I have always believed that when someone answers a question with a question, it means that either a) that person does not know the answer, or b) that person does not wish to have to answer the question. Either way, it is an avoidance of the truth. Throughout the past year, Donald Trump has shown himself to be the master of both avoidance and deception. His soon-to-be press secretary, Sean Spicer, is a perfect match for Trump, as he, too, rarely if ever provides a direct answer to a question.
On This Week, during an interview with Jonathan Karl yesterday, Spicer was asked if President-elect Trump accepts the conclusion of seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for the hacks that sought to damage Clinton’s bid for the presidency. His response was as enlightening as a burned-out light bulb:
“Why aren’t we talking about the other influences on the election? Why aren’t we talking about Hillary Clinton getting debate questions ahead of time? No one is asking those questions. The fact is that everyone wants to make Donald Trump admit to certain things. When do we talk about the other side, which is what did Hillary Clinton do to influence the election? Is she being punished?”
First, his response is ‘apples-to-oranges’, in other words, completely off the topic of the Russian hacking and the intelligence reports of last week. Second, he answered a question with a question in avoidance of the original question, proving he either does not know, or it would be embarrassing to provide an answer. In addition to answering a question with a question, another method of avoidance is to transfer blame. In this case, the blame in the initial question is on the Russian government, and rather than say “yes, we believe the intelligence reports that claim the Russians influenced our elections by hacking” or “no, we do not believe ….”, Spicer turned the question to a totally unrelated question, attempting to transfer the blame for election tampering from Putin to Clinton. He also mentioned numerous times that he could not fully answer the question until after Trump meets with the intelligence committee heads later this week. For a full transcript of the program, click here.
Spicer is no novice, having served as Communications Director for the Republican National Committee since 2011. However, like other of Trump’s advisors, and indeed Trump himself, his communication skills with the press are lacking. This was not the first time he literally came out looking less-than-savvy. It seems that he is nothing more than a mouthpiece for Trump, he is given his cue cards and when the questions by seasoned journalists go beyond what is on his cards, he is lost in space. He does not appear to understand the politics of this nation, though with five years as spokesperson for the RNC he should. And he definitely does not understand foreign relations and policy, else he would be embarrassed to give some of the answers he gives, such as his simplistic view on the Trump-Putin love affair.
Spicer has not earned the respect of the media yet, likely never will, and in some ways, I feel sorry for him, because he is in a position of having to be the moderator between a relatively uneducated president who lies more than he tells the truth, and a press corps who is fed up with Trump and ready to hold him to his word. At the crux is We The People, some of whom are concerned that we may never again be able to believe what comes out of the White House.
On NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, said the feeling is mutual between Trump and the press, calling it a “double-barreled hostility” where the media can’t stand Trump and Trump returns the favor. “He can use it to his advantage, because as the Gallup poll recently indicated, confidence in the press to report the news accurately and fairly has never been lower. And so the press has made itself vulnerable, because it lost the trust of their readers and their viewers — and Trump has widely taken advantage of it.”
Spicer was ambiguous on questions about how the press would be receiving daily communications after January 20th, saying some would be recorded, others not, and he saw no problem with Trump’s currently favoured method of communication, Twitter. It does not bode well that we have a very poor communicator sitting in the Oval Office, and no effectual communication staff. I envision, for at least the first several months, that Trump’s tweets will be the main format of “White House communication”, such as it is. Does it really matter, given that anything out of Trump’s mouth today is likely to be reversed tomorrow? Probably not. Which makes our job as citizens all that much harder.