- - Tuesday, February 14, 2017



There’s nothing quite as boring to watch as the daily White House press briefing. Trust me. I did it for a decade.

Reporters try to craft ironclad questions so that even the best prevaricator can’t find an out, while the professional mouthpiece for the president bobs and weaves and dodges until he runs out the clock. It’s an age-old kabuki dance, right down to the elaborate costumes, rhythmic dialogue, stylized acting — even the dancing.

And while that may sound full of potential, the actual exercise is often far from compelling. The White House spokesman has usually been given tight talking points and told not to stray far. The flack will “take that question” when he doesn’t want to answer and, in the case of the press secretaries for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, simply declare that a question had been “answered” — even when it hadn’t.

Worse, for the past 16 years, the White House’s prime spokesman has called mostly on the first two rows of the 50 people seated in the James Brady Briefing Room in the West Wing, sticking with the mainstream media and eschewing anyone else who might throw him a curveball.

But all that has changed with Sean Spicer, the press secretary for President Trump. He shook up the show from Day One, delivering a statement — a rather angry one at that — and then taking no questions. When he did bother with queries from the pesky media, he didn’t call on The Associated Press or Reuters. He went first to the New York Post.

And Mr. Spicer is becoming big-time famous, not just inside the Beltway, but across the country. What’s more, he’s a star both in the daytime and on late-night TV.

His daily TV soap opera is drawing huge numbers just three weeks into Mr. Trump’s term. His show, often carried live on cable networks but always available on C-SPAN, is averaging 4.3 million viewers a day, The New York Times reports.

According to Nielsen ratings, Mr. Spicer’s daily blabfest draws more viewers than the long-running soap operas “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “General Hospital.” Viewership for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all increase by about 10 percent when Mr. Spicer walks out to his podium.

“There’s huge interest in everything Trump does, and Sean is benefiting from that,” Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who helped lead Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, told The Times. “Depending on your perspective, you either tune in to watch Sean defend the indefensible or to watch media bias in action.”

But the point is, you watch. Drawing 4 million viewers a day is, as Mr. Trump would say, yuuuuge, but Mr. Spicer has also moved into late-night TV.

Well, not Mr. Spicer, exactly, but Melissa McCarthy playing Mr. Spicer on “Saturday Night Live.” She/he is now the hottest commodity on “SNL,” doing her second show-stealing skit this past weekend. Ms. McCarthy plays Mr. Spicer as a man whose anger is always about to blow, who stretches the truth beyond its breaking point and who castigates — even blames — the press for everything.

“First of all, I’d just like to announce that I’m calm now and I will remain calm as long you sons of ” Spicer/McCarthy said in the cold opening, cutting himself off. “I’m not gonna do that because that’s the old Spicey and this is the new Spicey, and I’ve been told to cut back on the gum-chewing so I’m now limiting myself to one slice a day,” Spicer said, holding a piece of gum as big as a sheet of plywood.

Mr. Spicer is also all over YouTube in hilarious takeouts. 

All of that has made Mr. Spicer a well-known face and is drawing viewers to his briefings. “With Mr. Trump dominating the morning news cycle with his provocative Twitter postings, Mr. Spicer’s afternoon briefing is a highly anticipated forum for journalists to parse and probe the president’s words. The news networks have taken to teasing the briefing for viewers, broadcasting an empty lectern in the corner of the screen in the minutes before Mr. Spicer arrives,” The Times wrote.

Trump, however, is reportedly not so happy with the portrayal, especially the fact that Mr. Spicer is played by a woman. But it’s too late to stop this runaway train now, so look for Mr. Spicer’s daily soap opera to only get bigger and better — at least for the next month.

Then America, as it always does, will move on and the networks will go back to ignoring the daily White House briefing, which will go back to being a tedious kabuki dance hardly anyone ever watches.

Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He also ran the Drudge Report as morning editor for four years. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter via @josephcurl.

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