Will McClellan Book Change Press/White House Relations?

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By: Joe Strupp

A week after former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s book revealed he misled reporters, and was himself misled, those covering the president disagree over how such revelations will affect future press-spokesperson relations.

Some, such as Chicago Tribune Washington bureau chief Michael Tackett, say it will spark some closer scrutiny by both sides of how they relate to each other. “Any time something like this happens, it places a greater burden on the White House press secretary and the White House Press Corps,” he said. “The former to be more truthful and the latter to be more skeptical.”

Adds Tackett: “I don?t think any White House press secretary in history batted 1.000 when it came to delivering the truth. You are only as good as the information you are given. That is why you should not rely on what the press secretary says, it is the difference between reporting and stenography.”

Terence Hunt, an Associated Press White House correspondent since 1981, worries that such revelations might cause administration officials to withhold information from press secretaries. “This might put some more distance between the president and the press secretary,” he stated. “That might be an unfortunate result of the book, if it drives a bigger wedge between them.”

Hunt, who said he is still reading the book, added that “there is always tension, a suspicion between the White House and the president.” But, he said, “the thing that was striking was that McClellan, the ultimate loyalist, is now on the other side. It is not the kind of book people thought he would write.”

Mike Abramowitz of The Washington Post said he was disappointed to find out that McClellan did not object more strenuously when he discovered he was misled by higher-level officials. “I would like to think that if that happened in the future, the press secretary would resign,” he told E&P. “It seems as if he was being a dutiful soldier.”

But Abramowitz said he would not let McClellan’s actions tarnish his view of future press secretaries, adding that each must be approached individually, but with clear skepticism.

“Every press secretary is different. Every press secretary starts off with a clean slate with me,” Abramowitz explained, offering positive views of former spokesman Tony Snow and current press secretary Dana Perino. “They are both very aggressive defenders of their boss, but I don’t think that they lied to us point blank the way McClellan did. One goes into this understanding that everything they tell you is filtered through being an aggressive defender of the president.”

Mike Silva, a Chicago Tribune White House correspondent for four years, agreed: “We enter this whole proposition skeptical. That is the way we do things everyday. I don’t think you can necessarily transfer Scott McClellan’s situation to another press secretary, even in the same administration.”

Silva also credited Perino with treating reporters fairly, adding, “the next president’s press secretary will have to step up and earn respect. But you can?t assume the next press secretary will mislead us just because Scott McClellan did.”

Jim Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times, a White House reporter off and on since the Carter Administration, believed McClellan’s actions were not a good thing, but not completely surprising. “I am not going to say, ‘Oh my God, they misled us,'” he said. “I am not going to expect them to lie, but I will not be shocked to find out something like this happened. I don?t care for it, but it is the nature of the game.”

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