Ari Fleischer to Leave White House Post
Monday 19 May 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) --White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, the public face of the Bush administration through two wars and a terrorist attack, said Monday he will resign in July to enter the private sector. His replacement will likely be deputy press secretary Scott McClellan.
"I've decided my time has come to leave the White House," Fleischer said in a telephone interview.
The spokesman said he wanted to leave the hard-driving job before President Bush's re-election campaign geared up.
Fleischer clashed at times with the White House press corps and had an uneasy relationship with some senior Bush aides, but he said the departure was his idea. He notified Bush of his decision Friday. The president ended the conversation "by kissing me on the head," the spokesman said.
Fleischer, 42, got married six months ago. He said that after 21 years in government he wanted to go on the speaking circuit and maybe do some writing. With Bush beginning his re-election campaign, Fleischer said this is the time to leave the White House "or sign on for the full four years."
"I've just been thinking about what I want to do, when I want to do it," he said. "I believe deeply in this president, his policies and the man. But there comes a time in public service when you have to decide when it's time to go."
Bush has not decided who will replace Fleischer, two senior White House officials said. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Texas native McClellan is the likely replacement but there are other candidates.
Republican strategist Ed Gillespie and Pentagon spokesman Victoria Clarke are potential prospects.
A cautious and calibrating press secretary, Fleischer has been the public voice of the presidency through the September 11, 2001, attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq war, loyally putting the best spin on events. He frustrated reporters by constantly dodging the toughest questions and sometimes irked his White House colleagues by pushing for access behind the scenes.
His meatless pronouncements on Bush policy are generally in keeping with a White House that keeps a tight lid on information. He often professes ignorance about details.
Fleischer has had his share of fumbles and dodges in the hothouse atmosphere of the White House briefing room.
He acknowledged shooting himself in the foot when he snapped that "one bullet" in Saddam Hussein's head would be cheaper than a war.
In the run-up to war with Iraq, Fleischer denied reports that Bush was meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair abroad. The trip was announced the next day.
He once fumbled on the whereabouts of the vice president. Asked why Dick Cheney did not attend a September 11 anniversary event, Fleischer said the vice president was at a meeting of Bush's top aides.
When it was pointed out to him that Bush's top aides were at the anniversary event, Fleischer stammered.
It turned out Cheney had been spirited away to a secret location because of the same potential threats to the country that prompted the government to heighten the public terrorist alert soon after.
Over the months, a pattern of finger-pointing has emerged with every miscue: Fleischer would privately accuse superiors of passing on bad information to the press office while the senior staff would quietly point the finger back to Fleischer. Still, senior White House officials said Monday that Fleischer left on his own, and that Bush wanted him to stay through the re-election.
Goofs sometimes gave way to goofy -- such as when Fleischer joked about potatoes attacking America.
This year, Fleischer defended Bush's plan to deny normal collective bargaining and other employee rights to workers at the proposed Homeland Security Department by noting that presidents have long had the authority to suspend such rights in a national emergency.
Senate opponents would stop Bush from using powers he already has in other departments, he contended.
"If he declared that there was an emergency, he could stop collective bargaining at the Department of Agriculture," Fleischer said. "So under what the Senate is proposing, the president will have more authority to help protect the homeland if potatoes attacked America in the Department of Agriculture than he would if terrorists did."
President Bush Cavalier With Media Traditions, Public Access to Data
By David Hunter
The Knoxville News Sentinel
Monday 19 May 2003
In 1799, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following to friend and former student, Archibald Stuart: "Our citizens may be deceived for awhile, and have been deceived; but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light."
At the time when Jefferson wrote these words, the citizens of this country were totally dependent upon ink and paper for news. With the advent of radio and then television, things began to change.
If Jefferson could somehow see the size, scope and power of what we call the news media today, he would be probably be stunned - and perhaps frightened for the nation he helped found. Why? Because it may be that the news has never been so well managed as it is in this country today.
A free press toppled Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and caused Bill Clinton to be impeached. Reporters did so by mercilessly and unrelentingly reporting the truth - as opponents of the powers that be, not as apologists for politicians.
The television networks today - especially those that serve up round-the-clock news - are in an unending contest to produce the next scoop. The same stale bits of information are chewed over and spat out repeatedly until a fresh scrap of rumor or innuendo comes to light.
In fact, I think it was Jon Stewart of the satirical "Daily Show" who said that the electronic media was so desperate at times for fresh material to air during the most recent invasion of Iraq, it showed reruns from the first War Gulf War.
Some praised the embedded reporters of the Iraq war as a magnanimous gift from the Bush administration. I think that remains to be seen. The most honest of reporters embedded with a military unit cannot help but be aware that they are present only through the good graces of the government - nor can they be expected to stay remotely objective while living with soldiers on a daily basis.
Have no doubt that the press can be managed, played like a harmonica, in fact. Since taking office, George W. Bush has held only eight press conferences - that is to say, press conferences where he formally faced the press and took all questions without a foreign leader or other public figure beside him. By comparison, during the same length of time in office, Lyndon Johnson had held 52, Nixon 16, Ford 37, Carter 45, Reagan 16, the elder Bush 58 and Clinton 30.
In terms of public appearances, George W. Bush may well be the most visible president in history, but scripted speeches are considerably safer than press conferences where a president can be asked tough questions for which there are no written slogans. Of course, the potentially embarrassing questions can be largely eliminated with a little intimidation. Just ask Helen Thomas.
Thomas is 82 years old and has covered every president since Kennedy. She has had a place on the front row of White House press conferences, first as a reporter and now as a columnist, for as long as most of her fellow White House journalists can remember. There was a long-standing tradition of Thomas closing presidential press conferences, with a "Thank you, Mr. President."
At Bush's March 7, 2003, press conference, however, following a period during which Thomas had dragged Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary, over the coals - the president's people apparently moved to protect their boss from dangerous elderly journalists. Thomas found herself sitting in the third row, and the president didn't call on her at all.
The president's friends in the news media immediately jumped to his defense on the grounds that Thomas had said nasty things about Bush and was not an unbiased reporter. Well, duh. She is a columnist, and columnists are paid to write opinions. And the last time I read the United States Constitution, it was perfectly legal to criticize the president or anyone else.
You can't blame Bush, I suppose. It's been said that Thomas has more testosterone than any other White House journalist. Besides, it's not like it's any of our business what the president is doing. After all, he did receive a mandate of nearly 50 percent of the people who voted in the last election - and it is his country. Just ask him.
David Hunter, who writes this column for the News Sentinel, is a free-lance writer and former Knox County sheriff's deputy. You can write him at P.O. Box 1124, Powell, TN 37849. His e-mail address is