About a year after his stint in the White House, a former Trump administration press secretary has been touring with his new book: The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President. And after several interviews on various TV programs, he faced what may be the toughest line of questioning yet when a BBC journalist interviewed Sean Spicer and pressed him on his "lies" for Trump.
"You played with the truth,” Emily Maitlis told Spicer on BBC Newsnight. You led us down a dangerous path. You have corrupted discourse for the entire world by going along with these lies."
In an interview done via satellite, Maitlis referenced Spicer’s satire of himself at the Emmy Awards last year, during which Spicer appeared in front of a podium saying: “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period — both in person and around the world,” Time reported back in 2017. The line was a reference to the press conference after Trump’s 2017 inauguration, which Spicer claimed garnered “the total largest audience witnessed in person and around the globe."
"You joked about it when you presented the Emmy Awards, but it wasn’t a joke," Maitlis said. "It was the start of the most corrosive culture."
Spicer seemed a bit struck by Maitlis’ questions and retorted:
"You act as though everything began and ended with that. You’re taking no accountability for the many false narratives and false stories that the media perpetrated… For you to lay that kind of claim and make everything sound like it started and ended with Donald Trump is just absolutely ridiculous.”
But Maitlis pressed on. Buzzfeed pointed out that she didn’t let Spicer change the narrative to what the media portrayed at the time of the inauguration, but rather pressed him on what he told the America people during his time in the White House and how it aligned with his personal code of ethics.
“My question is, you were his press secretary and I know from what I have read that you care about the freedoms and the institutions and the democracy on which your country was built," Maitlis said during the BBC interview "And this is the office of president spouting lies or half-truths or knocking down real truths, and you were his agent for those months."
And plenty of fellow journalists took note of Maitlis' steadfast and tough interview approach. Many of them offered praise, such as Daniel Dale, a Washington correspondent for The Toronto Star. He imagined a world in which journalists were “one eighth as non-deferential as Emily Maitlis” when questioning President Donald Trump.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen also praised Maitlis’ hardcore interviewing technique on Twitter, saying “Man, I wish we had more of this style of interviewing in the US.”
Maitlis is known for presenting the news on BBC’s Newsnight as well as BBC One and the BBC News Channel. She’s made documentaries on fairly diverse topics, from Facebook to the clubbing scene in Hong Kong, according to her BBC profile.
Maitlis continued to press Spicer about his book, his ethics, and his “lies” for most of the 15-minute interview. She ended the interview with perhaps an obvious question regarding Spicer’s time in the White House: “Would you go back?”
To which Spicer replied: “No. No. I loved being able to do it. I miss the people," Spicer said. Then he smiled and chuckled as he added: "But I'll let somebody else do that."