Welcome To The Scaramucci Propaganda Era

Don’t forget:

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By Jennifer Palmieri for WaPo

When I was White House communications director for President Barack Obama I would warn the White House press corps that they were living on borrowed time.

At the Obama White House, we often chose to go outside regular channels to communicate with the American public. Still, we respected the institutional importance of the press corps and the importance of engaging with journalists dedicated to covering the president day in and day out.

But in a digital age, with the proliferation of communication platforms, the media was eventually going to need a better answer for why 50 or so reporters deserved daily access to the White House — access not available to other outlets and the general public.

Now, the clock has run out. The ultimate disrupter, in the form of President Trump, is seeking to change nearly every rule that presidents and the reporters who cover them have lived by.

This phenomenon was on vivid display Friday with the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer and appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director.

Scaramucci is well-suited to be Trump’s White House communications director. He is a more sincere representation of what Trump seeks in a spokesperson than Spicer. Scaramucci projects all that Trump respects — wealth, scrappiness, loyalty and an impressive ability to dissemble while defending Trump on television. If you are looking for someone to “communicate” what this president values, Scaramucci is a good choice.

Spicer was a vestige from the initial era of the Trump White House when Washington regulars joined hoping to “professionalize” this very unconventional president. It was immediately apparent that Spicer would fail in that endeavor as he was forced by the president to so famously lie about the crowd size at the inauguration. It has been a long, slow, painful slog to the inevitable moment when Spicer would quit. For his sake, I wish it had happened on Jan. 21.

Judging from his and Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s turns in the White House briefing room Friday, it seems that Scaramucci, not the White House press secretary, may be the one doing on-camera press briefings. That’s unusual.

In the Obama White House, as with its predecessors, the press secretary, and not the communications director, faced reporters every day. This practice reflected Obama’s belief that the president has an obligation to the American media. Appointing a single individual — accountable to both the president and the press — to answer questions on camera and on a regular basis was the most important means of fulfilling that duty.

Having the communications director serve as on-camera spokesperson seems an apt metaphor for Trump’s disdainful view of the press. In his mind, reporters do not exist to press him for answers on behalf of the American people but to communicate whatever message Trump chooses to give the American public.

While recent White House practice has been to hold off-camera briefings, it seems the Scaramucci era will be televised. Taking advantage of his considerable television skills was the point in hiring him. But reporters need to be careful to not be lured into providing a platform for a Trump propaganda show simply because a White House official is willing to go on camera. It is more likely that Scaramucci will use the press room lectern to communicate whatever he chooses, not sincerely engage in answering reporters’ questions. At that point that room is no longer the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room — it’s a television set, with a “White House” plaque behind Scaramucci as an attractive prop.

The media has other soul-searching to do here, too. The Obama White House conducted daily on-camera briefings, but — let’s be honest — these weren’t usually occasions of high-brow discourse. There was a near-incessant drive by the media to sensationalize whatever was the story of the day — in a way that I believe gave the public a distorted picture of the true nature of the issues at hand. Surely, there were moments our side could have done more to improve the tone of the discussion, too. But most days — day in and day out — our press secretaries worked diligently and sincerely to answer questions and do so truthfully.

To lose this give and take — either by refusing to turn on the cameras or by putting a showman at the podium — would be a significant blow to an accountable democracy.

Jennifer served as White House communications director from 2013 to 2015 and was communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

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One thought on “Welcome To The Scaramucci Propaganda Era

  1. “In his mind, reporters do not exist to press him for answers on behalf of the American people but to communicate whatever message Trump chooses to give the American public.”

    Consider that Trump has always been an advertiser of his businesses – paying the media to present his promotional messages – not necessarily or even frequently the truth. He is intellectually incapable of understanding the difference of the service position of President that he is in now, and how he has always run his “business.” He simply sees the American Presidency as a new Trump owned business enterprise. The fact that he can’t buy everyone needed to make him look successful, has to be and obviously is – very frustrating to him.

    Not defending Trump here – ever, but how is his “lying that different (other than its embarrassing obviousness) from any past President? By definition “politics” is the “shaping” of the “truth” (otherwise widely known as lying) to fit the said politician’s agenda, the respective voter base needs, Party needs, or their personal well being – and most especially least of all considering of the well being of the general public.

    And so you also forget that the media has no sainthood regarding the truth. In the reporters mind – and in reality – they exist to present whatever perspective slant that their editors, advertisers and other “sponsors” allow or require them to.

    That any real truth comes from either the Oval Office, the President or the media covering him – is undeniably accidental – unless it conveniently serves the vested interests/well being of both.

    Trump didn’t invent lying, but he did financially support its R&D. Yes, he lies constantly – if not well. For Trump at 71, “practice has not made perfect’ regarding to his skills at lying. On the other hand skilled lying is difficult if you can’t even create a complete sentence.

    When you own your own business you can hire or fire all the “yes” men (Apprentices) you need to make you secure in your own mistakes, denials of lies or failures you need to impress yourself, if not all those around you. Not to worry, if you achieve enough wealth, there will be enough “hangers-on” and “brown nosers” so you won’t likely notice – Trump apparently didn’t.

    Not unlike an amateur magician performing slight of hand – you can frequently see the “lie” cards up Trump’s sleeve in his efforts to misdirect from the primary purposes of his actions – denying the truth. He is an embarrassment to the countries previous leadership – even GW Bush (something that I thought was impossible until I saw it with my own eyes) and the American people. Especially the people that voted for him – even if many aren’t capable of knowing it.

    However, it isn’t Trump (as god awful a failure as he is) that needs fixing (replacement definitely – and neutering/”fixing” would have been a great idea (considering Donald Jr., but apparently that ship has also sailed). It is the grossly monetized for profit political party election industry that produced Trump (and that we people have allowed) and as well so many other political hack incompetents – that so badly needs to overhauled completely to prevent this dysfunctional democratic cluster fuck from happening again.

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