In an attempt to draw attention to the horror of last week's chemical weapons attack in Syria, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday appeared to give credit to Adolf Hitler for exercising a measure of self-control: "You had a — someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons," Spicer said to stunned reporters in the briefing room.
The remark went viral. It was immediately fact-checked by MSNBC, with a chyron that read "(Hitler Gassed Millions)." On Twitter, the statement was widely interpreted as a denial of the Holocaust. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for Spicer to be fired. Prominent pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said the remark "shows how historically ignorant his crew is."
Spicer later attempted to clarify his remarks. "In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust, however, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people," he told NBC News. On Tuesday evening, he appeared on CNN to apologize further.
Still, the Hitler comparison was jarring and unexpected — an unforced error, even if it was meant in good faith and not intended as a denial of the Holocaust, as it was interpreted by many:
So where did the Hitler comparison come from? Perhaps from the Fox Business network.
On Monday, Fox Business aired an interview between longtime host Neil Cavuto and Kassem Eid, a Syrian man who survived a 2013 chemical weapons attack believed to have been carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad. In the 11-minute interview, Eid placed blame for the attack on the Obama administration's inaction in Syria, but the biggest line came when Eid excoriated Assad for his alleged war crimes.
"He displaced half of the country," he said. "He destroyed the country. He gassed women and children... He's worse than Hitler." The interview didn't go viral, but it was picked up and aggregated by a number of conservative outlets including Fox Business' website and Newsmax (whose founder, Christopher Ruddy, is a close Trump confidant). The headlines:
Spicer hasn't said publicly what led him to make the unprompted Hitler comparison. And it's entirely possible he missed the Fox Business clip or that he doesn't keep tabs on Fox Business — a semi-niche cable news offering — at all. But there is one compelling piece of evidence that suggests Spicer may have been paying attention to the network in recent days: His boss taped his first interview as president with the network today. It's scheduled to air Wednesday morning at 6 a.m.
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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