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Reagan press aide: 'We have been reported fairly'

March 17, 1981

President Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, in an interview in Washington with Monitor correspondent Godfrey Sperling Jr., describes his role as spokesman for a chief executive who himself has come to be regarded as a "communicator."

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Do you see yourself as the President's press secretary or the press's press secretary?

I see myself as the press secretary for the nation. People say you can't serve two masters. That's right. I have only one master -- that's the President.

But I serve the President best by serving the press best. Where that comes out is that if you serve the President and the press, you serve the nation. The job here is to facilitate the conversation between the President and the people.

Have you, in the short time you've held this position, said some things unintentionally that have led to stories that are incorrect?

Sure. Anyone who would say that he hasn't done this in my position, well . . . Some of my job is to say what I have to say to the press in such a way that this won't come about.

I think it was a former defense press secretary who said there were times when a press secretary had to lie to the press. Do you agree with this position?

No, rather than lie I would take the Fifth [Amendment to the US Constitution] . But I will not say, "I will never lie to you." That has a bad ring to it. Sometimes not to say anything seems to confirm something. And that becomes a gray area that is very touchy.

Do you see your jobs as that of putting the best face on information?

The most accurate face on information. Information puts its own face on itself. There must be a place where you, the press, get straight answers to straight questions. That's what my job is all about.

But don't you have to admit that the President, like all president before him , is trying to manage the news?

Yes, well I'd say to intentionally try to go out to get a bad story would be foolish. What I want to add to that is that we'll take it if it just comes out straight. If an effort is made on the press's part to play it straight -- that is, that reporters take what we say and not twist it -- that's what we are after. And if that's managing the news, well I'll accept that description of what we do.

Do you see the President at a certain time each day?

I have my own meeting with him. Every day; generally at 9:15. And I've been able to set that time. I want to see him early in the morning because I want to brief [the press] about 11, if I can. I get in early, about 6:30, so I've had a chance to read and catch up on things and am ready to see the President.

Is he businesslike with you?

No, he's very informal. I took karna [deputy press secretary Karna Small] in with me today.Karna was going to brief today. And on the days she briefs I like to let her see him, too, in the morning.

Sometimes he sits behind the desk in the Oval Office, and we either lean on the desk or sit close around. But today he went over to the wing chairs, and we sat on the couch and talked back and forth.

He's always presidential, even within this context of informality. He's not afraid to make decision, and he's not afraid to all to do something that may in the short run be painful if he believes it to be the right thing to do.