Spicer’s Foot in Mouth Not Front Page News

by Gary Fouse

This week, White House press spokesman Sean Spicer misspoke while talking about the Syrian use of poison gas on its own people. Here is what he said (NPR):

SEAN SPICER: We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a – someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to the – to using chemical weapons. So…

HORSLEY: That left reporters in the room and certainly people watching on television scratching their heads because it seemed like Spicer was overlooking the millions who died in Nazi concentration camps.

CORNISH: Right. And a reporter did ask Spicer to clarify his remarks, right? What happened?

HORSLEY: Yeah. In fairness, I mean anybody can misspeak when they’re speaking extemporaneously for long periods of time, and that certainly includes Sean Spicer. So a reporter tried to give the press secretary a do-over, asking Spicer to clarify. And you know, it just made matters worse. Here’s Spicer trying to explain why Hitler’s murderous gas was somehow different than Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s.


SPICER: I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no – he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. I mean there was clearly – I understand your point. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I understand your point.

SPICER: Thank you. I appreciate that. There was not – in the – he brought them into the – to the Holocaust center, and I understand that. But I’m saying, in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent – into the middle of towns. It was brought – so the use of it. I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.

Yes, it was clumsy, but does this really merit the three major news networks leading their evening news reports with this? Does it merit this full blown article in the Washington Post? To make this a big story is a real stretch. What is the story here? That Spicer is insensitive to Jewish people? Hardly. Is Spicer unaware of the Holocaust? Hardly.

The facts are these: During World War I, both sides used poison gas with horrific results. Hitler’s own participation as a soldier in that war ended when he was temporally blinded by poison gas in France. He was in a hospital in Pasewalk when the war ended. After WWI, steps were taken to reaffirm the outlawing of poison gas under international law. In World War II, neither side used it against each other’s armies or against civilians-with the notable exception of the Holocaust. That entailed initially using mobile death vans in which the exhaust was directed into the back where civilian prisoners had been loaded. Eventually, the Nazis established 6 death camps in Poland with gas chambers that murdered millions. Auschwitz, of course, was the most notorious. The chemical used was Zyklon B. Had Spicer added those few words,”with the notable exception of the Holocaust,” when he mentioned Hitler, there would be no issue.

Spicer has apologized humbly and seems to be coming down hard on himself-more than necessary in my view, and I am hardly insensitive to the Holocaust or Jewish sensibilities about the Holocaust. It was an innocent mistake-just as innocent as when The Hill published a report on this incident in which the name Spicer was accidentally used instead of Hitler (Newsbusters).

This story should have no legs. It’s just more material for MSNBC and CNN to fill up a news day.


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