Former White House Press Secretary said staff were missing from key roles that would have helped the administration better manage perception of the proposed ban
Media coverage of the Donald Trump administration’s efforts to implement a travel ban on citizens of several predominantly Muslim nations quickly got “out of control”, according to former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
The proposed travel ban – signed shortly after Donald Trump took office in January 2017 – was originally described as a way to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the U.S.
It was, however, quickly met with condemnation and charges of Islamophobia by Trump’s political opponents in the US from both sides of the political spectrum, sparked protests around the world, and led to more than 900 American diplomats signing a “dissent cable” voicing their disapproval.
Speaking to Arabian Business during a visit to the UAE to attend the Sharjah International Government Communication Forum, Spicer said that the Trump administration was not adequately prepared for the immediate aftermath of the ban.
“It was the beginning of the administration. One, we didn’t have the full set of government actors that could have helped us promulgate that,” he said.
“Two, we let that narrative get out of control, real quick.”
During his six-month tenure as White House press secretary, the travel ban – and arguments over whether it actually constituted a “ban” at all – often led to arguments with members of the White House press corps.
“People made assumptions about what it was, or created narratives about what it was, before we had an opportunity to accurately describe it,” Spicer recalled.
“Looking back, we rolled it out in a very quick way, and it led to a lot of misinformation that we could have probably slowed down – but we didn’t have a full slate of nominees in each of those critical areas.”
While Spicer said he that he “doesn’t know” whether the ban caused any long-term damage to Trump's administration’s standing in the eyes of the public or in the Muslim world, he acknowledges that he believes the overall effect was negative.
“I don’t think it was helpful,” he says. “I don’t know how much damage it did, but whenever people are questioning your motives on anything, that’s not the best place to be.”
In December, Spicer - whose White House tenure was marked by an often combative relationship with the press and even a long-running and popular skit in which he was portrayed by actress Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live - revealed that he is currently writing a book about his time in the Trump administration.
Looking back, Spicer said that “many times” he felt as if he was becoming the story, and readily acknowledges that his public image was sometimes a distraction from his duties as press secretary.
“Obviously, the focus should always be on the President or the principal, depending on who you’re working for, and the agenda they have,” he said. “Not on staff.”