Thanks to the dysfunction stemming from his boss, White House press secretary Sean Spicer is getting heavy exposure to the public via televised daily sessions in the briefing room. And the more we see of him, the nastier he appears.
On Tuesday he again showed his manipulative and churlish side in an exchange with April Ryan, the longtime White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks. Ryan has been sitting through White House briefings since the second term of President Bill Clinton, and she had a big-picture question for Spicer after some rocky months for the Trump administration. "Two and a half months in, you've got this (Sally) Yates story today, you've got other things going on, you've got Russia, you've got wiretapping," said Ryan, until Spicer cut her off.
"No, we don't have that," said Spicer.
Ryan cited investigations into the activities of the Trump campaign and Russia.
"I get it but ... I've said it from the day I got here until whenever that there is no connection. You've got Russia. If the president puts Russian dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection," Spicer said.
After some more pushback from Ryan, Spicer said, "I appreciate your agenda here." He said that people briefed on the Russia thing have reached the same conclusion about this matter. And as he unfurled his explanation, he snapped at Ryan: "I'm sorry that that disgusts you. You're shaking your head. I appreciate it," he said with sarcasm.
As a matter of fact, Ryan was displaying unimpeachable body language at that moment.
"At some point, April, you're going to have to take no for an answer with respect to whether or not there was collusion," Spicer said. On the matter of changing the perception of the White House, Spicer said, "We're going to keep doing everything we're doing to make sure that what the president told the American people he was going to do - to fulfill those pledges and promises that he made to bring back jobs, to grow the economy, to keep our nation safe."
Then the conversation took a turn. Ryan asked about a meeting with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, someone who hasn't supported Trump. Spicer responded:"It's interesting that you ask those two questions back to back. On the one hand, you're saying what are we doing to improve our image? And then here he is once again meeting somebody that hasn't been a big supporter of his. ... It seems like you're hellbent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays. ... I'm sorry, please stop shaking your head again."
In early days of the Trump administration, Spicer complained from the lectern that coverage of President Donald Trump wasn't quite what he preferred. "The default narrative is always negative," Spicer said at a briefing that followed what Trump viewed as unflattering stories on his inauguration. "And it's demoralising."
Since then, the objectively, nakedly negative stories have been delivered through a very reliable delivery apparatus: The drama and ouster surrounding former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the stupid and inaccurate tweets from the president himself, the failure to come up with a viable alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and others cited by Ryan.
The record is fact - yet somehow Spicer couldn't handle the weight of the recent past as presented by Ryan. We won't speculate about what motivated his nastiness, other than to point out that there's a record of Spicer nastiness.
Asked whether she felt Spicer's treatment was insulting, Ryan confirmed. "It was insulting but ... people are seeing the treatment of the press and how we are treated," said Ryan in a chat with this writer. "We know this, we see this behind the scenes. You got a glimpse of this on camera." I credit Ryan for her calm but kindly dissents: This is sui generis treatment of the press.
Following her face-off with Spicer, Ryan received messages from many friends and colleagues, including Republicans and a former Republican White House press secretary. "They were in support of me and they had me laughing," said Ryan.
"This is just par for the course, unfortunately. But I'll be back. I'll be back," she says.
• Erik Wemple is a journalist with two decades of experience in Washington. He reports and opines on media organisations of all sorts