Speak for Yourself, Mr. President


What’s up with the need for having a presidential “spokesman?” (No, I’m not worried about being politically correct—we haven’t yet had a spokeswoman, probably because we haven’t yet had a female president.)

Editor’s note: Much to my chagrin, I’ve been gently reminded that we have had some spokeswomen. Thus my coy attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor fell flat on its face. Thanks to a reader for the correction…

Jay Carney

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary

In the old days you did your own talking. From all I’ve been able to gather, there was never a need for someone else to explain on behalf of a president what they thought on a particular issue—they could do it all by themselves. This was the case with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and others. I’d like to think they’d find it pretty odd to have someone trying to tell others what their positions were on the problems of the day.

But somewhere along the way (post Abraham Lincoln), President’s began this modern practice of having a Press Secretary. It went along with the new practice of hiring White House staff, the numbers of which have of course grown dramatically over the years.

At any rate, this employee is now responsible for holding daily press conferences, making statements, and answering questions for the President. But do we really think a president’s job is just too full for him to speak for himself? For my part, I don’t tend to think so.

And what happens if the Press Secretary gets it wrong? For example, say the President feels a certain way on a certain topic, but the spokesman doesn’t get it right or doesn’t approach it correctly or whatever. The result would have to be that some misleading statements could be made and—with the way the press corps jump all over anything that can be remotely considered newsworthy these days—complete misunderstandings could ensue.

So, if this were really the case, and your spokesman misrepresented your positions on things (even if only occasionally), wouldn’t you as President really prefer working without a spokesman? Who wants that kind of potential for conflict? (I can just imagine some heated late-evening “discussions” with recriminations like, “What were you thinking!” taking place.)

On the other hand, maybe it just becomes an easy “out” to always be able to say, “I never said that!”

But because we don’t  hear those kinds of reactions coming from our chief executive about things their press secretaries have said publicly, I suppose we’ve got to assume they don’t take advantage like that.

In any event, the possibility that a press secretary could get it wrong like that strikes me as downright creepy in its possible permutations of consequences.

So what if we assume that mistakes are never made. How exactly does that work?

To my mind, the president and spokesman would almost have to confer with one another on practically every potential issue—perhaps even on an hourly basis—in order to make absolutely sure they’re on the same page.

Hence it seems to me that, if the job of spokesman were to be eliminated, you could free up enough time for the President to handle any press conferences/Q&As himself, while leaving time enough and to spare for all the other important matters.

But here’s an even creepier thought… What happens if the President “misspoke” (often used as a politically correct term for telling a lie)? And then what happens if the press secretary has to defend that mistruth, because heaven forbid the President could have made a mistake or be wrong in any way publicly? What then?

Now we’re in deep water, where the underling is compelled to take a falsehood to its logical conclusion, spinning the web until the press is either satisfied and lets it blow over, or the story explodes into some minor or major controversy/scandal.

Bottom line: Wouldn’t it be great if we could just find out what our president has to say about a particular topic from the individual himself? If, for example, George Washington were here today, I feel supremely confident he’d think so.

Now be honest. Wouldn’t you rather hear it from your president’s own mouth in his own words, rather than wondering whether this other guy really knows what he’s talking about or whether he has the details all straight? Wouldn’t you?…

I know I would.

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2 comments on “Speak for Yourself, Mr. President

  1. Jerroleen says:

    Just a fact check:
    1) Daily press conferences with a White House representative (the President’s Private Secretary) actually began during Woodrow Wilson’s administration, although there was a press corps in the White House for decades before that. The first Press Secretary served under F. Roosevelt.
    2) DeeDee Myers and Dana Perino were both female Press Secretaries, under Clinton and Bush, respectively.
    No biggie. Just fyi. 🙂

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