Holocaust remark wasn't Sean Spicer's first gaffe: Other times he had his foot firmly in mouth - NEWS SENTRY


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Holocaust remark wasn't Sean Spicer's first gaffe: Other times he had his foot firmly in mouth

White House press secretary Sean Spicer. AP

Depending on which way you look at it, being Donald Trump's spokesperson can be either the best job in the world or the worst. After all, the President of the United States is an incredibly outspoken man who says the most ridiculous and impulsive things. All his press secretary needs to do is keep a low profile and issue periodic clarifications. And no matter what you say or do, you can count on your boss doing worse. Fairly easy, right? On the other hand, however, not many people get thrown in the line of fire as frequently and in as stormy circumstances as the White House press secretary.

On Tuesday, for instance, the White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked to elaborate on the US administration's decision to bomb Syria, and the possibility of a regime change in Damascus. What should have been a straightforward message criticising Bashar al-Assad quickly turned out horribly wrong for Spicer, as he unfavourably compared the Syrian president with Adolf Hitler.

"We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons," he said.

Except Hitler did use chemicals during WWII, gassing millions of Jews.

And Spicer knew this. So in an attempt to explain his analogy, he dug himself into an even deeper hole. As reported by Vox, Spicer further added, "I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no… he was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing. There was not… he brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But what I’m saying is the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them, the use of it — I appreciate the clarification, (denying that Hitler used gas) was not the intent."

The comments came on the key Jewish holiday of Passover, and was roundly criticised, with Congressmen and Democratic party leaders calling for Spicer to be fired.

He did later issue an apology, appearing on CNN hours after the remarks were aired. "I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust for which, frankly, there is no comparison," Spicer said. "I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad made against his own people last week using chemical weapons and gas."

Except this wasn't the first time Spicer has found himself with his foot firmly in the mouth. He has been a frequent target of ire and satirists for his angry denunciations of press coverage and sometimes loose grasp of facts. In January, he had claimed President Donald Trump's inauguration witnessed one of the largest audience numbers in all of history, even saying photographs that suggested otherwise were doctored. "Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimise the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall. That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe," Spicer had said. It was so far off the mark that Politifact gave it a 'Pants on Fire' rating — the rating reserved only for the most outrageous of statements.

He then started a diplomatic row with Britain in just the second month of Trump's presidency, by claiming British government agency GCHQ was used to wiretap Trump's phones on behalf of his predecessor Barack Obama. As reported by The Telegraph, the comments prompted a furious response from GCHQ, which issued a public statement denying the allegations and calling them "utterly ridiculous". The report also said the White House had to step in and assure the British government that such allegations would not be repeated.

At a press conference in May, when Spicer was asked some tough questions about Russia by journalist April Ryan, he accused the latter of having an agenda against Trump. As reported by Vox, he said, "If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection. The facts are that every single person who has been briefed on this subject has come away with the same conclusion… I'm sorry that that disgusts you. You're shaking your head, I appreciate it. It seems like you're hell-bent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays, because at the end of the day — you’re asking me a question, I'm going to answer it. I'm sorry. Please stop shaking your head again."

Ryan later said she was "roadkill" for Spicer, while Hillary Clinton defended her, saying, "Now too many women, especially women of colour, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride. But why should we have to? And any woman who thinks this couldn't be directed at her is living in a dream world."

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