By Jacqueline Hyman
In the last few months, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has had to clarify some confusing and controversial statements from President Donald Trump. And up until this past week, I had some sympathy for him. After all, making sense of Trump’s less than conventional statements can’t be an easy job.
But Spicer is now facing criticism for comments he made in a press briefing Tuesday. This comes five days after the U.S. struck Syrian bases with missiles in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical gas against civilians.
“You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. “So you have to, if you’re Russia, ask yourself, is this a country and a regime that you want to align yourself with?”
However, gas chambers were a prominent part of the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews. When asked to clarify, Spicer said Hitler did not use gas “on his own people” and that he understood that Jews were killed in “Holocaust centers.”
Later, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Spicer apologized for making the comparison but did not mention his factual error.
“Frankly, I mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison,” Spicer said. “And for that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”
To make matters worse for the press secretary, Tuesday marked the second day of Passover, an important observance for Jews.
Leaders of the Anne Frank Center and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both called for Spicer to resign or be fired. The Anne Frank Center also said Spicer was guilty of Holocaust denial.
After Spicer’s clarification, it is clear that he was not attempting to deny that the Holocaust happened. That doesn’t erase the insensitivity of these comments or the questions of Spicer’s ignorance of Nazi tactics in World War II and why he chose to make this comparison, but it’s relieving that he understands it was a mistake.
This alone may not be cause enough for Spicer to resign. If he was an effective press secretary all around and made this one blunder, it would be easier to argue that he should retain his post. Unfortunately for Spicer, that is not the case. He often says Trump’s statements speak for themselves, even though it is his job to clarify the president’s words and intentions.
Monday, just a day before his Hitler comment, Spicer had to explain another statement he made in a press briefing.
“If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you will see a response from this president,” he said.
This would indicate a shift in U.S. policy, and was not what Spicer intended to insinuate. The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimated that Assad dropped almost 13,000 barrel bombs in Syria in 2016, according to NBC News. If the U.S. retaliated every time a barrel bomb was dropped, this country would be at war with Syria. Spicer clarified that he did not mean to indicate a shift in policy toward the country.
When a person whose job it is to define the administration’s confusing statements makes his own inaccurate or insensitive comments, there’s a problem. I wish I could just say that Spicer should get better at his job, quickly. But it has been almost three months of Trump’s presidency, and if anything Spicer’s effectiveness seems to be deteriorating.
For this reason, stacked with his comment about Hitler, it would make sense to find a more comprehensible press secretary. It may be a hard position under Trump, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. This was not a comment from Trump, but Spicer’s own assertion. He should stick with making Trump’s statements clear. If he can’t do that, the administration should hire someone more effective.
Jacqueline is a junior journalism and English major. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.