Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Grading Sean Spicer

By Rick Outzen

On a scale of one to five, with five being excellent, Jennifer Palmieri thinks Sean Spicer, President Donald Trump’s press secretary, grades out as a “one” for his job performance over his first 100 days on the job.

Palmieri, a native of Pascagoula, Miss., served as the director of communications for President Barack Obama from 2013-2015. She spent seven years in the Clinton White House, including a stint as deputy press secretary. In a phone interview on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks,” Palmieri discussed the difficult task facing Spicer.

“On the one hand, I feel bad for him, because everybody always says the White House press secretary is in an impossible situation,” said Palmieri. “You have to make the press happy. You have to make the president happy.”

Spicer is an experienced communication director. He served in that role for the Republican National Committee from 2011- 2017 and was its chief strategist from 2015-2017. Still, Palmieri believes he can’t succeed at his White House job.

“It is literally impossible because his boss, the President of the United States, doesn’t operate on the same set of facts that certainly I do or that the news media does,” she said. “If Sean is going to live by facts from the White House podium as the reporters expect him to do, he can’t make his boss happy.”

For Palmieri, one of her biggest jaw-dropping moments of the Trump presidency came the day after the inauguration when Spicer held a press conference defending the crowd size at the inaugural.

She said, “I thought, ‘Oh my God, is this what we’re in for? Actual lying propaganda, clearly dictated to Sean by the President of the United States, to go out to the White House briefing and just shout absurd, demonstrably false claims that clearly the president told him to do?’ This is what we saw on the second day of the presidency.”

Palmieri saw Spicer after a museum event that had a panel about Trump and the White House press corps.

“He was there, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, Sean, it’s not worth it. No job is worth this. You should just quit.’ He laughed. He’s like, ‘I’m great. It’s fine. It’s great.’ We went on our way,” said Palmieri.

Despite Spicer’s protestations, the stress showed recently when he walked away from the podium during the middle of a briefing.

“The press all sat there, and they’re yelling at the podium, expecting him to reappear,” she shared. “One of them, Peter Alexander from NBC, went into the office behind the stage, and came back and said, ‘He’s not coming out. He’s just walked away.’”

Palmieri does have some empathy for Spicer because, at times, the White House press corps appears to argue the other side of every issue. She said, “If President Obama had option A and option B and we picked option B, they would just jump on option A. ‘Why didn’t you do option A? That was the right thing. Why didn’t you do it?’”

Palmieri continued, “As opposed to looking objectively to understand why the reason why we sought option B. You are in a difficult situation with the press because they are always just going to argue with you that you should be doing whatever it is you are not doing.”

While serving as the Obama’s communications director, she had to deal with the debate over military action in Syria, the beheadings by ISIS, the spread of Ebola, and the problems with the healthcare.gov website.

“A really difficult thing that we were around for was the beginning of the ISIS beheadings. The journalist James Foley was killed in August of 2014 during a very difficult summer. Ebola, that was a fascinating interaction that we had with the media in trying to contain the hysteria over Ebola coming to the United States. It was very tricky,” said Palmieri.

“It’s always hard for the president. You’re always going to be insulted by the media.”

She said that President Obama developed thicker skin while he served, which made her job easier than what Spicer’s is.

“(President Obama) understood that there was just some element of the coverage that was always going to be bad, and you just had to get through it,” said Palmieri. “The healthcare.gov (issue) is an example. We had a meeting in the Oval Office about how we were progressing on the stupid website.”

She continued, “We were walking out, and he told me to stay behind. He said, ‘I want you to know that I know that until the website is actually fixed, that the press is not going to get better.’ He said, ‘You should keep trying, and it’s great that you’re trying, but I just want you to know, you should not get yourself all stressed that you have to make the press better because it’s not going to get better until the website’s fixed.’”

Palmieri said the joke in the White House was that just because a problem got aired in the press didn’t mean it was a press problem that she was supposed to solve. She said, “It’s just that’s where it gets aired. That’s where people read about it.”

She explained to Inweekly the difference between the press secretary and the communications director. The press secretary is the front-line for taking questions and handling inquiries.

“He is the person that goes out and actually briefs the press every day,” said Palmieri.

As the communications director, Palmieri oversaw the press staff. She tried to not just deal with the incoming but to communicate the messages that the White House wanted proactively gotten out.

She said, “If the president is selling healthcare, for example, try to put forward the best arguments for our plan, or for dealing with healthcare.gov, it’s dealing with the best arguments for how it’s going to get fixed.”

Palmieri believes that the media has done a solid job reporting on the Trump White House.

She said, “I was very concerned about what was going to happen when he became president, but I think our checks and balances are hanging in there. The American citizens are rising to the occasion and paying attention. Those that disagree are making their voices heard. The press, by and large, is taking it very seriously, and holding his feet to the fire, and I think that it’s good.”

She singled out several for their reporting, especially Dan Balz of the Washington Post, Chuck Todd with NBC and Jonathan Martin from the New York Times.

“I think the best is the Washington Post,” said Palmieri. “They were the best during the campaign. They saw early on that Trump was a candidate they needed to take seriously, and they did.”

She believes Todd, who hosts NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Martin bring a love of politics to their coverage that helps them explain what is happening.

Palmieri added, “Dan Balz is my all-time favorite, the Washington Post’s national political correspondent. We call him ‘Yoda.’ He’s been at it for decades. Very measured, never jumps to conclusions, always the best analysis.”

During her hiatus from politics, Palmieri has done some work with non-profits and provided analysis for several news programs. She admits that many of the things that she handled while in the White House seemed earth-shattering in the moment, but she appreciates having the time to reflect on issues.

“The thing that has changed my life for the positive is I am able to think much more deeply about what’s happening as opposed to quickly, which is what I had to do before,” said Palmieri. “It’s good.”