On Wednesday morning, ABC rewarded former White House press secretary Sean Spicer with a spot on the new season of “Dancing with the Stars.” Making the announcement on ABC’s flagship program, “Good Morning America,” Spicer waved to the live studio audience from behind a prop podium.
The dancing competition has long been a popular place for washed up celebrities looking to rehabilitate or pump up their image. But Spicer shouldn’t get that chance — and he certainly doesn’t deserve it.
More than halfway into this White House’s train wreck of a tenure, flagrant lying and attacks on the free press have become standard operating procedure. This week began with President Donald Trump tweeting, “The LameStream Media is far beyond Fake News, they are treading in very dangerous territory!” According to The Washington Post, Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading statements since becoming president of the United States.
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But as conditioned as we all now are to this administration’s lies, it’s important to remember how we got here. During his first White House press briefing, on the first full day of Trump’s presidency, Spicer infamously declared that, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” When confronted with evidence that this claim wasn’t true, Spicer doubled down on the lie, responding, “it was the most–watched inaugural.” (Spicer would later go on to concede that he “screwed up” and characterized it as a “moment he regretted.” But not until he'd left the White House, of course.)
Arguing over the size of an inauguration crowd may seem trivial. But Spicer’s very bold, very public and very disprovable lie arguably set the tone for the entire Trump presidency.
Sure, arguing over the size of an inauguration crowd may seem trivial. But Spicer’s very bold, very public and very disprovable lie arguably set the tone for the entire Trump presidency. This White House, Spicer implied, would not be concerned with facts and accuracy. No longer would administration officials allow the truth to prevent them from spreading their own narratives. They would just say what they wanted, and when challenged with the facts, label the questioner as biased and declare the media outlets to be “fake news.”
Spicer’s falsehoods would graduate from the trivial to matters of great importance and severity. This makes some psychological sense. As researchers Tali Sharot and Neil Garrett noted in 2018, a process called emotional adaptation is one reason habitual liars find it easier to tell bigger and bigger whoppers. This certainly seems to have been the case with Spicer. As documented in former special counsel Robert Mueller's report, Spicer lied to the press about the circumstances surrounding the firing of then-national security adviser Michael Flynn and the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. On the very network that airs “Dancing with the Stars,” Spicer defended Trump’s baseless and frankly racist lie that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the November election.
These lies have consequences, not least of all because they help erode trust in the press. As we’ve seen from the proliferation of conspiracy theories like QAnon, when large groups of people no longer trust institutions like the media, bad things can happen. And that doesn’t even get into the subtler way Spicer’s lies impacted discourse on the Hill.
The idea that someone who in six months made lying from the White House podium routine should be rewarded with a spot on one of the most watched programs on network television is an embarrassment to ABC and a slap in the face to journalists, many of whom work for that very network. It also sends the message that it doesn’t matter if you lie, attack the press or betray your country — if you’re famous enough, you’ll probably still be gifted opportunities to add to your fortune and boost your fame.
The reality is Trump’s racist, sexist, destructive agenda is not an agenda of one. It is made possible and executed by people who make the conscious decision to stand next to the president and support, defend and execute his vision for our country. The people who help him do this are not innocent bystanders. They are not being coerced into participating. They are not helpless. They can, at any time, choose to walk away and speak out. Since leaving the White House, Spicer’s loyalty to the president has barely wavered.
By inviting Spicer to be a part of the new season, ABC and “Dancing with the Stars” are helping normalize the very behavior that is undermining the pillars of our democracy. What’s next? Sarah Huckabee Sanders hosting “Celebrity Family Feud?”