Team Trump’s first press call fails integrity test. By Mark Hastings.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s first media briefing was a truly stunning moment. Abrasive, angry, defensive, pugnacious, but most of all, plain wrong.
Any viewer of the President’s swearing in knows his assertion, “that was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period” is a gross distortion of reality. The pictures are plain as a pikestaff.
Naturally, media wits have drawn parallels with the legendary performances of Comical Ali during the Iraq war. And while incredulity has been the common reaction, it should be laced with concern.
What governments say and how they say is important. The world of political communications has not done itself any favours. The word spin has entered the lexicon and become a pejorative term. It has eroded the credibility of both messengers and messages.
But credible and effective communications on behalf of a government to the media and the electorate matters. Words matter, messages matter and communications matter. They convey both substance and meaning.
Despite the popular perception, effective communications are founded on authenticity and truth. No matter how glossy the PR packaging, putting out blatant untruths means you will be found out and found wanting.
This is particularly the case and particularly important for those who seek to communicate on behalf of governments. At times governments need to communicate difficult, unpleasant and challenging messages, particularly in times of tension and conflict. At such critical times, they need to be believed.
While government communicators should be regarded with a healthy degree of scepticism, must be challenged and questioned, in essence they need to be seen as honest and they need to be believed.
Sean Spicer and the Trump Administration have got off to a bad start. Saturday’s diatribe shows a degree of self-absorbed, thin-skinned sensitivity that in itself is worrying. But, what is more frightening is the deliberate attempt to sell the distortion on attendee numbers that is obviously untrue to anyone who watched or reported on the inauguration events. What they are saying is – do not believe what you see with your own eyes.
What followed was just as worrying. Spicer briefed Trump’s CIA visit in language dripping with the fawning sickly sycophancy that is familiar from North Korea, Zimbabwe and other dictatorial regimes.
So in Spicer’s words Donald Trump was, “greeted by a raucous overflow crowd” who were “ecstatic that he’s the new commander-in-chief” and who “gave him a five minute standing ovation at the end in a display of their patriotism and enthusiasm for his presidency.” He then admonished the assembled journalists with the instruction, “that is what you should be writing and covering.”
Kim Jong Un and Robert Mugabe would be thrilled with such a performance. For Spicer to then stalk off the stage in a huff and not take any questions was the icing on the cake.
The American media is robust, will respond and continue to question and hold the Trump Administration to account.
The new Administration needs to learn that if it wants build its narrative and to get its message across effectively, the essence of good communications is integrity. This opening salvo has undermined that.
They need to remember that as their policy agenda unfolds, as events intervene and particularly when the chips are down, the people of America need to have confidence that their Government is telling it to them straight. Many people around the world will look for assurance that the USA is an honest broker.
Good communications matters. Being seen to be pitching such a hagiographic account of events and being caught out in such a self-serving blatant lie is not a great start.