Sean Spicer walked out of the White House briefing room on May 1, 2017 before taking questions from reporters. He'd just sat in on Budget Director Mick Mulvaney's presentation on the federal budget agreement reached by Congress to fund the government through September. Typically, the press secretary stays after and take questions from the reporters in the audience. On this day, Spicer opted out, sparking a chorus of "Sean, Sean" from the reporters present. All were anxious for his attention and the chance to get their questions answered.
There is an obvious political angle but what message does Spicer's move send to leaders in other types of high-profile, public roles?
If you're reading this article, you've probably seen clips of Sean Spicer's communication briefings. In fact, Spicer has the highest name/face recognition of any press secretary since we've been measuring these kind of things (which is not long). His approach has been analyzed by news outlets and mocked by comedians--of course, most famously by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live.
Despite the unconventional nature of his move to skip reporters' questions, it was the right professional move for him on this occasion. Why? There was nothing productive that would come out of the exchange, and he knew it. And in walking out, he made his position crystal clear: Get your information elsewhere.
His relationship to reporters in the briefing room has been notoriously contentious. And most days he likes it like that. He seems to enjoy the word-twisting banter and occasional hostility. But he didn't walk out because he was afraid, he left because there was nothing more to say--and I suspect he was too tired to tangle.
As an entrepreneur or business leader in a high-profile role, you know that being expected to say something quote-worthy can be very stressful. This is especially true if you're already on shaky ground with your audience. This stress typically results in an awkward, strained statement that raises more questions that you're not ready to answer. When you can, it's better to put off an exchange until a later date when you're more prepared and confident.
Now, of course, it's Spicer's job to brief the press and answer their questions. So, no, he can't continue to walk out of press briefings like that. However, given the deteriorated state of his relationship with the press, the most cynical among us might say that there is little value gained from these briefings at this point anyway. Reporters will use other sources to get the information they want, and the administration will use its other channels--including the President's personal Twitter account--to get their message out.
So, there's no great loss in Spicer's walk-out, this time. It's just another example of the unconventional approach to running the office that has become normal throughout this administration.
Spicer's walk-out effectively twisted the old adage to say, "if you don't have anything nice to say, I won't let you say anything at all."