Veteran White House Correspondent Leaves McClatchy for P.R. Firm

By: Joe Strupp Veteran White House Correspondent Ron Hutcheson, who has spent 22 years in Washington and served as president of the White House Correspondents Association, is leaving his job at McClatchy's D.C. bureau for a public relations post at the well-known Public Strategies firm.

Hutcheson, 53, said he sought the change because he did not believe he could find a better journalism job after covering the Bush Administration for the past six years. "I had one of the best jobs in journalism during one of the most interesting times, and couldn't figure out what I wanted to do in journalism that could top that," said Hutcheson, who is married with four children. "I feel lucky to have covered the White House at this time in history, witnessing history. Bush has always had big ambitions, so there is a lot going on."

Hutcheson plans to leave McClatchy in Mid-July and start his new job Aug. 1. He said it will not involve political lobbying, although the firm also is home to Mark McKinnon, Bush's former media strategist who now advises John McCain. He said he will be more involved in corporate issues.

Hutcheson said the anti-press fervor in the country has reached a level that really affects the job. "I get tired of the level of criticism from both the left and the right. I get so many angry e-mails from both sides questioning my motives.

"I welcome it if something is wrong with the story, but I get really tired of people assuming they know me and my motives -- that is relatively new," he added.

A University of Texas graduate, Hutcheson began his career at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1980, moving to Washington in 1985 as the Star-Telegram correspondent. Eventually, he became a Washington correspondent for Knight Ridder's D.C. bureau, and later McClatchy when it was bought last year. He called covering the 1989 rise and fall of former House Speaker Jim Wright, whose congressional district included Fort Worth, one of his most memorable times.

Hutcheson also said the climate in the capital city had changed during is 22 years, becoming more divisive -- a situation he believes hurts government and the press. "The worst change to me is the polarization of the political culture," he said. "It was different in the past. If you go back to [former House Speaker] Tip O'Neill and [President Ronald] Reagan, they fought each other hard on policy, but it didn't get personal."

Hutcheson recalls seeing O'Neill and Reagan joking over drinks at a St. Patrick's Day gathering one year. "They were seemingly able to put the politics aside for a minute."

An active member of the White House Correspondents Association, Hutcheson served as president in 2004-2005, culminating in the planning of the 2005 WHCA dinner, which drew interest after First Lady Laura Bush took over the podium from the president, then went into one of the dinner's most memorable speeches -- a hilarious roast of her husband.

Hutcheson believes the press corps is unfairly critiqued these days. "It concerns me because I think it is an outgrowth of polarized politics," he said. "We are losing the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. There is so much vitriol against George Bush that people who don't like him confuse that with the function of the press. There is in some ways a misunderstanding of the role of the press."


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