Jim Brady's way with the press

Jim Brady is an affable fellow who, reporters are grateful to say, doesn't take himself too seriously. "When," one veteran White House correspondent commented the other day, "have we had a press secretary in recent years who didn't suffer from a certain amount of self-importance? Lack of humility seems to go with the job. Or I thought so. Until Brady came along."

Mr. Brady may not be all that humble. But he's from a relatively small community in Illinois (Centralia) where the elders make it very clear to the youngsters, at a very early age, that they simply must never leave town and go to the big city and, as it is often put, "get too big for their britches." I know the wisdom that comes out of Centralia because I grew up in nearby Champaign-Urbana.

I talked to Mr. Brady several times during the rather protracted when the President was choosing his press secretary. A lot of names were being mentioned. But not Brady's. Or, at least, not too often.

Mr. Brady wasn't panting for the job. But he would take it.

He was quite aware of the big problems that seemed to go with the assignment. He didn't like the idea of being beaten up verbally by reporters at the daily briefings. And he knew that several leading journalists who had been invited by the President to take the position had turned it down -- simply because they didn't think the once prestigious post was worth that much any more.

But he would take it, Brady said, if it happened to come his way. He'd been Mr. Reagan's deputy campaign press secretary, under Lyn Nofziger, and it seemed that he thought that experience just might be able to help him get the presidential press secretary's job done if the opportunity came along. At this point I joshingly said, "I wouldn't wish that job on my worst enemy." Mr. Brady laughed. He understood.

And so now, as they say in Centralia and a lot of other places, Brady's in the soup. But he's showing a remarkable ability to (a) sell the President's massage and (b) at the same time keep the White House press reasonably happy with the way he is dispensing the information they need to get their jobs done.

Mr. Brady may not have brought peace to presidential-press relations. But, and largely because of that reasonable, amiable way he has, he definitely is presiding over what must be called a relative truce.

Oh, yes, some reporters are saying Mr. Brady isn't answering their phone calls. And some are saying he isn't well organized. This is an inevitable complaint from reporters who insist on individual attention even though they may be faintly aware that there are hundreds of news people who are trying to get to Brady when a big story is breaking or about to break.

But there is no obvious hostility in the White House press room under Mr. Brady.* There were flares of anger and a feeling of mutual antipathy between the press and Ron Ziegler. That went on, though lessened, under Ron Nessen. And it continued, at least during some rather lengthy periods, under Jody Powell, even though Powell, with his bantering humor, was able to ease tensions with the press, at least to a degree.

But now comes what may later be called the era of good feeling under Mr. Brady's auspices. "It may not last," one White House reporter says, "But he's off to a good start."

Of course, the President himself is very much a part of this Brady effort to get along better with the press. He had told visitors to the Oval office that he understands that the President and the press must remain at arm's length in their relationship. But he doesn't see why they must be adversaries.

Reagan would like to continue his "teacher-pupil"-type press conferences, with reporters counseled simply to raise their hands if they want to be called on. Shouters and screamers are told they will be ignored.

Further, Reagan intends to be courteous with reporters at all times. He doesn't see how he possibly can win any p oints with either the press or the public looking in on TV by getting testy with questioners.

Can this mutual good will continue? The White House press corps is too big for any observer to be certain what these reporters think, but a fair number of them are saying that they doubt whether this is much more than a honeymoon period. They think that Mr. Brady, more than press secretaries of the recent past, has a fair chance of bringing civility back to presidential-press r elations.

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