[GLOBAL EYE]Those loose lips need good filtersYou can say that the president has two voices -- he has his spokesman to speak for him as well as his own voice. Because a president is human, he might on occasion say something unexpected because of his emotional state; and no matter how talented he is, he cannot be equally proficient in all government affairs. So he often filters his words by having his spokesman say things on his behalf.
When the president speaks to the public directly and frankly, we can get a sense of his humanity and rally to it. But government administration has more dimensions than that; the more tangled a country’s interests, the fewer words the president should utter. Once said, words cannot be unsaid, and that is why the system of using a spokesman was begun, and also why a spokesman is known as a “spin doctor” -- a person who puts his boss in the best possible light in his interpretations of the president’s thoughts and actions.
The spokesman is a “communications director,” not a “word technician,” because he should make people understand the president and the president’s policies through consistent words and frequent contact with the press. Marlin Fitzwater, a former White House spokesman, is considered the standard of professionalism in a spokesman. For ten years, from 1982 through 1992, Mr. Fitzwater was the official mouthpiece for two U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Though he was unprepossessing in appearance, bald and paunchy, he was an easily accessible and honest man who was respected by reporters because he was well versed in the events of the day. Defining a spokesman as a mediator between a press hungry for information and bureaucrats reluctant to disclose the information, he had a list of “Ten Commandments” of things a spokesman should do and not do.
“Never lie,” was the first commandment. The second was “Don’t limit the people’s right to know.” “Don’t forget that you are conveying what the president said,” was the third. The other commandments in-cluded things such as, “Collect information from White House officials more assiduously than reporters” and “Don’t lose your sense of humor.”
For about a month after the Roh government’s launch, cabinet members have been criticized for slips of the tongue. Those things happen because there are no filters in place in the government. Some of the comments that were not suitable for reporting have been released without being filtered: “Treating the reporters to dinner and drinks” or “people in the press are persecuting us and jealous of us.”
The president made a courageous decision after deep deliberation to dispatch troops to help the United States in its war against Iraq. Why did he have to spoil it by saying it was a “strategic choice for the sake of the national interest”? When speaking of diplomatic relations, the first “strategic choice” should be the rhetoric one uses.
It is correct in principle for the government to keep reporters out of government offices and to introduce a news briefing system. But the government should first have competent spokesmen and a well-operating briefing system. Because decision making in the new government is an open process, not one of handing down edicts from the top, the function of spokesman as a traffic controller is all the more important. The language of state affairs should be dignified.
An oriental medicine doctor was named as presidential doctor for the first time in Korea’s modern history. The president seems to need a “spin doctor” who would give advice to the president about how to refine the rhetoric he used as a presidential candidate, more than any other kind of aide.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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