Friday, June 20, 2014

Qualifications to be a White House Press Secretary

Since one of the reasons I write on a regular basis is to keep in touch with my friends from overseas I occasionally put in a post that helps explain American politics.  Consider it my small effort on behalf of international understanding.

Today's topic is White House Press Secretary.  (Note, as I was typing quickly the word Today at first came on screen as Toady, a Freudian slip on the keyboard I think).

The job of the White House Press Secretary is to stand up and defend anything that the President and his (or at some point one supposes ) her Administration has done or failed to do.  He, or she, can joke, evade, hem and haw, plead ignorance....but it is considered bad form to speak with a visibly forked tongue.

Should you get caught speaking absolute untruths your default mode is to say you were mistaken or that initial reports proved incorrect or something.  In certain cultures, thinkin' Japan here, ceremonial suicide would be called for on a regular basis, making Press Secretary into a sort of undesirable temp job.

White House Press Secretaries are seldom large, imposing, dominant figures.  Their job is to get along with the Press, to be their pals, to be so soothing that awkward questions don't get asked.

Looking over the list of Press Secretaries in the modern era I was surprised to see that many of them have names that fit nicely into the job description.  Is this why they get hired?  For your consideration:

From 1950 to 1953 Press Secretary duties were handled by Joseph Short and upon his demise by Roger Tubby.  Short and Tubby, they just sound harmless and amiable.

It would not do to have a Secretary with a deep booming voice.  That might alarm the timid reporters after all.  In 1964-64 a certain George Reedy manned the podium.

Although technically only the Assistant Press Secretary during the Reagan years the aptly named Larry Speakes filled in for the incapacitated James Brady for an impressive six years.  Republican Administrations by the way seem to have a longer shelf life for Press Secretaries.  The current longevity champion is a certain James Haggerty who served eight years, the entirety of the Eisenhower Administration.  This is not the same fellow who played "Grizzly Adams" on TV, that was Dan Haggerty, no apparent relation.  But a fierce, bearded Press Secretary with a Bowie knife, while not traditional,  might actually be an interesting experiment.

As respect for the authority of the Presidency has declined in recent years we have had some Press Secretaries with what I regard as unfortunate names.

Tony Snow in 2006 and 2007 was likely called upon to deliver a few snowjobs during the difficult G.W. Bush years.

But the current and likely permanent prize winners for inappropriate Press Secretary names belong to the current Administration.  They started out with Robert Gibbs which is just a little too close to "Glib". Next up was Jay Carney.  For my UK pals I should explain that in our parlance a "Carney" is a somewhat disreputable Carnival Worker.  I should know, I briefly was one.

And the current Press Secretary?  Well he had to stand up in front of a skeptical bunch of reporters recently trying to explain how the IRS - that Agency of Mythical Power and Vision - couldn't come up with a bunch of (potentially incriminating) emails from one of their top officials.  Let's let the man speak for himself, shall we?

"You’ve never heard of a computer crashing before?" White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One.

Your call I suppose, is he joshing or being earnest here?


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