National Commentary

Advice For the New W.H. Spokesman

President Obama has a new spokesman with journalistic credentials. Jay Carney, 45, a former Washington bureau chief for Time magazine, is moving from Vice President Biden’s office, where he handled press relations. After covering the White House since 1961, here is some unsolicited advice I have for Carney: keep your credibility at all costs – for the sake of the country.

President Obama has a new spokesman with journalistic credentials. Jay Carney, 45, a former Washington bureau chief for Time magazine, is moving from Vice President Biden’s office, where he handled press relations.

After covering the White House since 1961, here is some unsolicited advice I have for Carney: keep your credibility at all costs – for the sake of the country.

At the White House, you will be speaking for the President of the United States, for the American people, and for the U.S. government. It can only be with fear and trepidation, considering the power of words from the White House.

You have two models among your predecessors – good and bad. Don’t be the boy who cried wolf, like Ari Fleischer, warning the American people daily that Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of nuclear weapons and ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network. None of it was true.

Those fabrications in the Bush administration shamed the country and caused thousands of Americans and many more thousands of Iraqis to die.

The question is, does a spokesman have any personal responsibility or is he or she merely a paid government mouthpiece? It has to be a real dilemma for Carney when the orders come down from on high. The cliche that diplomats are sent abroad to lie for their country does not apply to an official spokesman. There is too much at stake.

For all the dissembling and propaganda (spin) in the run up to the war against the Iraqi regime and its people, the Bush administration has expressed no regret and no apologies. All they could say was “good riddance” to Hussein’s brutal rule. But for the U.S. invader to hang a dictator is hardly the way to operate under the rule of law which we highly tout.

Several White House spokesmen have been able to sidestep the facts and save their reputations.

“No comment” lost its meaning in the Kennedy era. When Pierre Salinger, the tuned-in press secretary presiding at the podium, said “no comment,” it was tantamount to “yes.” Another spokesman in the Kennedy era, Arthur Sylvester, the Pentagon spokesman and a former New Jersey paper editor, caused an uproar with his statement that the government had the right to lie for its country on the question of its possession of nuclear arms.

Bill Moyers, former press secretary to Lyndon B. Johnson, admitted to me that he might “shade” the truth, but he later became a brilliant journalist at Newsday, and later with highly credible documentaries on television.

The late Jerry terHorst, press secretary to President Gerald Ford proved the reporter’s code that truth is the Holy Grail in journalism.

A couple of his crony reporters came to him shortly after Ford took office and told him that Ford was sending two emissaries to offer a pardon to former President Richard Nixon. It was vehemently denied by the White House advisers who Jerry consulted.

The next day, one month after Nixon was forced to leave office during the Watergate scandal, Ford announced his pardon of Nixon. As a result Ford lost a lot of confidence among the American people, and who suspected that there had been a deal between Ford and Nixon. This ultimately cost Ford his bid for election.

The man who suffered most in the job of press secretary was Ron Ziegler, who ducked out of the White House press room and locked his door against reporters who were besieging him during the all consuming Watergate scandal. It was too much to handle, and most of the questions fell to Jerry Warren, his assistant, to handle.

Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, managed to distance himself from questions about the Monica Lewinsky scandal – and the impeachment proceedings. Both Clinton and McCurry survived and are living happily ever after.

Carney comes in as part of a White House top staff shake up with one goal – to get President Obama re-elected. He is replacing Robert Gibbs, who ran afoul of some of the White House reporters with his angry replies.

Gibbs will play a big role in Obama’s forth coming campaign for a second term.

In his other life with the Vice President, Carney ruffled feathers with some reporters, and fired off angry messages in strong and even salacious words, in response to their reports on Biden. But Obama is trying to mend fences with the current White House press corps, and Carney is having to make nice with them for the President as he heads into the 2012 re-election campaign.

 

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