February 7, 2017

Sean Spicer wasn’t emotionally unstable or hurling chewing gum into his mouth. He didn’t pick up his White House briefing room lectern and try to smash a reporter over the head.

That’s to say that Tuesday’s White House daily briefing was a curious, if perhaps inevitable disappointment. Chalk it up to post-McCarthy Depression.

This is a new affliction in which reporters may exhibit melancholy, even irritability, if not a reduced appetite, after watching the Melissa McCarthy spoof of Spicer on “Saturday Night Live.”

Her character, a fire-breathing exemplar of petulance and evasion, was a comedic classic and version of the highway accident you can’t take your eyes away from.

Tuesday brought Spicer’s first formal briefing since the spoof. It looked like the very same backdrop, podium and, yes, even protagonist.

Yes, he looked very much like McCarthy, didn’t he? Or is it vice versa? Or maybe this was a parody? When Spicer turned to the assembled reporters, you might have sought out Bobby Moynihan, Kenan Thompson or Cecily Strong (whose father is a former Associated Press reporter).

Darn, no sign of them. One could only have hoped, especially since the rules of engagement for the briefing are already rather different. Spicer has created a system in which reporters put their names on a list kept by an aide in advance, in the hopes of being called upon, says a friend there. He doesn’t know what they want to ask, just the outlets on the list. Then he calls upon some on the list (he looked downward several times before calling out a name Tuesday).

It’s a bit odd. But, it seemed, the absences of Moynihan, Thompson and Strong were, too. Why weren’t they there? It might be perfect for TV. Very apt for the new Age of Trump. Imagine how clips of a real question from a famous faux reporter might go viral!

But no. The real journalists in attendance were decorous and understated on Tuesday. It was a reminder that the past can be prologue with this particular ritual, with the near certainty of no actual news being made always present.

For sure, Spicer is calling on a more varied group than many predecessors, and it may explain a fairly eclectic array of questions.

So it wasn’t just the obvious ones Tuesday about the dramatic Senate confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the state of new healthcare legislation or the late Tuesday oral arguments on one legal challenge to President Trump’s immigration order.

There were also ones from reporters representing international outlets in South Korea, Spain and Mexico, broaching matters of concerns back home. And, if truth be told, their queries were rather pedestrian.

But, throughout, one might have harkened back to the Saturday night character who was largely unrecognizable as McCarthy since, well, the fake Spicer looked so much like the real one.

It explained why some folks in the room, according to a friend who was there, thought there would be some premeditated response to the McCarthy spoof. Perhaps Trump himself would surface (and perhaps take a shot at Alec Baldwin, who’s got him down cold?). Or Spicer uttering some pre-crafted reference to his primetime satiric ignominy.

But, no.

Still, McCarthy’s own presence was felt.

As Spicer bid everybody adieu, and began heading off the small stage, somebody yelled out a final query: Had he seen the spoof?

By the time the line was uttered, Spicer was gone.

Live from the White House, this was, after all, Tuesday Afternoon Live. Expectations, even in the Trump era, must be modest.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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