Reagan advisers seek lower profile for presidential press secretary
Washington — The Reagan team would like to structure the presidential press secretary's job, making him a middle-level functionary who reports to Chief of Staff Jim Baker and presidential counselor-coordinator Edwin Meese -- and not direclty to the President.
In fact, one reason why President-elect Ronald Reagan's campaign press secretary Lyn Nofziger is refusing even to entertain the idea of accepting the permanent press secretary position is because he cannot see how he could do the job adequately without direct access to the President on a day-to- day basis.
Would Mr. Nofziger, the "old pro" who has gotten along quite well with the press along the campaign trail, change his mind about the job. Says a Nofziger associate: "I think the governor [Reagan] would have to talk him into it. And Reagan would have to promise him full access."
Beyond the question of Nofziger's future -- and Mr. Meese at breakfast last week indicated Nofziger was definitely out of the picture -- there is a basic question: Could a downgraded press secretary really function properly?
A former assistant press secretary to Gerald Ford answers: "The restructuring of the press secretary job that the Reagan people are talking about simply wouldn't work. The press secretary must be the President's spokesperson. that without direct access."
Meese and others close to Reagan have been talking about dividing the press secretary's responsibility for briefing the press on substantive matters between four experts.
One expert would have responsibility for briefing on foreign affairs, another on defense, another on economics and energy, and yet another on the broad field of domestic problems and legislation.
These experts would report directly to Meese and Baker or, as another alternative, to a fifth person who dealt with Meese and Baker.
Says a press aide in the Reagan camp, "I'd take the job. But not without direct access to the President. It's a tough enough job as it is even when you have this access. The press certainly gives you little respect. But you'd get absolutely no respect from the media if they knew you weren't seeing the President regularly."
Right now the President-elect is focusing mainly on choosing his cabinet. But selecting a press secretary also is a top priority, particularly with Nofziger leaving in a few days.
In the Reagan camp there are some very good hands in working with the press: Jim Brady, Larry Speaks, and Peter Teeley (Vice-President-elect George Bush's press aide).
But none of these is an "expert" who could provide the kind of substantive information that the Reagan organizational planners are talking about.
In the end, observers here believe, Reagan will have to go back to picking an authentic one-person press secretary. In that event he might turn to Brady, or Speaks, or Teeley -- or he might find some highly respected news person who would be interested in the assignment.