White House Press Secretaries: Some are praised; others no so much

The daily press briefing by press secretary Sean Spicer in the White House press briefing room on February 23,2017 Photo by Dennis Brack
The daily press briefing by press secretary Sean Spicer in the White House press briefing room on February 23,2017
Photo by Dennis Brack

White House press secretaries come in all sizes and types.

Reporters attempting to be reconized for a question at the daily press briefing by press secretary Sean Spicer in the White House press briefing room on February 23,2017 Photo by Dennis Brack
Reporters attempting to be reconized for a question at the daily press briefing by press secretary Sean Spicer in the White House press briefing room on February 23,2017
Photo by Dennis Brack

  Some have been the source of reporter’s jokes and others have won the White House correspondents praise.

One that received the most praise was James Hagerty,,the press secretary for  President Eisenhower. 

Photo by Abbe Rowe, Library of Congress
Photo by Abbe Rowe, Library of Congress

The press liked Hagerty because he was honest.  Photographer Arnold Sachs put is best—even if “fifties speak”  “If Jim told you something, you could take it to the bank.”

The job is stressful and demanding.   Regardless of a press secretary’s rating,   Truman’s press secretary, Charlie Ross, died at his desk in the White House shortly after finishing a press conference. 

George Christian is a common name around the White House press room.  President’s Harding and Johnson both had press secretaires named George Christian.  Actually there is a George Christian in the briefing room today, but he is a respected video journalist for CBS News.

There have been several press secretaries  who were journalists, but not many.  Steve Early was a reporter for AP and broke the story on the death pf President Harding. He also worked for  UPI  and  Paramount News before he went to work for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Steve Early was the longest serving press secretary. 

Steve Early, the man holding the document, tells photographers when to make their pictures of FDR
Steve Early, the man holding the document, tells photographers when to make their pictures of FDR

 

Early was the master of control at a very different time for the White House Press Corps.  He would tell the photographers exactly when to open their shutters and take their photographs of  FDR.  President Ford had two journalists for his press secretaries.  Jerald terHorst resigned from the job shortly after President Ford pardoned Nixon.  Ron Nessen, an NBC reporter, took the job for the remainder of Ford’s presidency.

Some press secretaries are insiders and know everything that is going on down the hall from the upper press office. 

Jimmy Carter and Jody Powell after a press conference in the Executive Office Building Photo by Dennis Brack
Jimmy Carter and Jody Powell after a press conference in the Executive Office Building
Photo by Dennis Brack

Jody Powell had been with President Carter for years.  He shared very little and his oral interviews after the Carter years tell us what he really thought of the White House Press Corps.  http://millercenter.org/oralhistory/interview/jody-powell.  Bill Moyers was more than a press secretary in the Johnson administration.

Bill Moyer at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, CA in July 1984 Photograph by Dennis Brack bs b 17
Bill Moyer at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco, CA in July 1984
Photograph by Dennis Brack 

Other press secretaries are merely hired help. Larry Speakes had been a press secretary forSenator James O. Eastland of Mississippi. before  he came to the White House so reporters knew what they were dealing with.   Ron Ziegler knew very little, (or at least he said he knew very little) about Watergate and that probably kept him out of jail.

A 27.7 MG IMAGE OF:  ABC correspondent  Sam Donaldson and White House press secretary larry Speakes doing hand wrestling in Speakes office in the White House.  Photo by Dennis Brack
A 27.7 MG IMAGE OF:
ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson and White House press secretary larry Speakes doing hand wrestling in Speakes office in the White House. Photo by Dennis Brack
Reagan press secretary Larry Speakes announces President Reagan's policy of the steel industry in October 1984 Photo by Dennis Brack
Reagan press secretary Larry Speakes announces President Reagan’s policy of the steel industry in October 1984
Photo by Dennis Brack