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What to Know About Sean Spicer and the Controversy Over His Dancing With the Stars Casting

6 minute read

The announcement Wednesday that former White House Press secretary Sean Spicer will appear in the upcoming season of Dancing With the Stars has sparked fierce debate online – with show’s longtime host Tom Bergeron among those sharing concerns over his casting.

Spicer was among the twelve contestants announced Wednesday on Good Morning America for the 28th season of the ABC series.

Spicer’s tenure in the White House – he resigned just six months into Donald Trump’s presidency in July 2017 – was marked by a increasingly rocky relationship with the press.

One of his first acts as press secretary was to declare the crowd at Trump’s inauguration “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period” – a claim debunked by photos taken at the event. Spicer later said he “absolutely” regretted making the false statement, and even participated in a skit at the Emmys mocking his own claim.

After leaving the Trump Administration, Spicer published a memoir, The Briefing, and took a job as a senior adviser at America First Action, a pro-Trump Super PAC.

In 2018, he said during a town hall promoting his book that he would not be appearing on the show. “Zero on the rhythm,” he responded. “I wouldn’t do that to the viewers.”

Following their exits from the Trump administration, both Omarosa Manigault Newman and Anthony Scaramucci appeared on the CBS reality show Celebrity Big Brother in 2018 and 2019. (Though, in a confusing set of circumstances, Scaramucci was later revealed to not actually be a contestant.)

Spicer told Good Morning America his strategy in the competition will be to “work really, really, really hard every day.”

Many on social media criticized ABC’s decision to include a figure with a controversial political past in Dancing With the Stars, with some calling for a boycott of the series under the hashtag #BoycottDWTS. Here’s what to know about the scandal around Sean Spicer on Dancing With the Stars.

Who is criticizing Sean Spicer on Dancing With the Stars?

Tom Bergereon, who has hosted the show since it’s first season in 2005, posted a statement on Twitter saying he had opposed any political figure appearing on the show during planning meetings.

But Spicer’s casting is not the first time the show has featured lawmakers or those connected to the world of politics: Energy Secretary Rick Perry was the second person eliminated in DWTS‘s twenty-third season, while former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay danced for four weeks on the show’s ninth season before withdrawing from the competition with an injury. Marla Maples was among the show’s cast in 2016, amid her ex-husband’s then-presidential campaign; Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol competed twice over in the years following the 2008 campaign.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson and correspondent Geraldo Rivera have also both appeared on DWTS (in the show’s third and twenty-second seasons respectively). Both were the first contestant to be eliminated.

Bergeron said he had hoped that the show’s return “would be a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliations.” But producers chose “to go in a different direction,” he added.

He joked on Good Morning America that Spicer “will be in charge of assessing audience size,” referencing his inauguration crowd size claims.

CNN reported Wednesday that ABC News staffers were unhappy with the decision, describing it as a “slap in the face.”

Others on social media took issue specifically with Spicer’s record as press secretary.

The New York Times television critic James Poniewozik said the casting diminished the seriousness of Spicer misleading the public. “To put him on a silly reality show is to say that he committed a silly offense and that you’re silly if you still make a big deal about it — everybody lies,” he wrote.

Who is supporting Sean Spicer on Dancing With the Stars?

Unsurprisingly, Spicer is standing by his casting. “Tom’s been a great host to this show for twenty-eight seasons,” he told The Blast. Arguing that he believes he can help foster a “better dialogue,” he added that, “I would hope by the end of the show Tom looks at this as more of an opportunity to help reach the divide that exists right now.”

He told E! News the show will be “an opportunity to be who I am… and give people a view they may not have seen during my [White House] tenure.” And speaking on the criticism in a statement to CNN, he said “I look forward to having some fun. And if people are looking for news, I suggest they tune into a news program.”

Queer Eye star Karamo Brown, who was announced as one of Spicer’s fellow cast members, also defended the former press secretary’s inclusion. “I’m excited to sit down w/ him and engage in a respectful conversations,” he wrote on Twitter.

In 2018, Brown met with Second Lady Karen Pence’s Chief of Staff at the White House, a decision which drew criticism from his Queer Eye co-star Jonathan Van Ness (among others). “She doesn’t like you, girl,” Van Ness argued of Pence in a Vulture video. “She doesn’t like us.” To this, Brown replied that “it’s my job to continue to show up in spaces, and [it’s] all our jobs to continue to show up in spaces where we can say, ‘you know what, I can try to figure out how to try and work with you so that we can make sure… we’re helping future generations.'”

Brown later told Access Hollywood that he had met Spicer after the casting announcement and “we have been chatting all day today. He’s a good guy, a really sweet guy.”

These remarks were also met with backlash online.

Who else is on the fall 2019 Dancing With the Stars Cast?

LA Lakers player Lamar Odom was also announced as part of the new cast on Wednesday. He told Access Hollywood the show was “a great platform to promote anything that you want to promote.”

With a lineup of celebrities including a supermodel, a former White House press secretary, a Bachelorette, pro-athletes from the NFL and NBA, a Supreme and a TV icon to name a few, "Dancing with the Stars" is waltzing its way into its highly anticipated upcoming 2019 season.ABC

Supermodel and actress Christie Brinkley, actors James Van Der Beek, Kel Mitchell, and The Office‘s Kate Flannery, athlete Ray Lewis and former Bachelorette Hannah Brown are also among those competing in the competition, which begins airing September 16 on ABC.

With the exception of Karamo Brown, none of the other contestants (nor any of the show’s professional dancers) have commented on Spicer’s casting.

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Write to Ciara Nugent at ciara.nugent@time.com and Alex Rees at alex.rees@time.com