You have to say this about Sean Spicer: As bad a mistake as he made in invoking Hitler, he was quick to abjectly apologize and ask for forgiveness.
Which is virtually the opposite of the approach taken by United Airlines, which took a one-time fiasco of a situation and turned it into a full-fledged calamity. It’s simply mind-boggling how badly the CEO has handled the bloody removal of a passenger who paid for his seat and wasn’t bothering anyone.
What the White House press secretary did was the classic definition of an unforced error. Defending President Trump’s airstrikes against Syria over Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack on civilians, Spicer said:
“We didn`t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a--someone who is as despicable as Hitler who didn`t even sink to the--to the--to using chemical weapons.”
I was watching live and wondered how Spicer could possibly have made the comparison to a man who used gas to murder 6 million Jews and untold others.
The rule of thumb about Hitler analogies is, don’t do it, period. It never ends well.
Having failed to dig himself out in the briefing room, it took Spicer less than an hour to issue a clarification: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. 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.”
But that didn’t work, and his blunder led all three network newscasts. By then, Spicer had apologized in separate interviews with Fox, CNN and MSNBC. And yesterday, in a previously scheduled appearance at the Newseum, he went the full contrition route.
The spokesman said he “screwed up,” and that to do it during a holy week for Jews and Christians made his mistake “inexcusable” and “reprehensible.” He said his gaffe was “painful” and asked for “forgiveness.”
That, of course, was a full-throated apology—which didn’t stop Nancy Pelosi and some pundits from calling for him to resign. And some on social media falsely accused of downplaying the Holocaust. Mollie Hemingway put it well in the Federalist:
“Sean Spicer was not pushing Holocaust denial and anyone with the most meager intelligence and sense of fairness would be able to say that. As his statement after the briefing shows, he was for some reason drawing a distinction between combat genocide and other genocide; he was not denying that Hitler killed millions of people during the Holocaust using gas chambers and other means.”
But if Spicer took full possession of his mistake, United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, did the opposite.
Everyone was horrified at watching the video of David Dao being dragged off a plane in Chicago, his face bloodied, simply because the flight was overbooked. (I happen to think overbooking is a scam that should be banned, but the initial story was untrue: The flight wasn’t overbooked, the airline just wanted to bump four people to get four of its personnel to another city.)
First Munoz engaged in an absurd bit of corporate-speak: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
His tone-deaf streak continued by blaming the 69-year-old doctor:
“This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused.”
Finally, Munoz did on “GMA” yesterday what he should have done immediately:
“The first thing I think is important to say is to apologize to Dr. Dao, his family, the passengers on that flight, our customers, our employees. That is not who our family at United is. And you saw us at a bad moment and this could never, will never, happen again on a United Airlines flight.”
Keep in mind that United had offered the bumped passengers $800 apiece. By refusing to go higher, I’d say the airline bought itself $20 million in bad publicity. And initially, at least, its stock lost $1.4 billion. The company is now a symbol of corporate insensitivity. And the CEO is reducing to insisting he will not resign.
But I do have to rip the media on one aspect of the story—trashing Dao over his past.
The New York Post: “Doctor Dragged Off Flight Was Convicted of Trading Drugs for Sex.”
People: “Revealed: All About the Doctor Dragged Off Overbooked United Flight—And His Troubled Past.”
The Daily Mail: “Doctor dragged off United flight was felon who traded prescription drugs for secret gay sex with patient half his age and took them himself.”
Dao lives in Kentucky, and the Louisville Courier-Journal handled it more responsibly, including this sentence in a longer piece: “Dao had surrendered his medical license in February 2005 after being convicted of drug-related offenses, according to documents filed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last June.”
While these decade-old facts may be true, they have no relevance to Dao being dragged off the plane and injured, with no claim that he was an unruly passenger. Some media outlets, in effect, have victimized him again.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.