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December 24, 2016

Incoming Trump Press Secretary Visit to IOP Sparks Controversy

The Institute of Politics (IOP) announced Thursday it is hosting president elect Donald Trump’s choice for press secretary, Sean Spicer, for a discussion with IOP Director David Axelrod first week of winter quarter.

The announcement drew criticism from some students who say they may protest the IOP’s perceived normalization of hostility toward the press by the incoming president.

The nonpartisan institute responded to this criticism to The Maroon, saying that it's “vitally important” to try to understand the incoming administration.

During the 2016 campaign, Spicer worked as chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee. He is currently senior communications adviser on the Presidential transition team and Trump announced on Thursday that Spicer would be joining the West Wing as the next press secretary.

When the announcement was made, Institute of Politics Director and veteran of Democratic politics David Axelrod expressed his congratulations on Twitter calling Spicer a friend and “thoroughgoing pro.”

South Side Weekly Editor-in-Chief and fourth-year Jake Bittle suggested that students should protest the event. Bittle recently wrote an op-ed criticizing the IOP in the wake of the 2016 election.

“I don’t think that we need to treat this person like a normal press secretary coming in to talk about life on the job, and I think it is insidious that Axelrod called him a friend and is tacitly normalizing the administration by having him in for a discussion. It turns out that the IOP intends to treat this administration like a normal one and I don’t think students should treat this as business as usual,” Bittle told The Maroon.

“You would think they would know better than to give implicit sponsorship to a man who intends to change the way that freedom of the press operates in this country.”

The IOP claims it is nonpartisan and does not endorse points of view.

"With the pending inauguration of President-elect Trump, it’s vitally important to understand how his administration will approach the presidency and the key issues affecting our nation during the next four years. Our event with Sean Spicer is the first in a series of in-depth conversations we’ll be hosting during winter quarter that seek to examine the impact of a Trump presidency from a variety of issues and perspectives,” Steve Edwards, executive director of the IOP said in a statement to The Maroon.

“Just as we have during the first four years of our existence, the IOP is committed to providing a forum where students can thoughtfully engage key decision makers from across the political spectrum in the same spirit of rigorous inquiry and open discourse that have defined this University and our democracy for decades. The IOP does not endorse points of view, but is dedicated to providing a forum for respectful dialogue, where different points of view can be heard and tested."

Students will be provided time to ask Spicer questions following his conversation with Axelrod.

As part of the IOP’s America in the Trump Era series this quarter, it will be hosting pundits from both sides of the aisle. CNN commentators Van Jones and S.E. Cupp will be making a stop at the IOP, as well as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy. There will also be a “fake news panel” featuring Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman.

Trump has been widely criticized for his treatment of the press. On December 5, Axelrod said that Trump’s attitude towards the press is frightening and a danger to democracy.

During campaign season, candidate Donald Trump black-listed nearly a dozen news outlets from covering his campaign events. Spicer defends the blacklisting as different from banning White House access because the campaign events were privately funded and hosted. Spicer later said on Fox News that the new administration has to “look at everything” in regards to press briefings, particularly whether or not it is daily and televised. On Thursday, Spicer said he would “absolutely not” blacklist news outlets from the briefing room in response to negative coverage.

In early October, Spicer told the Weekly Standard that he “was not a lawyer,” and therefore could not say whether the actions Donald Trump described in the leaked Access Hollywood tapes were sexual assault. He subsequently claimed he had been misquoted, though the Weekly Standard reporter provided a recording of the exchange.

This is a rescheduled event. Spicer was originally slated for an event at the Institute of Politics on November 28 alongside a Clinton strategist, but cancelled last minute for personal reasons. The event, on January 4, is in the Cloister Club in Ida Noyes Hall and is free and open to the public.

Update: Jason Miller, Trump's pick for White House Communications Director, announced Friday night that he will not be joining the administration. Spicer will now be taking on the responsibilities of the Communications Director, as well as Press Secretary, in the new administration.

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