The Man Who Liked Reporters

Marlin Fitzwater was the most effective and well-liked press secretary since John F. Kennedy's Pierre Salinger. Fitzwater spent six years working for two presidents of markedly different public styles, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and lived to t

Issue: Spring 1996

Marlin Fitzwater, Call the Briefing! Reagan and Bush, Sam and Helen--A Decade with Presidents and the Press (New York: Times Books, 1995), 399 pp., $25.00.

If I had to choose the most perilous job in Washington, White House press secretary would be it. You have to serve two masters, the president and the press, who measure your performance by converse standards. A president wants you to reveal only the best news about him, if that, while the press corps wants you to be able to confirm, at a moment's notice, the worst. Self-immolation lurks behind your every utterance.

So it's saying something that Marlin Fitzwater was the most effective and well-liked press secretary since Pierre Salinger served John Kennedy. Fitzwater spent six years as spokesman for two presidents of markedly different public styles, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and lived to tell about them. This memoir helps explain his remarkable survival. The book resembles his own tenure as press secretary: It reveals enough for the reader to think he's getting something for his time, but not so much that Fitzwater is disloyal to his bosses.

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