Sean Spicer spoke to BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis about his new memoir – “The Briefing: Politics, The Press and The President" – on Tuesday. And, unlike other prominent journalists, Maitlis did not hesitate to question the former White House press secretary about his role as an "agent" in spreading lies on behalf of the office of President Donald Trump.
"You led us down a dangerous path," Maitlis told Spicer. "You have corrupted discourse for the whole world by going along with these lies."
In response, Spicer claimed that his job, as laid out in his book, was to be the president's spokesperson. "At the end of the day, he is the president of the United States," Spicer said, defending himself. "And, it was his thoughts, and his ideas and his feelings that it was my job to communicate."
Among the most famous falsehoods Spicer told during his short-lived tenure in the West Wing was his claim that the crowd size at President Trump’s inauguration "was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe."
Spicer accused journalists of inaccurately reporting that the turnout for Trump's inauguration was smaller than the turnout for former President Barack Obama's first inauguration, even though a side-by-side photo comparison clearly illustrated that Spicer and the White House were not correct. In actuality, the size of the crowd that viewed Trump's ceremony was about half the size.
“I said in the book, if there’s a day I would love a do-over on, it’s that one,” Spicer said to Maitlis. “What I was trying to do – and clearly not well – was to take the focus from the audience that attended it versus the audience that watched it. I thought we were on much safer ground there.”
Spicer then chuckled, and exclaimed: “No one was happy with me that day Emily.”
Then Maitlis chose to confront Spicer about his former colleague Kellyanne Conway’s coining of the phrase “alternative facts” in reference to the size of the inauguration crowd.
“It became a joke – a moment that defined you. But, it wasn’t a joke,” Maitlis pressed. "It was the start of the most corrosive culture. You played with the truth."
And Spicer’s lack of ownership for his mistruths did not only frustrate Maitlis as an interviewer. Critics who reviewed Spicer’s memoir, which discusses President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the transition to the White House and Spicer's role as press secretary, were equally candid about what they viewed as his "attempt to clear his name."
Harriet Alexander gave Spicer's book one star out of five in her review in The Guardian, writing: "At times hostile, at times hilarious, his briefings got higher ratings than the actual soap operas airing at the same time. So how has he managed to make his account of the time so dull?"
The Washington Post’s media critic, Erik Wemple, wrote that the memoir was “a bumbling effort at gaslighting Americans into doubting what they have seen with their own eyes.”
Jonathan Karl’s review for The Wall Street Journal read: “Mr. Spicer’s book is much like his tenure as press secretary: short, littered with inaccuracies and offering up one consistent theme – Mr. Trump can do no wrong.”
Among the inaccuracies noted by Karl: Spicer called the author of the Trump dossier “Michael Steele.” The author's name was Christopher Steele, while Michael Steele was the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. His review continued:
He recounts a reporter asking Mr. Obama a question at a White House press conference in 1999, a decade before Mr. Obama was elected. There are also some omissions: He writes about working for Rep. Mark Foley (R., Fla.), who he says “knew how to manage the news cycle. And on top of all that, he was good to staff and fun to be around.” He never gets around to mentioning that Mr. Foley later resigned in disgrace for sending sexually explicit messages to teenage boys working as congressional pages.
In his book, Spicer described Trump as an “energizer bunny” and a "rockstar." In one passage, he also referred to the president as "a unicorn riding a unicorn over a rainbow.”
In the lead-up to the book's release on Tuesday, Spicer's pre-sales were flagging on the "Amazon Best Seller" chart. As of Wednesday evening, it was not among the top 150 books.