RI native and former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer was in town in July representing and signing his new memoir, The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President. Spicer grew up in Barrington and attended Portsmouth Abbey School. He lasted six months as President Trump’s first press secretary (not a short tenure in the Trump administration).
Other recent book tour appearances have produced controversy (a signing in Middletown prompted a former high school classmate of Spicer’s to level accusations of bullying and using the N-word, a signing in Cambridge was canceled “due to the political climate,” and a signing in Barrington attracted protesters). There was a noticeable police presence, but no incidents at the signing Motif attended at Barrington Books in Cranston on July 28. Spicer was interviewed in front of a small crowd by former US Ambassador to Malta and former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino, and took questions from the crowd afterward.
The questions were mostly non-political and about Spicer’s experiences. Highlights included a detailed football analogy proposed by Paolino (“Trump was like the quarterback, and you’re like a defensive lineman…”) to which Spicer responded, “Well, I played soccer, so…”
“The reason I wrote the book is because to so many Americans, they only saw me through these windows of 30-minutes,” he told the audience. “As I went around the country afterward, I ran into a lot of people telling me how I thought about things. ‘I heard you really didn’t like this,’ or ‘I heard you thought this was a good idea.’ So to the extent that you want to know what it was like for me behind the scenes, or how did a kid from Rhode Island get in that situation, I’ve tried to answer that.”
One audience member asked, “What was it like to get up there and either lie to the press, or know that you had been lied to? Case in point, the numbers at the inauguration.”
“… I feel like every time I go to explain it, people think I’m making excuses,” Spicer responded. “We were there to get things done, and the first day all anyone in the press wanted to talk about was that Obama had more people there. So I talked to the guys at TwitterLive, and social media and the web guys who said they had record traffic – and this isn’t a shot at Obama, we’ve never really had those platforms before. Those tools didn’t exist four years earlier. CNN was reporting 16 point something million people on its platform. So I added all those up, and said it was the greatest audience for an inauguration, ever.”
“You were including the internet?” the audience member followed up.
“Apparently not very well,” Spicer retorted, pausing for laughter from the crowd. “For the rest of my life that’s going to follow me, and if I could do it again, of course I’d do it differently. All I could think about was all the people who’d supported me and had confidence in me, and I’ve let them down. I didn’t go out there and intentionally say something that was wrong – I screwed up.
“But there was never a time I went out there and deliberately said something that was demonstrably untrue. There were plenty of times when I said, ‘The president believes the following…’ They would confront me with a tweet and say, ‘You know that’s not true.’ But that was not my job – my job was to communicate the thoughts and views of the president of the United States as told to me. Not to try to interpret what he really means, or what he SHOULD have said. My job was to give the best advice I could, and sometimes they agree, sometimes they say, ‘You’re half right,’ and sometimes they don’t take your advice… At the end of the day, you’re there to serve them, and if you can’t agree to do that, then you step aside…
“If you read my book, you can still not like me when it’s over, but at least you’ll have an idea of why I did everything I did.”