Americans of all political stripes have a new daytime TV obsession, and their favorite, “wildly entertaining” show stars none other than White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Spicer, known for his scrappy encounters with members of the mainstream media, regularly calls out the press for what he sees as their inaccurate and biased reporting.
It’s reality TV at its best: Spicer has publicly accused members of the media of being “engaged in deliberately false reporting” and making “irresponsible and reckless” claims.
When an ABC reporter dared to interrupt the press secretary, Spicer quickly shut him down: “It’s not your press briefing. … Please calm down.”
As reporter April Ryan repeatedly cut him off, Spicer unloaded both barrels: “At some point, report the facts.” He then called her out when she didn’t like his answer: “I’m sorry that disgusts you. You’re shaking your head. … At some point, April, you’re going to have to take ‘no’ for an answer, with respect to whether or not there was collusion [between Russia and Trump].”
In yet another case, Spicer told the Washington Post it “should be ashamed” at how it covered a story he twice called “100 percent false.”
For whatever reason, Americans are digging Spicer’s bold media smackdowns. And Spicer himself has become a bona fide national celebrity – with name recognition above 60 percent nationally, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll.
In fact, some viewers say they’re addicted to the Spicer briefing drama. They simply can’t get enough.
On Twitter, Diana Butler Bass wrote, “I have friends who have actually become addicted to Sean Spicer’s daily press briefings.”
The briefings are even wildly popular among Spicer’s harshest critics. Bill McMurray tweeted: “Sean Spicer’s press briefings are mesmerizing. Like a piece of red meat thrown to the world’s hungriest, most talented wolves.”
Spicer’s videos on YouTube are a huge hit compared to those of his predecessors, commanding five to seven times the viewership of briefings by President Barack Obama’s press secretaries.
The briefings – broadcast live on TV by Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and C-SPAN to an average of 4.3 million viewers – are even beating out simultaneously broadcast daytime favorites on CBS and ABC, such as “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “General Hospital,” the New York Times reported in February.
Fox News’ “Happening Now,” the show during which Spicer’s briefings are frequently broadcast, has been receiving record-high viewership in Fox News Channel’s 20-year history. According to new data Fox News provided to WND, the show’s viewership is up 26 percent from the same quarter in 2016, with 1.8 million viewers.
And Yahoo’s livestreams of Spicer’s briefings reportedly average 600,000 a day, and 3 million a week.
“We’d definitely consider these good, and certainly fair to say the briefings have found an audience on Yahoo,” a spokeswoman told the Washington Examiner.
The press briefings are such a hit, they’ve inspired viral “Saturday Night Live” skits starring comedic actress Melissa McCarthy, who plays a confrontational SNL version of “Spicer” perpetually at war with the media. The first skit shattered SNL’s YouTube viewership records with nearly 27 million views. And viewers are begging SNL for more McCarthy skits every day.
1 key factor in hottest Spicer briefings
Tampa Bay Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary recently detailed the “familiar place” of the White House press briefings: “Spicer lacerating the news media and reporters blasting him with questions – combat that has made the daily press briefing must-see TV” and “a spectacle that President Donald Trump himself tunes into.”
After the late-night comedy clips, the following are some of the most popular YouTube videos of Spicer’s press briefings:
- “‘It’s OK for Obama to do it but not Trump?’ Sean Spicer slams liberal reporter” (1.1 million views)
- “New White House press secretary SLAMS news media for coverage of the inauguration” (1.04 million views)
- “White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer RIPS media on false reporting POTUS Trump inauguration” (736,000 views)
- “Another heated White House daily briefing for Sean Spicer” (486,000 views)
- “‘Look it up in a thesaurus’ Sean Spicer slams CBS reporter over idiotic questions” (441,000 views)
- “Can you read English?’ Sean Spicer takes on ABC reporter” (446,000 views)
- “Sean Spicer slams NBC reporter for spreading lies about Trump” (395,000 views)
- “Sean Spicer shuts up disrespectful liberal over idiotic questioning” (374,000 views)
- “‘I have seen enough of you’ Sean Spicer slams NBC reporter for accusing Trump of interference” (334,000 views)
In fact, nearly all of the most popular Spicer videos on YouTube showed the White House press secretary scorching members of the mainstream media, accusing them of shortcomings and double standards in their reporting.
The following is the highest hitting video, “‘It’s OK for Obama to do it but not Trump?’ Sean Spicer slams liberal reporter”:
However, one of Spicer’s most unpopular moments can be seen in the YouTube video, “Sean Spicer: Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons,” which was viewed nearly 380,000 times. The video received nearly 4,000 comments, and most viewers were critical of the press secretary.
WND has regularly reported on Spicer’s confrontations with members of the mainstream media. The following are some recent WND reports:
- Spicer slaps down 2 major-network reporters
- Sean Spicer smacks CNN at press briefing
- Where’s the wiretap proof? Spicer in epic tangle with press
- Spicer: ‘Washington Post should be ashamed’
- Spicer: ‘At some point, there should be concern about substance’
At the time of this report, the White House hadn’t returned WND’s request for comment on Spicer’s soaring popularity.
Smash-hit SNL skits portray a combative Spicer
The energetic exchanges between Spicer and mainstream media have even become fodder for an array of jokes and skits on “Saturday Night Live” and late-night comedy shows.
The hottest viral YouTube clip related to Sean Spicer and his daily press briefings was the following “Saturday Night Live” skit starring actress Melissa McCarthy. It has been viewed nearly 27 million times since Feb. 5.
In the skit, McCarthy plays a shouting, combative “Spicer” who verbally and physically attacks members of the media.
“Before we begin, I know that myself and the press have gotten off to a rocky start!” McCarthy shouts. “… When I say rocky start, I mean in a sense of ‘Rocky’ the movie, because I came out here to punch you in the face! And also, I don’t talk so good.”
In the skit, “Spicer” apologizes to himself on behalf of the media “for how you have treated me these last two weeks.” Then the press secretary refuses to accept the so-called apology.
SNL’s “Spicer” boos and ridicules a reporter from the New York Times, uses puzzling logic and treats members of the press condescendingly – even violently slamming a podium into a Wall Street Journal correspondent.
After Spicer mistakenly stated that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” on April 11, he publicly apologized for his misstatement. But SNL released another skit of McCarthy playing “Spicer” just in time for Easter. This time, the angry press secretary was dressed as the Easter bunny, and SNL’s writers seized on Spicer’s verbal gaffe. The skit has been viewed on YouTube more than 9 million times:
Spicer vs. other White House press secretaries
On YouTube, the White House account now gets between 36,000 and 72,000 views per Spicer briefing.
By contrast, videos of Obama Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s briefings averaged between 7,000 and 16,000 views each. YouTube videos of Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney’s briefings typically ranged between 4,000 and 10,000 views.
Cable networks carried White House press briefings by the Obama and George W. Bush administrations live, too. But their viewership dwindled several weeks into both presidential terms.
President Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, expressed concern in January about Spicer’s confrontational style with the media, saying the first press-briefing exchange left him “uncomfortable.”
“I don’t like this confrontation,” Fleischer told NPR. “I am much more of a traditionalist. I fought with the press. I wrestled with the press. It comes with the territory. But it can go too far. And that’s my concern here.”
But Fleischer noted that Americans’ trust in the press has reached historic lows. A Gallup poll released this month found 62 percent of Americans believe the media have a partisan bias. Of those who say the media are biased toward a particular political party, 64 percent say they favor Democrats and 22 percent believe they favor Republicans.
Another study, this time by the Media Research Center, showed a full 89 percent of broadcast network coverage has been negative toward President Trump.
“The American people question whether the press report things accurately and fairly,” Fleischer said. “… And so the press has invited this vulnerability onto itself, and we’re watching this live now on TV.”
In March, Obama Press Secretary Josh Earnest told TV comedian Stephen Colbert: “There’s supposed to be friction and tension between the White House press corps and the White House. The day that there is not friction and tension between the White House press corps and the White House is the day that the press corps has stopped doing its job.”
Michael Cornfield, associate professor of political management at George Washington University, has studied White House press secretaries since Ron Ziegler, who worked for then-President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1974. Cornfield contends that Spicer is willing to say or do whatever it takes, even lie and attack the media, to please President Trump.
“If we’re talking about how do we try to find a context to understand Spicer, we either have to go to fiction or we have to go to his boss, because a long line of predecessors behaved very differently from this guy,” Cornfield told the U.K. Guardian.
“Past press secretaries have shaded the truth or even lied, but it’s usually just been on one subject or two. Spicer gives out misinformation on everything. The other big difference is how aggressive his behavior is, which Melissa McCarthy has spoofed terrifically. He attacks.
“The others, when they have to shade the truth, have been defensive, which is not to say they haven’t been antagonistic – they have – but Spicer is a soldier, and he’s attacking people.”
Marlin Fitzwater, former press secretary for six years under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, told the Guardian that Spicer is likely “reflecting” President Trump and his adversarial relationship with the mainstream media.
“The one everlasting fact about the briefing, in whatever form it takes, is that it always reflects the president,” Fitzwater explained. “Certainly the biggest factor with President Trump is that he has a totally different attitude about how to conduct himself, the role of the press, and the fact that he is a combative president and, therefore, his press secretary is also combative.”
Why is Spicer must-see TV?
Spicer’s briefings are apparently must-see TV for news junkies, comedians, Trump-haters, people who loathe the mainstream media and Americans who want the inside scoop on the president’s new foreign- and domestic-policy moves.
But the bigger question: Why are these White House briefings more popular than ever?
Is it because Americans of all political stripes find the briefings entertaining?
Is it to watch mainstream media reporters get chastened by Spicer?
Is it just the next-best thing to watching President Trump?
“There’s huge interest in everything Trump does, and Sean is benefiting from that,” Republican consultant Alex Conant told the New York Times. “Depending on your perspective, you either tune in to watch Sean defend the indefensible, or to watch media bias in action.”
Politico’s Annie Karni and Tara Palmeri speculated that the “easiest explanation for the overnight celebrification of the president’s staffers,” such as Spicer and Trump Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway, is that “it reflects the man at the top.”
“The ‘Apprentice’ star-turned-president has created a reality show in the White House, with Americans eating up storylines of who is rising, who is fading and who is screwing up,” they wrote. “It’s the opposite of how ‘no drama Obama’ dictated the tone and tenor of the West Wing.”
Media Research Center President Brent Bozell told the Washington Examiner that viewers simply find Spicer’s media smackdowns entertaining.
“Conflict makes for great television,” Bozell explained. “It’s no secret that the liberal media despise President Trump. His spokesman Sean Spicer is pushing back – hard. The media have never been slapped around like this. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on, it is most entertaining.”
The following are tweets from all sides of the political spectrum indicating why some Americans tune into the press briefings:
- “On one hand, Sean Spicer is horrible at his job. On the other, his daily press briefings are wildly entertaining.” – Parker Molloy
- “Sean Spicer press briefings remind me of my 2nd grade students caught doing something and trying to explain it away.” – Mrs Mom
- “I’ll say this for the @RealDonaldTrump administration, the White House press briefings have gotten pretty darn entertaining.” – Adam Gaylord
- “I am a political junkie, but haven’t watched/read regular ‘news’ since inauguration. Exception for Spicer’s briefings. All propaganda.” – J9
- “The only reason to keep going to these briefings is to watch Spicer say stupid things that will be used later in Trump’s impeachment.” – PresidentManBaby
- “Sean Spicer is f—ing awesome. I can listen to his press briefings for hours. I know that’s weird, but I like it.” – MuhWhiteHelmet
- “Never have been big on politics, but everything going on right now is pure entertainment, Sean Spicer briefings the best.” – Puga
- “Spicer’s press briefings always are comedy and popcorn time!!” – Dean Curtis
- “Told my hubby that the best part of the day, besides when he comes home from work, is press secretary briefings! Love Sean Spicer! He’s the man!” – Kathy Little
- “I listen to some of the Spicer briefings. To me, it sounds like a bunch of hate-filled reporters harping on things I don’t care about.” – MaryMary
- “So glad Trump has Spicer taking the gloves off during his press briefings!” – Deplorable Jeanna
- “Sean Spicer’s daily press briefings have reached reality TV status. It’s ratchet and totally ridiculous, but you can’t stop watching.” – BorderlineGenius
- “Watching the press briefings. My gosh, these people asking questions are idiots. Proud of Spicer calling them [out].” – Jonathan54441
- “I can’t believe [people] want Spicer fired. I can’t think of many things I look forward to more than his press briefings.” – Josh Wolf
- “Is it possible for the daily White House press briefings, starring a fiery Sean Spicer, to win an Emmy this year? It’s the best show on TV.” – David Baumann