Scaramucci rant shocking, but a sign of the times
America got quite an introduction to new White House Communications chief Anthony Scaramucci during his first week on the job.
By the end of the week, editors gathered in newsrooms across the country to figure out how to handle the profanity-laced story of Scaramucci’s Wednesday night phone call to reporter Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.
Scaramucci called Lizza threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff if Lizza didn’t reveal the source who leaked that Scaramucci had attended a White House dinner that night with the president and others.
During his rant, Scaramucci called Reince Priebus a “(expletive) paranoid schizophrenic” and lit into White House adviser Steve Bannon with more profanity. He didn’t ask to be off the record during the call, which Lizza recorded.
It wasn’t behavior becoming of a professional spokesman, but then again, before last week, Scaramucci had never been a professional spokesman.
“There is a lot of concern within the public relations community that the new White House communications director does not have a formal communications or public relations background,” said Kelly J. Davis of Columbia, president of the South Carolina chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. “We certainly saw that lack of experience on display partly in the complete unprofessionalism of his language, but also in his lack of knowledge that the conversation was on the record.”
After the story broke, Scaramucci tweeted that he had “made a mistake in trusting a reporter” and “it won’t happen again.”
“I think just that comment in itself really demonstrates his personal lack of experience and lack of understanding of the role that PR people have with reporters,” Davis said. “The second you lose credibility with a reporter, you not only damage your ability to faithfully represent your organization but you do damage to your own professional reputation.”
In the end, Scaramucci’s choice of words became the news.
“It was just plain vulgar,” said Charleston mom Julie Reeder. “He sounded like a sailor.”
The Associated Press does not use profanity unless there is a compelling reason, according to its website. Many publications found the story newsworthy.
Some news outlets printed the words and others used dashes or stars to represent missing letters.
“The New Yorker very conveniently put the quotes in black boxes to catch your attention, which I discovered as I scrolled through Twitter on my laptop with my 10-year-old sitting next to me,” Reeder said. “I don’t talk like that and I don’t want her to hear talk like that, but the fact is that these days, you often hear those words while standing in line at the grocery store. It’s just not that uncommon.”
Some attribute it to the coarsening of America, or the loss of family values. Previously taboo words are now part of everyday vernacular.
“Language that at one point would have been considered completely beyond the pale in the public sphere is heard there more and more frequently,” said Brian McGee, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at the College of Charleston and former chairman of the Department of Communication. “I think the public is less surprised and offended than it would have been in an earlier era. ... That said, what Mr. Scaramucci said is pushing the envelope even in the modern era.”
Davis agreed that public ideals have changed.
“We have certainly seen a real shift in our society of what people might consider to be appropriate language and inappropriate language,” she said. “But I do think, particularly when you are in what a lot of us consider to be the top PR job in the country, there’s a level of decorum that should be expected with that.”
After the story became public, Scaramucci tweeted, “I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for (Trump’s) agenda.”
It should be noted that this is not the first time a presidential administration has been associated with curse words.
“Expletive deleted” became a popular phrase in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal, when those words replaced Richard Nixon’s vulgarities on White House recordings.
And in one of the most recent instances, in 2010, after President Barack Obama signed the Obamacare legislation, a microphone picked up Vice President Joe Biden as he leaned over toward Obama and declared, “This is a big (expletive) deal.”
But Scaramucci’s diatribe wasn’t merely a slip of the tongue.
“Eyebrows have been raised because this is such a departure from the cultural norms in Congress and the White House,” said Tracy Burkett, sociology chairwoman and professor at the College of Charleston. “It can be jarring when you have the symbolism of the White House as dignified. We expect those in high offices to set the tone. In some work places, the language we’ve heard would maybe result in termination.”
But it likely won’t in the Trump administration, experts agreed.
“Our culture is changing and I think there will be less accountability on this than there would have been a decade ago,” McGee said. “Let’s be candid, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, this has been a very unorthodox presidential administration. A significant number of very senior appointees do not have experience in politics and they are in some cases breaking some well-established rules.”
Mina Corpuz contributed to this report.