How Did the Media Change in the Last 4 Years? What Sean Spicer Thinks

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At the beginning of the Trump presidency, Sean Spicer was White House press secretary. But on election night 2020, Spicer was host of his own show, “Spicer and Co.” on Newsmax TV. He joins the podcast to discuss his journey from press secretary to TV host, how he thinks the media covered the election, and how he thinks the media changed during the past four years.

Plus, we discuss whether President Donald Trump could really end up running his own network, how conservative lawmakers should treat the media, and what Newsmax TV’s editorial philosophy is. Read a lightly edited transcript, pasted below, or listen to the podcast:

We also cover these stories:

  • The Trump campaign announced Wednesday that it is filing a petition for a recount in two areas in Wisconsin. 
  • President Donald Trump fired Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency
  • House Democrats have once again nominated Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House for another two years. 

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Katrina Trinko: Joining us today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” is Sean Spicer, host of “Spicer & Co.” on Newsmax TV. And of course, he’s also the former Trump White House press secretary. Sean, thanks for joining us today.

Sean Spicer: Good to see you, Kate. Thanks for having me.

Trinko: All right. So, I want to discuss your show, but first off, let’s talk about Newsmax. Newsmax has seen huge ratings growth in recent weeks, but the network’s actually been around for several years. So tell us about it. What’s its editorial vision? What sets it apart from other networks?

Spicer: Yeah, I’ll do my best here. Chris Ruddy is obviously the one who knows the inside and out. Chris started the channel a while back, but it largely had a lot of simulcasting of radio shows and whatever. And then Chris really started to dig into a lot more of the original programming.

Starting earlier this year, he put Greg Kelly at 7, myself, and we’ve got a lot of other great folks that kind of got moved around. And we’ve now got original programming starting at 7 a.m., going all the way through, I think it’s 9 at night now with Grant Stinchfield. I’m on every day at 6.

I mean, I think that the goal is, I think we are admittedly right at center. I think there’s a couple of things that are different. Our news programming during the day is pretty straightforward. We tell you what’s going on. The big difference I think is that the overarching philosophy is to bring on smart people, let them tell you what’s going on, and let viewers make up their mind.

The beauty of my show is that I’ve said all along, we’re on every night at 6, I’m not a journalist. I don’t want to play one. I don’t intend to be one. But what I want to do is … bring on guests that are really insightful, and then have a conversation with them as someone who’s been in the arena.

I spent 21 years in the military, 25 years in campaigns, six years at the [Republican National Committee], eight months as the president’s press sec in the White House, on his campaign.

I can actually have a conversation with someone about, “Here’s what’s actually happening in the campaign,” at that kind of moment. “Here’s what a member of Congress is thinking.” “Here’s how the decision-making process works in these various facets of either government or a campaign.”

And I’m not afraid to tell the guest, “OK, well, here’s my opinion.” And that’s the beauty of it. But it’s a conversation and we’re not trying to tell the viewers what to think. We’re bringing on smart people, letting them hear that discussion, and then go back from this.

Every show has got a little bit of a different flavor to it. Greg and Grant are after me and they are very opinionated with what they think. They bring on great guests. But we’re not trying to hide it.

Unlike some of these other outlets that try to pretend that they’re all into this journalism thing and yet have a very left-wing bias, we’re open about where we stand. Our daytime guys are obviously very much, “Here’s the news,” and [at] night, we kind of give you our takes on stuff.

I think the beauty of what’s been happening is, starting mid-summer, we really just saw a nice, steady increase every week of people coming over. But when the election happened, it was on election night, we were there until 2 in the morning on the decision desk.

And the thing [that’s] great is that, and I think where people started to really tune into Newsmax is, they were listening to myself, Mark Halper, and Heather Nauert, so many other folks, Joe Pinion, sitting around the table, just sort of telling people where things stood in a state: “OK, this is how much is in. This is what he used to get in this. This is what he’s getting now. This is blah, blah, blah.”

But … we weren’t trying to tell you the outcome of the election [and] we were giving you insight into, “Hey, this county’s going to be important. Here’s what it was last time.”

I think what people appreciated on election night was we weren’t trying to call the race and tell you who we project to be the winner, which I don’t really think is the role of journalists. We were doing analysis: “Here’s where we think this county’s going to be important,” or, “This is how much is still left out on this,” or, “So-and-so is over-performing in this area.”

And it went gangbusters since then. People have really tuned in because I think that they appreciate the fact that Newsmax isn’t here to tell you what to think. We’re just [here] to give you as much information as possible to make up a decision for yourself and be better informed.

Trinko: So for those of our readers or listeners who are interested in Newsmax, is it a cable station? Is it on YouTube? What’s the best way to access it?

Spicer: That’s a great question, Kate, because the answer is D, all of the above. The thing that really makes Newsmax unique is that we’re in 70 million homes. So if you have cable, Xfinity, Fios, Cox, Spectrum, or you have Dish or [DIRECTV], we’re on everything. So we’re on all those stations.

If you go to Newsmax.com, there’s a little cable finder and you can figure out a channel. But, even better, if you go to YouTube, you can stream it live. If you go to Newsmaxtv.com, you can watch it live from your smartphone if you don’t have the YouTube app. We’re on all the OTT stuff like Pluto and Roku.

So you can basically watch us wherever you are, however you want to. So if you’re in the car driving down the highway and you just want to put it on your smartphone, or you have a YouTube app and you want to watch it from your smart TV and you’re a cord cutter, then you can do that.

But it’s unique because there’s no other station that has that ability. You know, you have to have a cable subscription if you want to watch one of the other premium news stations. And I think that people appreciate that because some people are total cord cutters and so they want to watch via YouTube.

I have a TV here in my office and … there’s no cord. I just put it on YouTube and connect to the internet and watch it. But I can go home then and then put it on. I have DIRECTV at home. So I go to Channel 349 and watch it at home on DIRECTV. But it’s the beauty of Newsmax right now, is that no matter where you are, you can watch it.

Trinko: That’s awesome. As a cord cutter, I really appreciate that. So, you have a very unique perspective, I would say, on the past four years.

You started out as the White House press secretary. Election night, you’re working for Newsmax. What do you think of the media’s coverage and its evolution over President [Donald] Trump’s term the past four years?

Spicer: It’s a fascinating question because, for me, I’ve been able to kind of look at things now in different lenses with being there, then kind of outside for a while doing a lot of commentary, and now as someone who gets to sit in a host role.

So I would answer the question by this: I think it’s gotten much more personal, meaning that you see all these folks. And I think much more personal, but also very bad.

I think you watch these folks talk about their personal bias, expose their personal bias a lot more. They pretend that they’re neutral. When I read a story, there’s days where I wonder, “Do they understand how biased they are when they write it in the way that they have?”

They are largely wrong on a lot of things in terms of how they present them. For example, The New York Times the other day had a story that says [former Vice President Joe] Biden has accumulated 270 electoral votes. That’s not true. The Electoral College hasn’t met. It meets December 14.

And so, for all these folks who like to virtue signal and talk about truth and facts first and all this stuff, they mislead their voters. They can say he is likely to get that, or he’s presumed or he’s on his way, or when the Electoral College meets, but they cheapen our system of government when they tell the American people about how things are that are not accurate.

So I think it’s gotten much worse and much more biased. And the thing that’s interesting to me is I don’t know that they care.

I joked for awhile that Biden was getting softballs and I had to edit it and say that he’s getting beach balls, because the one time that they had a chance to ask him a question during the campaign, and he’d been absent for a while, they ask him, “What flavor ice cream did you get today?”

And I’m not kidding. That was the question that they asked. The kid gloves by which they handled them, it’s embarrassing to journalism.

Trinko: I was struck by how you said it’s gotten more personal because, at The Daily Signal, we try to keep the focus on policies, not people, not make it inordinately personal in a way that’s inappropriate, but we’ve seen so many very intense personal attacks on Trump, on other conservatives. Could you elaborate a bit more on what you meant about that?

Spicer: Yeah. I covered this on my show yesterday. There was a story in The Washington Post that talked about it may not be the case that Melania Trump divorces the president right after they leave, some people actually think that they like each other.

It was appalling to me to think that a news outlet is covering someone’s marriage, regardless of who it is, and speculating about whether or not they’re really going to be leaving or not because the truth is that we’ve all been talking about them, this faux marriage that they have, and how they’re getting divorced. And I’m like, “No, we haven’t.” …

Trinko: Right.

Spicer: And the idea that any of the reporters, and I think there were three of them on the byline, have any clue or insight into their relationship.

I will tell you this on a personal level, I’ve had the opportunity to be near them several times during my tenure both in the campaign, during the White House stint, and afterwards. My impression is they’re an amazing kind of combination and the president values and respects the first lady’s input on stuff, that she is unbelievable with her counsel to him.

So, I’m sitting here reading an article like that, thinking to myself, like, who else would write a story speculating on the status of somebody’s marriage, No. 1. But No. 2, coming at it from the angle of, “We’ve all assumed they’re getting divorced, but the reality is maybe they will stay together.”

It’s so highly inappropriate, and yet it didn’t even cause anybody to kind of go, “Wow, that really is [bad].” It was a, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good story in The Washington Post. Share it.” And I’m thinking, if you wrote this story about [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her husband, there would be outrage.

Trinko: Right, and I would say there should be outrage. I mean, I think too often people forget these are real people. These are not characters in a telenova or whatever.

Spicer: Yes, they are real people. They breathe. But the other thing that’s interesting to me is that it’s not like these reporters have a clue. They don’t know who they are. I mean, they haven’t spent any time with them.

It’s like they’re writing it because they talked to four sources who say that they talked to somebody who knows someone who was on a Zoom with them that thinks the following. I mean, it literally drove me up a wall to read that yesterday.

Trinko: You mentioned about The New York Times and the Electoral College votes, and more broadly, what do you think of the media’s coverage of the election and the aftermath? Similar to you, at Daily Signal, we’re saying, “Let’s let the litigation play out. Let’s let the recounts play out.” But the media by and large has taken a different approach.

Spicer: Yeah. I mean, they’ve decided the outcome. I mean, look, you can analyze somebody’s legal briefs or whatever, or talk about their chances … that they may or may not do stuff, and in politics, we always talk about these things.

Well, no one who’s ever been in third place in the second Monday in February has won the New Hampshire primary. It’s like, who cares? I mean, it’s like there’s such speculation about what’s really going to happen.

My view is, … let the process play out. It’s amazing to me when you read publications like Politico or listen to people like Chuck Todd how spectacularly wrong they are about so many things that they claim to be professionals in, and yet never have to answer for the mistakes and the wrongness. Right?

So, they talk about this big blue wave that’s going to come crashing down. Republicans pick up seats in the House of Representatives that was supposed to wash them away. Politico had a big thing on there: [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy’s hold on the conference will get smaller because there’ll be less Republicans. There’s now more.

He’s actually within possibly a handful … or greater of taking over the House. The Senate, barring some catastrophe in Georgia, will remain in Republican hands. The president got more votes than he ever did before. He grew his vote of blacks, Hispanics, Jewish Americans, who they thought it was going to be worse.

So they’re spectacularly wrong, and yet there’s no consequence for it. And it’s amazing to me that they knew that there’s never any consequence for it. There’s no like scorecard. It’s not like at the end of a season, the reporter has a batting average and you go, “Wow, you are horrible. You never hit a ball.”

Trinko: Oh my gosh, I love that idea of batting averages for political reporters. That would be phenomenal.

Spicer: But the other thing, Kate, is they always couch stuff in. “It’s very possible that the following happens,” then they go, “Well, we only said it was possible.” So they always like to use weasel words to make sure that there’s never any sense of full accountability. Right?

I mean, it’s literally like waking up right now and saying, like, it could be sunny or raining tomorrow, but it also could be cloudy. … What’s the point in making a prediction if you’re going to give yourself cover on every basis, and then go, “See? I was right. It was rainy or cloudy”? That takes away any sense of professionalism.

Trinko: To pivot a little bit, I saw on your show recently you covered the big tech hearings in the Senate. And among conservative media, there’s increasing concern about these tech companies censoring content.

As conservatives, we think private companies can make their own decisions, but we’re also grappling with it. I mean, Daily Signal had a YouTube video pulled down, a doctor talking about gender dysphoria, because they didn’t like one sentence she said.

So, how do you think conservative media should approach the tech companies?

Spicer: Gingerly. I think … here’s the difference, because I’m with you. As a conservative, I’m not a big fan of government regulation, but I think the difference with what’s going on is that Twitter and Facebook have been given government protection. They’re covered by Section 230 of the federal Decency Act, which gives them more protection than it does The Washington Post.

The Washington Post maligns you, you can sue them. Well, Twitter and Facebook claim that they’re just platforms, they’re not publishers, which is not true.

So, I think that conservatives need to hold them accountable in the sense that they shouldn’t have the protections that they do, full stop. Because you can sue The Washington Post if they say anything to you.

And what Twitter and Facebook in particular want is to have it both ways. They want to say that they’re platforms, and therefore they’re not publishers, they’re not editors, but then they do what they do to you guys and they do to others, which is they label something on a video that’s an opposing view.

It’s weird. Like, I’m sitting here during COVID and watch doctors talk about things, right? And they’re saying, “I’ve seen the following.” Well, if a doctor doesn’t say what the conventional wisdom is, then somehow it’s not right.

And if you think about the evolution of what the medical community has told us over the course of COVID, it has changed. It has evolved. So would they have flagged a video at the beginning while the sign said “Don’t wear a mask” if somebody was out there saying, “The best thing you should do is wear a mask”? At that point, they probably would’ve flagged it and said, “Well, science doesn’t prove this.”

Now they’re saying, “Wear a mask.” And then when they did say it, the initial thing was, “Well, it’s just to protect other people, not you,” right? Now they’re saying it potentially does both.

But the point is that it’s evolved. It’s a novel virus. I’m not here to get into that piece. But I think that the point is, … who are they to decide?

I saw a video flagged yesterday that said, “According to The Washington Post and The New York Times,” and I thought to myself, I don’t understand. Who made them experts? So that because of stories published in The Washington Post, that’s somehow some kind of expertise? No way.

Trinko: I couldn’t agree more. So, on another note, some reports have said that President Trump is interested in potentially starting his own TV show, or maybe even his own network if he isn’t reelected. Could you see the president doing that? And what do you think he’d be like?

Spicer: Sure, I could. He’s got a huge audience and they’re very loyal to him. I think Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, has said before we’d love to see him more as a guest on Newsmax, but he’ll do whatever he wants to do.

I do think, though, the president is someone who I don’t think likes to be pigeonholed by one thing. He likes to go out there and be on all the different channels … and so I think confining himself to one channel would be difficult. So, I don’t know.

And I also don’t know, I mean, there’s a lot of opportunities for him now to do stuff online, but I think he really loves the broadcast piece of this. So he’s got a lot of opportunities no matter what or when, so we’ll see, but there’s not going to be any lack of desire to get him on.

Trinko: So one question I have that you might be able to address is, obviously, President Trump has been very openly spoken during his time in office, but we do know that occasionally he still goes off the record and runs things by his advisers. Do you think you could see him speaking even openly out of office?

Spicer: I don’t know … how he could be more open. I think between what he says and what he tweets, he’s extremely open.

Trinko: OK. Didn’t know if he was holding some things back during your time there.

Spicer: Oh, no. No, no, no. I mean, I think if you read some of those tweets, he is direct. There’s no kidding around.

Trinko: All right. So you, as we talked about, have been a press secretary at the RNC, the White House, etc. I think sometimes working in conservative media, as you are now, you sometimes get frustrated because it feels like conservative lawmakers rail against the media, but then give all their best scoops to the same traditional media.

Spicer: Thank you. Yes.

Trinko: So I wanted to ask you, do you think there’s room for growth among conservative lawmakers and how should they approach the media? Is there room for their communication strategy to evolve in how they treat the media, both conservation and traditional?

Spicer: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, look, I find it very frustrating myself.

I spent six years at the RNC and I think we tried to bring conservative media wherever we went and give a seat to them, but it blows my mind to consistently watch folks preach about the bias and then say, “OK, well, I’m going over and doing these three interviews on MSNBC.” It’s like they don’t like you. They never will like you. You’re only giving them credibility.

I would like to see a world where conservative lawmakers pledged at least 50% of their time, media interviews to conservative outlets. …

If you’re truly conservative, No. 1, this is the world that we live in today. This is where a lot of these folks are coming, whether it’s Newsmax or The Daily Signal or what have you.

But No. 2 is I think that there’s a commitment as conservatives that we should have to help each other out. So you’ve got The Daily Signal and Breitbart and Daily Caller. My view is the more, the better. We should have and we should be supportive of each other.

Because my personal view is the left fears the right. There’s a reason that they cancel people out. There’s a reason they run people off college campuses. There are reasons that Hollywood won’t do and greenlight certain projects. It’s because they fear the policies of the right. They know that they are better and they just don’t want them, and they will overlook their own self-interest.

I wrote all about this in my book “Leading America,” that they will overlook their self-interest, whether it’s audience … or profit because they don’t want the right to have a voice. And so the more that there is opportunities for conservative media to present those policies to folks, the better.

Trinko: OK. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Sean. Again, I should note, the show is “Spicer & Co.” and you can check it out on Newsmax TV.

Spicer: Every night, 6.

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