[FOUNTAIN]Answering for the presidentRonald L. Ziegler, the White House press secretary under U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, died of a heart attack last week at his home in California. He was 63.
The former White House counsel John Dean, who helped expose the Watergate scandal, said Mr. Ziegler was one of the people who might have been “Deep Throat,” the mysterious source who gave Bob Woodward, a reporter for the Washington Post, crucial information about the scandal. When the Watergate scandal came to the surface, Mr. Ziegler famously called the Watergate break-in a “third-rate burglary” and was then shamed. Mr. Ziegler said in a contribution to the New York Times in his latter years that being loyal to an unfaithful president was like loving an unfaithful sweetheart.
William Loeb, who served Theodore Roosevelt in the White House, was the first aide whose job was specifically to answer reporters’ questions. But the first formal “press secretary” title was given in 1929, when Herbert Hoover took office. At that time, the job was mainly providing written answers to questions, unlike today’s press briefings. The White House press secretary became an important position during the term of Stephen T. Early in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.
The 18 chief press secretaries at the White House from 1929 to 1993 were all white males; their average age was 42 when they took the job. The youngest was Mr. Ziegler, at 29. The first female chief press secretary was Dee Dee Myers in the Bill Clinton administration. Half of the 18 chief press secretaries were former reporters.
Experience as a reporter helps in the work of the spokesmen. They are skilled in reading public opinion and trends, and they are expert at reading the minds and characters of other reporters.
But that is not always a good thing. For example, Gerald Ford appointed the Washington bureau chief of the Detroit News, Jerald terHorst, as his first spokesman. Mr. terHorst resigned only 30 days later in protest of the pardon of former President Nixon by President Ford. His innate suspicion of political power was too strong.
The new Roh Moo-hyun administration chose many former or current reporters as secretaries and spokesmen. They should make best use of their experience as reporters so that they will not regret having served an “unfaithful sweetheart.”
by Noh Jae-hyun
The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo