Sean Spicer is the News: The Relationship Between Sean Spicer and The White House Press Corps

Julian, Danielle
Craig, Geoffrey
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

This research concerns the relationship between former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and the White House press corps, analysed through the reportage of the daily White House press briefing. This relationship can be seen as a continuation of Trump’s relationship with the news media during his candidacy. This thesis quantitatively measures the reportage by the White House press corps using content analysis (Krippendorff, 2002), and qualitative analysis of the reportage using journalism discourse analysis (Wodak & Meyers, 2001; Fairclough, 2010). These analyses are achieved by analysing three cases that became headlines due to the moment of contention between Spicer and the press corps. These case studies are:

  1. The initial press briefing, when Spicer lectured the press corps for falsely reporting the size of Trump’s inauguration’s crowd.
  2. Press Briefing #30, when Spicer forcefully instructed reporter April D. Ryan to ‘stop shaking her head.'
  3. Press Briefing #36, when Spicer controversially compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Nazi Party Leader Adolf Hitler and incorrectly claimed that Hitler did not use chemical weapons. Online news articles about these case studies from 30 media outlets that have journalists in the White House press corps have been selected. The thesis then compares and contrasts the case studies’ press briefing transcripts to the online news articles.

The theories that are used to perform this thesis’ analyses are, disciplined bodies (Craig, 2016), habitus (Bourdieu, 2002; Craig, 2016), spin (Downes, 1998; McNair, 2000, Craig, 2013), political source relations (Downes, 1998, McNair, 2000, Davis, 2003, Sanders, 2009), news values (Galtung & Ruge, 1965; Harcup & O’Neill, 2016), the mediated public sphere (McNair, 2000; Herman & Chomsky, 2002, Jackson & Valentine, 2014).

This thesis finds that in political journalism there is a proliferation of articles that are more concerned about the political process as opposed to political policy. This finding is in line with the findings from The Pew Research Centre (2017), which found in the first 100 days of the Trump administration that news stories focused on Trump's and his staff's character and leadership as opposed to the administration's policies. This thesis asserts that this pattern is damaging to the American mediated public sphere, as it stifles the citizen's ability to learn about important policy matters that are affecting their everyday lives.

The White House , Press briefing , The White House press briefing , Press Secretary , Media relations , Sean Spicer , Donald Trump , The White House press corps , News values , Spin , Political journalism , Mediated public sphere , Political communication , Political source relations , Public relations , US politics , Political public relations , Habitus , Political performance
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