ProPublica more worthy of public trust than Sean Spicer

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, April 3, 2017. Spicer answered questions about the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump's salary and other topics. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The sole purpose of ProPublica is to publish quality investigative journalism. Sean Spicer’s sole purpose is to discredit trustworthy media outlets.

Two days ago, ProPublica broke a bombshell story revealing that, “President Trump can draw money from any of his businesses without disclosing this information to the public due to a new clause added to his trust agreement,” according to Esquire. With Trump’s continued assurances that he has distanced himself from his businesses in mind, ProPublica’s report is damaging to his presidency.

The publication’s findings are based on original research that unearthed a “small phrase buried deep in a set of recently released letters between the Trump organization and the government,” a phrase that empowers Trump to “draw money from his more than 400 businesses, at any time,” but doesn’t require Trump to divulge doing so, per ProPublica. For a campaign based on anti-corruption claims, it seems apparent that Trump and his family are attempting to profit from his position of president.

That’s where Spicer comes in. In these twisted times, his lying, denying the truth and attacks on the press have made him into a competent butler of bullcrap for Trump. When asked about ProPublica’s story, Spicer summed up the Trump administration’s strategy when dealing with the press: cast doubt on the newspaper or network in question, obfuscate the truth and profess ignorance.

“Just because a left-wing blog makes the point of something changing doesn't mean it actually happened,” Spicer said. “I'm not aware that there was ever a change in the trust."

ProPublica took exception to Spicer characterizing it as a “left-wing blog,” presumably because it’s not. Two of its three founders and top editors were once senior staff members on the right-leaning Wall Street Journal. ProPublica is a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalistic enterprise. They have won the Pulitzer Prize and have written consequential exposés, like their piece on Tylenol’s dangerous main ingredient. They took to Twitter to let Spicer know they are not to be trifled with.

In a series of 13 tweets addressed to Spicer, ProPublica asserted its reporting chops. The first set of tweets directed Spicer toward the story in question, proving the validity of the article. They then made it clear that they had reached out to the Trump administration for comment long in advance, but didn’t receive a substantive reply. ProPublica also included links to stories about Jared Kushner and Tom Price that implicate them in unethical situations.

"What we do is hold people in power accountable, no matter who they are, or what names they call us. We do it with facts," ProPublica tweeted before showing Spicer a series of negative stories they’d published on the Obama administration during his tenure.

ProPublica is about as pure as journalism can be. Talk of “left-wing blogs” or “fake news” is simply untrue in this case. Conservatives across the country have worked tirelessly to injure the reputation of institutions of journalism like the New York Times and the Washington Post, so their newest target should not surprise. Still, with dwindling nationwide faith in “mainstream media,” one must rely on reputable alternative news sources that conduct investigative journalism for verifiable facts, like ProPublica.

Trump is a wannabe tyrant. This aspiration shines through most prominently when he or his henchmen and women talk to or about the press. So much has happened with regards to repressing or disrespecting the press during Trump’s run for the presidency, as well as in his first few months as president, that it is impossible to dive into each example, unless you worked for, say, Media Matters, which published an exhaustive list titled, “The Trump Administration’s War on the Press”. This is why I’ve focused on Spicer’s latest “left-wing blog” lie. We cannot let these slip by and vanish into the abyss that is Donald Trump’s vacuous Twitter account or every news outlets’ breaking news section. Each new example of animosity from Trump’s camp toward the first amendment and toward reporters must be recognized and denounced.

If ignored, the propaganda plan could be normalized. My worry is that Trump supporters see these successive takedowns of the media as Trump, Spicer or Conway “owning the lamestream media.” That said, if it is possible to chip away at Trump’s acolytes, to get them to understand their leader is trying to hoodwink them, I’m going to try. Why? Well, why is Trump’s team trying to distract from the content of these news stories instead of engaging? The answer to both questions is the same: Trump is corrupt, and he knows it. Yes, his voters were able to overlook his naked racism, misogyny and utter lack of a grasp on policy, but if this corruption is definitively proven, that’s when he’ll be in trouble. It’s not a good look for the guy leading chants to “Lock her up” to also be the guy under House, Senate and press investigation for ties to Russia and nepotistic, selfish, shady business interests.

The only way to stop the inevitable, that being Trump’s impeachment, is to foster distrust for the organizations holding him accountable. This is Spicer and Conway’s desperate charge.

ProPublica is real news, and Sean Spicer is full of sh*t.


Sten Spinella is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.