Thursday, April 07, 2005

From The Archives: Homage to a Press Secretary

The young, sharply attired, bald man moves briskly to the podium. His face is smart and brimful of confidence. He begins, without preamble, without sizing up the room. He knows everybody. He has their measure. Their names are down in his seating chart: the smart girls and the boys who think they are smart; they all think they know everything, but the rules are different now. A new broom has entered the Capital. The guard has changed. He begins, and everybody listens, admiring the spank of his diction, the jut of his jaw.

"I have some changes to announce. And some reminders. (He smiles) Even in these dark days, our White House should be a happy place, and it is our White House. It belongs to us now. WE are in control. Never forget that. If the White House is not happy, we are not happy.

(Did he mean us/them or us/us? He didn’t say.)

"In “our” House. . . there are a few rules that some people need to be reminded of.

(He looks over the top of his glasses; several grown men quail. He meant us/them.)

"Rule one. People will raise their hands in our White House. People will speak when they are called upon and not before. When they are called upon they will stand up next to their little chair. They will say “please” and “thank-you”. “Thank-you, Mr. President. How are you Mr. President? You sure are looking fit, Mr. President. Are you having a nice day, Mr. President? How is the First Lady, Mr. President? Nice tie, Mr. President; was it a gift?” All appropriate questions. You know the drill.
And no slouching. This is America’s house.

"We are always polite in America’s House. We do not speak out of turn. There is no need to shout, the President isn’t hard of hearing. There will be no sniggering or making faces in the back rows.

"Try to think of it-- even if you are a heathen, as most reporters are—-try to think of it as being in Church. This is a kind of Church, after all: America’s Church; and where the President stands is like the pulpit. Think of his words as you would think of the word of God. It isn’t polite to ask God to explain Himself. (Where did Cain’s wife come from? None of your business.)

If something seems confusing to you, imagine how he must feel. Or maybe the President is talking over your head. Did you ever think of that, Roger? I don’t see anybody else scratching their head. Are you sub-par in the mental department? I wouldn’t advertise it if I were you. If you don’t understand something, that really is your problem, don’t you think?

Don’t bother the rest of us with a follow-up. When the President has spoken he has spoken. Our time is valuable. The important thing is to believe at all times and with all your heart and soul. Clench your little fists together and close your eyes and believe and hope and wish as hard as you can that the President knows what He is doing, and He knows best, whether you understand it or not.

"Don’t contradict. Don’t point out contradictions because there aren’t any. There wouldn’t be, would there? It is a non-issue. How can you make a big issue out of something that doesn’t even exist? People should maybe be asking questions about you, Robert. Did you bathe this morning? What is that smell? Are your shoes untied? Is your job safe? What’s your credit card balance? Have you ever been arrested on a morals charge? Are you so perfect? We don’t have a problem up here. Maybe you are the one with the problem. Everything is in hand. Everything is under control. We know best. We know everything. We have our finger on the pulse of the nation. We hold the whole world in our hands.

"Our President is terribly, wonderfully brave. Did you see him walk across the lawn from the helicopter this morning? He has very good posture, shoulders back, head straight, firm, strong, muscular steps, masculine, clear-eyed. His face is chiseled out of the same stone as Mount Rushmore. He looks very brave and determined. Is it your plan to undermine that? Is that your job? Is that a very American thing to do? Is that why Americans fought and died on Omaha Beach so you can ask snide questions of the President? Every day we should get out of bed and get down on our knees and thank our lucky stars that we have such a specimen of American manhood to lead us. I do. So why are you so determined to make him cry?

"One question is all you get. One question and my suggestion is you make it a nice question because if it isn’t nice everybody will hate you. “Where do you buy your shoes, Mr. President?” Fair question. See? Was that so hard? ...I’m sorry? What did you say, Phil? ...“Do you use the same Italian shoemaker who makes shoes for Saddam Hussein?” Why did you have to spoil it? I am sure Mr. Hussein has to buy shoes somewhere and from someone. What a coincidence! And how clever of you to dig it up! Ha, ha! Very funny. Small jokes and sarcasm have no place in the People’s House. This house belongs to America. Do you have a problem with America? Are you making fun of America? Did your parents come to America from somewhere else? We could arrange for you to go back there if you’re not careful. One phone call. Not so cocky now are we?

"There will be no questions on the following subjects: Enron, energy companies of any kind, the word “trifecta”, the whereabouts or private agenda of the Vice President, the Presidential daughters, poor people, the Oval Office I.Q. chart found in the Press Men’s Room, pretzels, tennis player John Newcombe’s unpublished memoir, the State of Florida, the Supreme Court, anything read in Harper’s, anything about books The President hasn’t read, anything having to do with Martin Sheen, or the President’s father or any of his father’s friends. There is such a thing as common civility and we intend to observe it in this Press Room. Who threw that? I know somebody threw that. Who was it? Don’t play innocent with me. Who laughed? Does everyone want to stay here after the briefing?

"Job One of every White House reporter is to make sure the President’s message is delivered to the American People. His message, not his exact words. I don’t think that anyone found it funny when Howard wrote up last week’s answers verbatim and put it out on the wire. It just made Howard look foolish. Mrs. Bush was up half the night comforting the President, he was that upset. Did it make you a big man to hurt the President’s feelings like that? Do I make fun of the way you talk? Lots of people get the words “lucrative” and “ludicrous” mixed up and nobody likes having it pointed out by some smartypants who went to journalism school. Spell “propinquity”, Howard. Go ahead. Not so smart now, are you? How old were you when you licked that bedwetting problem? Let’s move on.

"Brad has a question. . . .O.K. Fair enough. If there is a rule of thumb I think it might be this. The President loves baseball. Imagine you are playing baseball and you are at the plate. How would you feel if the pitcher started throwing junk at you, lowball stuff, brushbacks, tricky curveballs, spitters, and really hard fastballs that would hurt a lot if they hit you in the arm? You’d be pretty angry. You might want to shout “Not fair!” --but you wouldn’t. Why? Because you’d feel like a sissy. Do you want the President to feel like a sissy? Suppose he has to put on his thinking cap the next day and make a decision? Suppose he is learning some really hard stuff for a meeting with a really important foreign leader who went to college? Do you want him being upset and angry and lacking in confidence or maybe not even sleeping all night? Play fair. Be nice. Play nice. When you’re up to bat, you want the pitches to come in over the plate, clean and chest high, nice and easy. Nobody likes to disgrace themselves in front of national television. The President is just like you. Give him nice pitches that he can see and he may surprise you by hitting one out of the infield. America wants the President to succeed. They don’t want him to look like a moron in front of everybody. And the last thing the American public wants is to feel like a chump for voting for him.

"Who said that? . . .Very funny, Norman.

"Most important, and I cannot stress this enough, in the interests of National Security in this time of War there will be no math questions of any kind. No questions that require knowledge about foreign countries. No tricky pronunciations. No story problems. No trick questions. Surprise is the weapon of the Enemy. The Press cannot be allowed to question the command qualities of the Commander In Chief. To this end, to ensure compliance for the duration of the present conflict, you will receive clearly typed booklets of questions each morning. They will be waiting for you on your seats. You will be expected to learn them. When your turn comes, and you are called upon, you will read the question highlighted in your book as written. Deviations will be dealt with swiftly and without mercy. Those reporters who play ball will receive pre-printed transcripts of the press conference in a keepsake leatherette binding with the Presidential Seal on the cover and a souvenir fountain pen. Reporters in good standing will have the opportunity to make their broadcast reports from the verandah and put their name in for one-on-one chats with the President at Camp David.

"The President is a delicate and a lovely thing. Cherish him. Love him. Protect him. You are his Press Corps. You hold his trembling, fragile self-confidence in your hands. With gentle care it will grow and grow, and as he grows in office so will his kindness towards you all. I believe even you can comprehend the significance of what I am saying. We need you people to play ball. All right, gentlemen, ladies, I believe the President is ready for your questions..."

copyright Pasquino 2002


Post a Comment

<< Home