Mike McCurry: Media 'Piata' to the President
When the press probes allegations about the White House, the presidential spokesman is the one under the klieg lights.
It was well into the morning when Mike McCurry finally made it to bed at the end of a recent 20-hour day, walking stealthily to avoid waking his young children and wife Debra. She stirred anyway. "Are you OK?" she asked.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. McCurry replied with a familiar reassurance. "I'm fine," he said. Then both fell asleep almost immediately.
An unremarkable scene - except for the fact that presidential spokesman McCurry stands at the center of one of the most frenzied news storms that today's all-live, all-the-time information age has ever seen.
It's his job to answer (or not answer, as the case may be) the endless round of press questions about the allegations of sexual misconduct and suborning of perjury by President Clinton. He's on-camera live, with a sense of humor and a "just another day" approach that has earned him widespread respect in Washington.
But as he stands at the White House podium he is also partly in the dark. McCurry has chosen to not know everything that other White House officials do about the Monica Lewinsky case. That will keep him from misleading reporters, if any of the allegations prove true. It also protects him from Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's subpoenas.
McCurry says senior advisers to the president have gone out of their way to keep him in the dark in the matter. He claims the approach is as frustrating for him as for the corps of reporters he faces each day. "Normally what I would do on any given story is get as much information, and get it out the door as quickly as possible," says McCurry in a Monitor interview.
Even in ordinary times, the presidential spokesman must be both a trustworthy conduit and a political airbag. He must be savvy enough to know what information to release, but also quick enough to deploy humor, silence, or even a counterpunch if needed to protect the White House. "The Secret Service protects him [the president] physically," says Ryan Barilleaux, a political science professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. "But the press secretary is important for protecting his reputation and political position."
I have nothing to say and I'm saying it
Since reports first broke that the president engaged in a year and a half-long affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, McCurry has been up front about the limited amount of information available to the press. Citing the legal nature of the case, he has refused to comment beyond what has been said by the president and first lady already.
But the South Carolina good old boy with Princeton University smarts is walking a thin line. Nothing devalues the currency of a spokesman faster than telling a lie. McCurry has stated his belief in the president's denials and carefully separated himself from the role of fact finder.
But some analysts think McCurry's position is a difficult one. "If Clinton is found to have lied or suborned perjury then Mike will be seen as aiding that process," says former Reagan and Bush spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.