Battle of the mouthpieces: Martin Andanar vs. Sean Spicer

Art by Karl Adrian So

Both Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer antagonise the media so frequently it’s become a meme. Both exhibit disregard for anything resembling uncompromising journalism or well-cut suits. Time and again, they’ve used their words to pummel all who try to correct them. But what happens when we pit them against each other? We put them through four rounds of sweat, tears, and post-truth suffering to find out.

Round 1: Ring Names

Anyone with the name “Sean Spicer” has got to remind you of a certain “wheelin’ and dealin’ sonuvagun.” I mean, “Spicer” alone is enough to bring back memories of mullet-rocking unitard warriors charging into wrestling rings. The name alone probably makes you want to cozy up to your inner Ric Flair, and go: “WOOOOOOOO.”

“Martin Andanar” on the other hand, is a manchild. “Martin Andanar” sounds like what we’d name Captain Barbell’s alter ego if Mars Ravelo didn’t. “Martin Andanar” oozes leather-jackets-wearing, bullet-biting 90’s action film machismo. “Martin Andanar” is the longform version of the comic book “POW!” ー and not just because he’s taken potshots at reputable journalists either.

Winner: Sean Spicer. Sec. Andanar lands a few hooks on Sec. Spicer, but Sean counters with the bodyslam after Martin uses the attendance numbers at Trump’s inauguration to talk smack about Sean.

Round 2: Origin Stories

Simulated bodyslams aside, Spicer and Andanar are still communicators, not wrestlers. So who’s better qualified to do what they do?

Sean Spicer, for all his wheelin’ and dealin’, has basically been a political communications insider since he stepped out of college. He’s done press work for all sorts of government departments and figures: the Navy, aspiring Republican congressmen, even former US President George W. Bush, for whom he dressed up as the Easter Bunny. He even run his own public relations firm for a short while, which specialized in helping foreign governments do business with the US.

On the other hand, Sec. Andanar’s pre-Cabinet career consisted of working as a newscaster at TV5, and running its online news department. Given who his boss is, it pays to note here that he also used to present a crime news segment called Crime Klasik, which specialised in sensationalized depictions of rape and murder investigations.

Winner: Sean Spicer. While they may be equals on the communication front, Spicer’s still got the upper hand on Andanar politically, and that makes all the difference. It doesn’t hurt to mention here as well that Andanar himself was personally relieved of actual talking duties by the Palace. Score one for the Easter Bunny.

Round 3: R.E.S.P.E.C.T (just a little bit)

Whether in the ring or in the press room, respect’s the name of the game. If your peers ー political journalists, in this case ー don’t give you your due, you cease to exist.

Spicer conversely banned reputable media outlets from his press conferences, and belittled the gravity of the Holocaust in briefs on Syrian chemical weapons. What makes this worse for Spicer is that his gaffes have ruined what has otherwise been a fairly decent working relationship with the Washington media. His department’s handling of the James Comey firing only makes matters worse.

To be clear, both Sec. Spicer and Sec. Andanar both fail this round. Andanar for his part falsely accused the press of taking bribes to cover the press conference of claimed Duterte Death Squad member Arturo Lascanas, and picked fights with reporters who challenged these accusations. This doesn’t even include his verbal spars with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol.

Winner: The smallest loser wins here. As much as the media dislikes Martin, the disappointment Washington feels with Spicer resonates more. Andanar wins by a hair.

Round 4: The Spin

When it comes down to it, all press secretaries are remembered by their ability to get people to believe stories that may or may not true. This round is less about who has more credibility as much as it is who is able to elicit the least ridicule when pushing forward his claims.

The attendance blunder notwithstanding, Spicer’s controversy as Secretary comes less from the stories he puts out, and more from his gaffes at press cons and on Twitter. They read more like botched jokes: tweeting what looks like an email password, praising “Daft Funk”. For his knack for false news, he strikes people with the credibility of a fuzzy grand-uncle: adorable at reunions, bad with technology, cussed out once he starts talking about how the Holocaust was a hoax.

If Spicer’s the grand-uncle though, then Andanar’s the OG gangsta. From flat out denying that President Duterte was willing to declare martial law if the need arose, to defending Duterte ouster plots that have already been cleared by security, to his public alliances with unabashedly pro-Duterte bloggers such as Mocha Uson and Thinking Pinoy, Andanar scares us because of how persistent he is at plugging the gospel of Duterte. They even cover official Palace events and diplomatic trips.

Winner: Martin Andanar. As much as Spicer has put forth claims as dangerous as Andanar’s, his gaffes prevent anyone from actively taking him seriously. Andanar on the other hand, while not as vehemently outspoken, has through his policies cracked the door open wide enough for unsettling populist forces to go legit. And he has the good sense to protect his Twitter account.

TIEBREAKER ROUND: SILENCE.

So all four rounds are up, and we’re still without a consensus. So why not an extra round on silence, to well, break the silence? Talk as they might, ultimately there comes a moment in any press secretary’s life where they literally are at a loss for words. Who handles theirs better?

Spicer for his part blankly avoided questions regarding Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey for over three hours after the firing was made. Andanar on the other hand was recently found to have ducked Malacanang journalists waiting for his comments on the controversies surrounding misappropriated photos shared by PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson.

While both look equally disheartening on paper, there is quite a bit of difference to how both have handled their respective non-answers. Spicer for his part literally huddled near White House bushes with his team before tepidly facing the press between them. In contrast, Andanar preempted his silence with a curt text message, though he still hasn’t addressed the press regarding the Mocha Uson issue as of writing.

Winner: Martin Andanar. We’d honestly rather not declare a winner, given the clear struggles both men have had to face, but as with any fight, someone’s got to give. And to Andanar’s credit, he minimizes the damage he faces by drawing as little attention to himself as possible. Beats hiding near bushes and incredulous chants of “SEEEAAAAAAAN” at least.

And the winner is Martin Andanar.

Don’t let the hijinks fool you: if the past rounds are to be believed, both men are very good at their jobs, and that makes them equally dangerous. But a winner must be picked, and in this case, Martin’s remarks and actions hit that much closer to home, with more nonchalance to boot. Compare this to Spicer, whose infamy stems from how often he makes a fool of himself. In a battle of truth versus respect, truth wins out every time.

So congrats Martin: I hope you’ve patched things up with your press pals.

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