Spicer and Trump: how defending your boss could get you fired

When your boss is attacked in the media, it hurts. I mean, physically hurts.

It's your job to stand up to your boss as director of comms, argues Pete Murray
It's your job to stand up to your boss as director of comms, argues Pete Murray

The first thing you feel is guilt. It doesn’t matter if the attack was justified or not, you’re the director of communications, and you’ve failed to protect your guy.

Then comes the anger. You’re never going to deal with the hack who broke the story again. The temptation to call him burns. You long to give him a piece of your mind.

But then you don’t. You’re a professional. Showing a journalist that they’ve got to you is exposing yourself to world of pain, and potentially fuelling the fires that you should be putting out.

Sadly, no one told Sean Spicer. The new White House press secretary’s first day in the job was a mesmerising car crash entirely of his own making.

His nerves were obvious, but understandable. This was the first time he’d addressed the press pool from that podium. However, the anger Spicer took into the briefing room was less forgivable.

It’s easy to imagine the meeting that would have taken place between Spicer’s team and the President prior to the press briefing.

They would have looked over the various photographs the media was running, which appeared to show a better turnout for Obama’s inauguration than Trump’s.

There would have been raised voices and machismo talk of a counter-attack in this "war with the media".
But, when voices had calmed, that was Spicer’s cue to step up and prove his worth.

The rage that morning should have stayed in the Oval Office, not be transferred to the Press Briefing Room, and from there, the world.

The result was predictable to everyone but Spicer.

When his rant was over, media channels booked time with experts in crowd analysis, ensuring the photos the President despised kept their top billing on the airwaves for cycle after cycle.

Then the commentators piled in, questioning what this said about the President’s wider priorities.
Most damaging of all, with emotions running high, Spicer appeared to lose his grip on the facts.

Moments after saying an estimate of the crowd’s size was impossible, he told the press pool the President had achieved the largest turnout ever. It was toe-curling stuff; the sort of remark that would make an audience wince at a high-school debate.

For all his cackhandedness, I can empathise a little with Spicer.

It’s hard to say "no" to a bombastic boss, especially when they are under attack. But as director of communications, you can’t let any feelings of guilt or anger following an attack cloud your judgement.

You’re there to protect your boss, not project his anger. Get that judgement wrong, and you’ll probably hear that, sadly, 'you're fired!'

Peter Murray is director of corporate affairs at Hume Brophy

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in