Reagan's new press secretary: Will he be voice of too many masters?
Washington — Who speaks for the President? The Reagan transition team has officially named James Brady as White House press secretary in the face of doubts over whether he would be given the scope and Oval Office access to succeed in one of the administration's most crucial jobs.
President-elect Reagan personally made the announcement -- an honor he had not given any Cabinet nominee -- to offset reports that the press aide role was being downgraded.
And White House chief of staff James Baker III said forthrightly that Mr. Brady would function in the traditional press secretary mode: with "complete access," meeting with the President "no less than once a day," and "able to speak for the President."
But the delay and manner of the press secretary decision suggests not all the battles are over between aides long loyal to Mr. Reagan's career and the professional White House operation concerned with the functioning of the government.
Brady himself is regarded as warm and able by reporters who worked with him through the long hours of the presidential campaign -- when he first served John B. Connally as press aide during the primaries and then governor Reagan for the final drive. He knows Washington well, having been an aide to the late Sen. Everett Dirksen (R) of Illinois in the mid-1960s and Sen. William Roth (R) of Delaware in the mid-1970s. During the ford administration he was spokesman in the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department.
Brady's troubles may come more with the structure and style of the Reagan administration than with his qualifications, observers here say. "He knows the risks of the game and the margins for error," says one veteran White House reporter.
The role of chief spokesman has, through the transition, been assumed by Edwin Meese III, transition chief and top policy aide for the new White House. How that role will evolve after the inauguration remains to be seen.
Brady, at least nominally, will report to Mr. Baker. but further complicating Brady's role is the inner circle, committee-style of operation that evolved during the primary campaign and has survived as the Reagan power-source even as the inauguration nears.
Potentially, Brady is seen serving as the voice of too many masters, which could obscure the one voice most important -- that of the President himself.
On the question of access to the President, Baker has been consistently adamant that the eventual press secretary be present at morning briefings. Other powerful Reagan staffers have said that might not always be the case.
"The whole press corps has to believe the press secretary is inside the decisionmaking process and not taking a secondhand version," says one Reaganite. "Both Lyn Nofziger and Jim Lake [campaign press secretaries] had that access. Nobody will ever have that inside access again.
"Brady is not one of the insiders.
"A press secretary has to be one of the insiders to be effective. If he isn't, the guys are going to go around him to get the story. There's a danger he will favor a few reporters to create credibility.
"Even if he just listens, if he's just in the room, he can direct reporters to the right thinking. If he isn't, ultimately Ronald Reagan will suffer."
Jody Powell has had "enviable" access to President Carter, says Martha Kumar, author with Michael Grossman of "Portraying the President: The White House and the News Media," to be published this month by Johns Hopkins Press.
"The press could trust that what Powell said reflected the President's views, " Professor Kumar says. Even in the case of Nixon and ford press aides Ron Ziegler and Ron Nessen, respectively, although the desired "credibility" was lacking the men served as "a barometer of White House feeling," she says.
The Reagan White House is expected to control the new President's visibility. They consider him his own best communicator.
They are expected to seek "a coordinated image" -- calling on close aide Michael Deaver, Mr. Meese, the polling firm of richard Wirthlin, and a White House communications director yet to be named as resources.
Synchronization of White House actions to suggest a smooth, controlled mechanism is considered vital to a President's success.
"Ford had so many staffs -- his own, his congressional staff people, his vice-presidential staff, Nixon holdovers, and new people -- it was hard for a press secretary to know what was going on with all those staffs," Professor Kumar says.