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Sean Spicer’s Hitler comment was dumb, but the media’s treatment of it is completely dishonest

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By —— Bio and Archives April 12, 2017

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Sean Spicer has surely had better days than the one in which he clumsily said Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink” to using chemical weapons. I would imagine almost every day of his life was better than that one. I sure as hell hope so.

As if it was necessary to cite a historical comparison to emphasize the seriousness of Bashar Assad using chemical weapons against his own people - it’s not, the action stands on its own as abjectly evil - Spicer somehow managed to stumble into a media trap of his own making. And once you’ve done that, it doesn’t matter in the slightest if you clearly didn’t mean to suggest what your poorly chosen words can dishonestly be portrayed to mean. They’ve got you. And they’re gonna get you.

Let’s take a look at the words in written form, because if you read it in full, you get a clear sense of what Spicer meant and didn’t mean:

“You had—someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to the— to using chemical weapons,” Spicer told reporters at the White House briefing Tuesday. “So you have to, if you’re Russia, ask yourself, ‘Is this a country that you and a regime you want to align your self with?’”

The remark was meant to emphasize why the use of chemical weapons by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad necessitated an American military response.

While chemical weapons weren’t widely used on th battlefield in the European theatre in World War II, Spicer’s comments immediately raised eyebrows because of the Nazi’s extensive and well-documented use of poison gas during the Holocaust. Six million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust, many in Nazi gas chambers.


Pressed by a reporter to clarify what he meant by this remark, Spicer said that he meant that Hitler had never used chemical weapons in the way Assad had, while acknowledging they were used by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

“I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said. Of Hitler, Spicer said, “He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that.”

He then added: “But in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent—in the middle of towns….I appreciate the clarification…that was not the intent.”

After the briefing, the White House issued another statement: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust,” Spicer wrote. “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

Clearly Spicer was not trying to whitewash anything Hitler did. If anything he was citing Hitler precisely because everyone knows Hitler did such awful things and he was trying to make the point that Assad committed a particular evil that even Hitler did not commit. The problem, of course, is that this is true only if you parse the words very carefully. Maybe Hitler didn’t go indiscriminately into German towns and gas everyone who happened to be around, but it is no less morally repugnant to round up Jews into “Holocaust centers” and gas them.


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Media feeding frenzy: But that doesn’t excuse the people who are setting traps when they’re supposed to be just telling us the news.

Spicer’s decision to emphasize Assad’s evil by comparing it to Hitler’s was completely unnecessary. All you have to do is reference the actual facts of Assad’s atrocities and they more than speak for themselves. Even the media aren’t claiming that what Assad did wasn’t so bad, so why drop the Hitler comparison as a way of making the point sound more convincing?

That said, there is absolutely no reason for the media feeding frenzy that’s resulted from it. Spicer clearly wasn’t minimizing Hitler’s evil in any way. It didn’t sound that way the first time he said it, and once he clarified all doubt should have been removed.

But the political press have a nasty habit of taking your initial words if they’re clumsy enough, and refusing to acknowledge when you explain yourself. The initial slip of the tongue means they’ve got you, and they’ll go wall to wall talking about the poorly chosen words while giving little or any emphasis to the clarification. So what is the news value of that? What really matters is what he intended to convey, not the initially ineffective way he conveyed it. But their purpose is not to tell you want really matters. It’s to humiliate people they don’t like.

Spicer’s mistake was only a serious error because that’s how the media operates. If they were honest, they would accept the clarification and report accordingly. But they’re not. They’re out for blood. I realize White House press secretaries are supposed to know this and they’re supposed to be careful not to fall into the trap. Spicer didn’t do that very well here.

But that doesn’t excuse the people who are setting traps when they’re supposed to be just telling us the news.

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Dan Calabrese’s column is distributed by, which can be found at

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