US & Canada

Sean Spicer: My hectic six months with White House spokesman

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On TV comedy show Saturday Night Live, Sean Spicer was portrayed as a cartoonish, angry buffoon. He had some of those traits in real life. Yet he also had a sensitive side.

During a March briefing, a reporter asked a question about Russia. Spicer spoke for several minutes - in great detail - about the subject.

The reporter seemed surprised and said: "I wasn't expecting to tap quite such a deep well."

Spicer glanced down at a stack of papers and smiled: "It's Friday," he said.

In this way, Spicer showed he took his job seriously: he was trying to answer the reporter's question. Yet Spicer was also revealing his quiet sense of humour. He was acknowledging that he often came to the podium at the end of the week with a bunch of prepared responses, spilling them all out on Fridays.

The exchange with the reporter also showed that he was different from the caricature that actress Melissa McCarthy had created on Saturday Night Live. In the show, she portrayed him as an unhinged bully spokesman who shouted at reporters and chewed gum with a vengeance.

McCarthy got some things right. On Air Force One, for example, he would take out a stick of gum and unwrap it in front of us and then stick it in his mouth and start chewing. (Fox News used to flicker on a screen behind him.)

He also said mean things. I remember once when he called the work of my colleagues "sad and pathetic".

Still he didn't shout - or not that often. He seemed more or less under control - at least when I was around him.

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Media captionAnthony Scaramucci: The new White House communications director

In truth we were often in the same boat. One morning in February, for example, he walked past me and my colleagues in the parking lot of the president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. As members of the press pool, we spent a lot of time sitting in vans.

"Did you guys golf?" he asked us, sarcastically. He knew the answer: of course we hadn't. But he didn't seem like he was having much fun either. He was wearing a dark jacket and looked overworked and exhausted.

His biggest liability as a spokesman was that he had a boss who preferred to speak for himself. The president tweets wildly and speaks off-the-cuff to reporters. Those who work in the communications office don't know what he will say or do on any given day.

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Image caption Sean Spicer outside the White House on Friday

The situation at the White House was chaotic, and yet as the spokesman he was under tremendous pressure to make things seem OK. He often came up short.

I remember during a briefing in March when he stood at the podium with a US flag pin that was - distressingly - upside down. "Thank you," he said when a reporter told him that he'd put on wrong. Then he fixed it.

During his final weeks on the job, reporters said that he was like a guy who knew his girlfriend was going to break up with him, but she hadn't done it yet. Even the president noticed that he looked beaten down and spoke with his aides about the situation.

The last time I saw Spicer was on Wednesday at the White House.

He was walking up a driveway towards the West Wing.

His pants were a couple inches too short and his jacket flapped out when he walked. Before going into the West Wing, he saw a reporter and wished her a happy birthday.

He had often seemed awkward and clumsy. Yet he also had a gentle side.

On Friday, he was no longer at the podium. That morning he announced what everyone already seemed to know: he was done with the job. Soon he'd be gone.

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