White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s daily media briefings have become almost a pop-culture phenomenon, to the point where they only draw big TV audiences and have made Spicer the subject of multiple skits on the satirical show Saturday Night Live.
Those briefings, however—with their passive-aggressive dynamic and an often loose relationship to the truth—could soon be a thing of the past, according to a number of recent reports by White House watchers. President Trump is said to be considering having fewer public briefings, and possibly even making a dramatic change in Spicer’s job status.
Politico recently quoted senior White House sources it said were “familiar with the president’s thinking” as saying that Spicer would no longer be doing a daily on-camera briefing once Trump returns from a foreign diplomatic trip that begins this week. Said Politico:
“Trump has told allies and aides he doesn’t want Spicer, who has developed a belligerent persona from behind the lectern, publicly defending and explaining the message anymore.”
There have been reports for some time now that Trump was unhappy with Spicer’s performance, and was considering replacing him. Former Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle said in a recent interview that she was in talks about taking the job, although some White House sources cast doubt on this.
Spicer missed a number of recent press briefings because he was reportedly serving with the U.S. Navy reserve, and his place was taken by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. That fueled rumors that Spicer was on his way out.
The New York Times said in a recent report that Trump was thinking about getting rid of Spicer. There have also reportedly been discussions about having fewer press briefings period. Trump recently threatened to stop having them altogether.
Early in the Trump administration, Spicer and Trump spoke openly about possibly moving the press briefings out of the White House to another location, an idea that senior adviser and former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon—who has referred to the media as “the opposition party”—later took credit for.
Trump and a number of advisers like Bannon have made no secret of their dislike for the media, with the president often referring to “the lying media” and “the failing New York Times,” and calling their reports on his misadventures “fake news.” Trump has also talked in the past about “opening up libel laws” to make it easier for him to sue the media.
This week, Trump adviser and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recommended that the president should give up on holding press briefings at all. The news media “is destructive and disgusting” and “a danger to the country,” he said.
David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, said on Twitter that the White House typically sees press briefings as an exercise in getting their message out, and if they decided to stop doing them it would be because they were no longer effective in doing that.
1. Sorry to crush illusions here, but White Houses do on-camera briefings for selfish reasons: to get their message out in their own words
— David Frum (@davidfrum) May 18, 2017
The value of the White House daily briefings has also been called into question by media observers, along with the existence of the White House press corps itself. Some argue neither the press nor the public are served by taking part in a process that often involves obfuscation and outright denial of the facts.
According to multiple reports, the president is said to be upset that Spicer and other members of his press team often don’t do a good job of communicating his message, or become confused about what the message is, and that makes his government look weak or unsure of what it is doing.
This kind of confusion has been seen repeatedly, although it’s not clear who is to blame. During a number of recent controversies—including one over whether Trump disclosed classified information to Russian diplomats during a closed-door meeting—the administration’s response was to deny early reports, only to have them confirmed later by Trump himself.
This pattern was also seen when Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Multiple White House staff said that the president made the decision on the advice of the deputy Attorney General, and then Trump said he made the decision himself, and the AG had nothing to do with it.
Regardless of what changes the president decides to make to his press team or his briefing policy, it sounds as though Sean Spicer is going to have a much-reduced role in the process. Whether that will actually help the White House or not remains to be seen.