Watch Genevieve Wood’s interview with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on his new book above, or read a lightly edited transcript of their conversation below.
Genevieve Wood: We are joined here at The Heritage Foundation by Sean Spicer, on his new book entitled … And, your first book, right?
Sean Spicer: It’s my first.
Wood: “The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President.” Thank you for sitting down today with The Signal.
Spicer: Thank you very much for having me.
Wood: We were just talking about your whirlwind book tour.
Wood: It’s all seeming like a blur, but I got to believe it’s been still a little bit more fun than what you write about in this book.
Spicer: On balance, so far it’s been pretty good. It really is, it’s probably faster paced than being in the White House because you’re on the move the whole time. We’re up early, we’re going out late. But, it’s fun to be able to talk about it. For the first time in my life, I’m talking about myself, not somebody else and kind of taking readers behind the scenes as to what this is all about.
Wood: You get to be your own spokesman.
Spicer: I do.
Wood: Not somebody else’s. Was this therapeutic for you, writing the book?
Spicer: In some ways it was, because as a spokesman you’re not talking about yourself. There was a lot of things, especially in the six months of the White House, that I couldn’t talk about. I tell a story about how my house got put up for sale. There’s things … That’s not your job, to talk about what you’re going through, because you’re supposed to be there to talk about the White House, you’re supposed to be there to talk about the president.
I think part of what I wanted to do was give people not just a little bit of an insight into what happened over the last few years during the campaign, and the convention or whatever—but also some insight into who I was as a person, and what I was going through emotionally and otherwise.
Wood: You started really with a very emotional chapter in the very beginning, where you’re talking about when you knew it was over.
Wood: When you knew, “I’m going to resign.” You get very specific. I love the part where you talk about, even after you gave the president your resignation, you went down and got your letter timestamped.
Wood: Why were these kind of details so important?
Spicer: Because, I think … I mean, I think it’s interesting. As someone who has enjoyed reading about other people, it gives you that color. Where were you, what were you doing, what did you do next, what was it like. I wanted people to be able to feel like they were there with me, and that they understood what I was doing and why.
In that particular moment, and I write about this, that I wanted people to understand that I wanted to make sure that this was on my terms, and it wasn’t going to be spun later that day, or three days later, or two months later that says, “Oh, this is how it really happened.” And that, if there was some metrics, and accountability to what had happened and transpired, it made it a little bit more hard for other people to maybe interpret, or to tell it differently.
Wood: As you’ve kind of reflected back, and you talk a little bit about this in the book, you’ve had time to reflect on the relationship now between lawmakers, elected officials, and the media. How do we get it better from where it is today?
Spicer: You know what, that’s a fantastic question. Because, there was a time, and you and I were talking a little bit before this started, about when I got here. I know you’ve been involved in a lot of the conservative efforts over the years, and there’s a difference between us promoting conservative ideas, and talking about policies. And people now trying to shout down those things. We’ve lost the ability in so many ways to have a civil and respectful discussion. I think that’s a problem.
Wood: What do you say to those who blame the president for that?
Spicer: It’s a good point. I say, look, we can either keep pointing fingers—I disagree, I understand why they don’t like some of what he says, or how he says it. But this notion that it all started with Donald Trump is a little far-fetched.
That being said, it’s sort of like dealing with two 8 year olds. You don’t necessarily sit around and listen to them fight it out. You say, “At some point let’s stop blaming each other, and move forward.” I think this is the same kind of situation. We’ve got to stop trying to figure out who started it, who’s to blame, and figure out how to have a constructive discussion moving forward.
I think one of the things that Heritage and other groups have done is be able to foster that discussion. I talk about it in the book, that it’s gotten out of control. We see it now still in how a lot of the media acts towards our government officials. There’s a difference between asking tough questions, being tenacious, going after the truth.
Stuff I talk about in the book. I call out reporters by name that do a good job. Part of it is to say, “Look, these guys are tough. I didn’t like everything that they wrote, but they’re professional, they do a good job.” There’s a difference between that and the behavior and antics that we’ve seen. I discuss that as well.
Spicer: That it’s devolved into something that I don’t think is good for decorum, and society as a whole.
Wood: Well, and it makes it very hard for people to serve. I mean, you talk very candidly about how this took a toll on your family.
Wood: How it … won’t say it took a toll on your faith, but increased your faith. I mean, you said at certain points you were worried about your family’s security.
Spicer: Well, I was. To your point now about people who are currently thinking about serving, I think even more so because of the way the dialogue has escalated now, to whether it’s intimidation, or even threats—I worried because I knew that I’d left for the White House just after five every morning, got home around 10. It’s a pretty safe place to work, you know?
Spicer: I worked 20 feet away from the Oval Office. If you got in my office, we probably had big problems in the country. I knew I was safe, but I worried about the people that had made threats online about going to my house, or saying things about my wife or my kids. It’s a pretty helpless thing, because you’re sitting there at work, and every once in a while you would hear, or read about some kind of online posting or something that happened. It’s just difficult to deal with.
Wood: How did you change the most in your time there?
Spicer: How did I change? I think my skepticism of the media changed significantly. I thought that I had known a lot of these individuals over the years, and I was sort of taken back by the level of vitriol, and intensity that there is, as conservatives in particular grow.
And, as they feel threatened, the level of just meanness was sort of … It’s interesting, so I think I grew a little bit more skeptical. I think I got a little more cynical. I think I got a little bit tougher of a skin … Those are, I guess, probably the primary ways.
Wood: You grew. Now that you’ve been out of it for a while, and you get to watch the press briefings now.
Spicer: Yeah, right. Although even that, I don’t tend to do that.
Wood: Probably, it throws you back to a different period. But, what do you … I mean, you’ve probably seen the recent story with CNN, and Kaitlan Collins.
Wood: I mean, where does it get any better when you see stuff like that happening? Would you have done the same thing?
Spicer: I don’t know the entire circumstances—obviously, I’ve been wrapped up in this. I would say that, look, I think we need a free, and fair, and robust press that gets access to open events. That being said, from what was described to me, it sounds like the president had said, “OK, that’s it,” many times.
Wood: No go.
Spicer: That’s part of the tradition of pool sprays. I haven’t really sat down and listened to the tape, or gone back and forth so I want to be a little careful about how much I judge. But, overall, what I’d say is I think the press at some point also needs to say, “Yes, we want access, we want transparency, but we also will agree that we will act in a respectful way.”
I mean, yelling at the president of the United States with a foreign leader over and over again after you’ve been told to leave the room on multiple occasions. I think, I mean, if you just stop on its face and say, if someone came into your home and you said, “Thank you very much, it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave—”
Wood: There’s a difference between being aggressive and then really violating [decorum].
Spicer: … Right, right. … Yeah, and being respectful. You’re in the Oval Office, you’re asked to leave. Not once, not twice, not three times. At some point that’s not just disrespectful, it’s unprofessional. I think the problem for me is so many times the press wants to just make this, “We were just doing our job.”
I don’t think so. There’s a difference between asking tough questions and being aggressive. I talk about this, I give examples.
There’s one example about Kaitlan Collins herself in the book, about how when she asked a question that the press didn’t deem—at the time she was with The Daily Caller before she went off to CNN—[and] the press didn’t deem it was appropriate, because she wasn’t asking what they collectively wanted. They basically attacked her afterwards, that she should have asked what they collectively thought was the right question for the day.
At some point the level of decorum and professionalism that I see in the press corps right now, I’m shocked that they don’t ever want to acknowledge that. Everything is defensible, there’s no action that’s out of bounds, or inappropriate.
Wood: What have you heard from people that you’ve worked with that have read the book? Has the president read it? Has he seen it—
Spicer: He has it, yes.
Wood: … Did he have to look at it, or did anybody have to give you approval for anything?
Spicer: No, I told the president I was writing the book, I checked in with him a couple times. He has a copy of it. I have not talked to him. I talked to the vice president, he’s been very supportive of it. I have talked to some of my colleagues who have enjoyed it.
Wood: Well, you’re kind of the first … I mean, I think you’re the first person who has actually worked in the White House, worked on the campaign, that’s written a book at this point, right?
Spicer: Yeah, yeah. That’s the thing that’s so beautiful about this, is that if you think about the campaign, the transition to the White House, there’s this arc that at least I can talk about the entire thing as opposed to just one piece of it. That’s what’s really unique and neat about it. I actually, I’m really personally proud of what we did when we talked about what happened during the campaign, and the use of data. Because I think it happens so fast, that if you don’t go back and put it down, it’s going to get lost to history.
Wood: Final question for you: What was your favorite thing about writing the book?
Spicer: I think my favorite thing was stopping, and so many things that I had forgotten that happened. When I went back and started reviewing notes, and calendars, and talking to colleagues. You’d go, “Oh my gosh, I totally forgot about that.” It gave me an opportunity to remember some things really small, some things big, and relive them in a way that almost in the moment because we were going so fast, I didn’t get that opportunity.
Wood: Well, every day you were living history.
Wood: I mean, you see that in the book. I mean, the Air Force One trips.
Wood: The foreign trips, meeting the pope. I mean, there’s just so many different things that I feel like you must have been taking good notes.
Spicer: A little, not just the notes. I mean, I went back, [former White House press secretary] Ari Fleischer gave me a great recommendation. He said, “Go back and print off every briefing that you did, and you will … ” I printed off articles, and sort of like … Again, I interviewed some of my former colleagues where, during the campaign, and the transition and said, “OK. Do you remember this day? Here’s how I remember it, what else do you remember from that day, what were the other circumstances?” I mean, it really was a great project.
Wood: Well, it’s a great book.
Spicer: Thank you, Genevieve.
Wood: I’m about halfway through.
Wood: I haven’t … But, it’s one of the, I get a lot of these books.
Wood: Many of them I don’t read, I’ll just be honest. But … this is a history. It’s not just you ranting and raving about something.
Wood: It’s actually history of what happened.
Spicer: I appreciate that, thank you. It’s also, I think for those of us who have come to Washington, and been in the game. It’s interesting because I think there’s so many of us that have gone in different directions and paths that it’s … I enjoyed being able to share that experience with others.
Spicer: All right.
Wood: … Be on the lookout for this guy.
Spicer: Yeah, SeanSpicer.com has the whole list of where we’ll be.
Spicer: We’d love to see everyone out there.
Wood: Sean, thank you.
Spicer: Thank you, Genevieve.