in an appearance on “Conan,” that she believed Spicer was “going down… because he’s the [White House’s] spokesperson.” In February, “Late Night” host Seth Meyers joked that Spicer thought his “boss is insane,” after noting Spicer’s claim that Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line was “an attack on the President’s policies and his daughter.”

Perhaps most famously, Melissa McCarthy satirically portrayed Spicer on “Saturday Night Live.” In an eight minute cold open, McCarthy jabs at Spicer’s coverage of Trump’s first attempt at a travel ban, his tendency to misspeak and then blame reporters for publishing his words, his use of visual aids at a Press Briefing, and his attack on Nordstrom for ceasing to sell Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. McCarthy’s portrayal of Spicer was evidently sarcastic and embellished many of his actions; but the sheer number of jokes that fit into one cold open paints the bigger picture—Spicer’s actions and words, whether or not he believed them, were chock-full of falsehoods and missteps. Even worse was his refusal to admit he was wrong during his time as White House Press Secretary.

Spicer at the Emmys

On September 17, Stephen Colbert hosted the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards. Colbert begins the show by insinuating that the crowd size is the biggest it has ever been, though there is no way of knowing. Colbert asks, “Sean, do you know?” and Spicer rolls an Emmys podium onto the stage. The crowd gives a delayed but hearty applause. The camera pans to multiple celebrities who appear shocked—some seem to find it funny, Melissa McCarthy does not. Spicer exclaims, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys. Period. Both in person and around the world.” As the audience continues to laugh, Colbert brings the joke to a close by calling Spicer “Melissa McCarthy.”

Spicer’s appearance at the Emmys suggests collusion between Hollywood and the former White House official. Prior to Trump’s presidency, there was an implied separation of celebrity and state. Government officials have appeared on late night talk shows and have been the butt of jokes on television, and celebrities have attended the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and have been active in politics, but these relationships maintained the distinction between Hollywood and government. Trump’s presidency, and Spicer’s appearance at the Emmys dissolves this distinction. Entertainment and politics are melding together. Hollywood seems to have forgotten that it once opposed Spicer and his former boss and ally. Similarly, Spicer apparently forgot that the media, Hollywood included, was once one of his biggest adversaries.

The greatest issue provided by Spicer’s appearance and the celebrities’ cheerful reactions is that this event acts as erasure to Spicer’s actions and claims described above. Spicer’s sudden inclusion in the Hollywood television circle provides grounds for the public to disregard the former Press Secretary’s inexcusable arguments and, frankly, his lies. He broadcasted falsehoods that were, intentional or not, unjustifiable, and then he never took full responsibility for them. His best attempt at taking responsibility occurred a few days after his appearance at the Emmy’s, when he finally admitted that he regrets some of what he said as White House Press Secretary.

Making light of the Trump Administration’s obvious inaccuracies, among other things, provides a humorous spin amidst general political and partisan chaos in Washington. Nevertheless, it is increasingly important to remember that despite Spicer’s ability to “survive one of the worst jobs ever,” as Jimmy Kimmel puts it, Spicer chose to align himself with Trump. No one forced him into the position of White House Press Secretary. He knew what he was getting himself into—Trump’s track records (as a realtor, a businessman, a reality television star) and his 2016 presidential campaign provided enough warnings for Spicer to turn down an offer from Trump. Spicer told Kimmel that he “thanked [Trump] profusely” for the job offer.

Spicer’s post-term, tell-all interview with Kimmel perpetuates the defensive rhetoric he used while working for the White House. Relative to Spicer’s appearance at the Emmys, making light of a still-relevant issue does not excuse the former White House President Secretary’s actions. As Spicer makes clear in the interview with Kimmel, despite evident doubts about his experience within the White House, he maintains a strong allegiance to the President, who remains at the root of his lies. This is food for thought for the Hollywood executives that allowed him to joke about fallacies he broadcast to the American public on national television.

The one silver lining of Spicer’s Hollywood debut is that many celebrities such as Seth Rogan, Zach Braff, Michael Ian Black and many others condemned Hollywood’s apparent ignorance surrounding the event. This is refreshing considering the gravity of erasing an entire seven month stint of “alternative facts.”

Writer Profile

Leslie Currie

University of Virginia
Foreign Affairs

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