Dear Mike McCurry,
Say it ain't so, Mike! I've dealt with presidential press secretaries going back to Eisenhower, in the earlier years as a political correspondent along the campaign trails, and by 1973 as a White House correspondent. And in my estimation you are right up there with Jim Hagerty, Bill Moyers, Jerry terHorst, Jody Powell, and Marlin Fitzwater. I've left out some very good ones. TerHorst makes it on my list because his few days at President Ford's side were such valiant ones. And I was always confident that Jim Brady would have been an outstanding press secretary. His tragedy was a great national loss.
You've been a splendid intermediary between a beleaguered president and a press that has continually been snapping at his heels. A president under those circumstances wants, expects, and, yes, demands, protection from the media. And the press wants - and, yes, demands - to break through that presidential wall. Thus, you have been undergoing almost continuous fire from both directions since you came on board. And with a wonderful wit, a most engaging personality, and a thorough knowledge of foreign and domestic issues you have more than survived - you have thrived.
I almost added the word "access" to your accomplishments - and then held back. You did have full access to the president and what he was doing. That's why the press found you so valuable.
Yet it was your lack of access to the president on the Monica Lewinsky incident - an outside-the-loop position you insisted on to avoid entanglement in the grand-jury probe - that, in my mind, so vividly illustrated your skill. What other press secretary could have stood up in front of the members of the press and, day after day, told them he simply couldn't help them on the Big Story? You did it with wit and banter. And while providing no information on that important subject you still retained the credibility necessary to defend the president whenever you saw inequity in the attack being made upon the man you referred to as "Boss."
Once you let your inner thoughts slip out when in an interview you said you didn't think there would be a "simply, innocent" explanation for what happened between the president and Ms. Lewinsky "because I think he would have offered that up already." I think that afterward you said you regretted that comment. But whether you knew it or not, this lone breakthrough into your thinking on the subject did much to help you maintain your credibility with the media.
It is not your quickness of feet in answering questions that I'm hailing today. It's your continued reputation among the press for integrity and candor that I want to applaud above everything else.
At the Monitor breakfasts your name frequently came up, Mike. And I can't tell you how often I heard top journalists comment on how much they trusted you. Indeed, I can recall being in a huddle of a few of Washington's "best" among the media and hearing you being lauded with this comment from one newsman: "He never lies to us," while the others nodded their heads in agreement.
It is obvious that since you announced your upcoming departure, your role as both an informed and yet detached communicator of the president's views and activities has become an impossible one. I recall a conversation of several months ago when a journalist said to you, "I hope you won't get hurt in all this controversy." You said you wouldn't get hurt. And you haven't. But it's time to go.
What more can I say? We'll miss you, Mike. We feel that under extremely difficult circumstances you have done your best to level with us. On top of that you have entertained us. And here's a confession that no journalist should make, I guess, since we try to keep an arms length away from those we cover: We liked you a lot, Mike. You're a great guy!