For a decade, Marlin Fitzwater was White House spokesman for Presidents Reagan and Bush, a remarkably long sojourn in that high pressure post. His longevity was a testament to the unique combination of talents he brought to the job. And his long tenure gave him unparalleled insight into the way the press and the presidency collide in today's Washington. CALL THE BRIEFING, Fitzwater's memoir of the Reagan/Bush years, is an insightful, richly detailed account of the world where that struggle takes place.
Fitzwater is not merely the public face of the presidency. He was a major presence at meetings in the Cabinet Room, on Air Force One, at Santa Barbara and Kennebunkport, witnessing, participating in, and sometimes shaping the events of those years. From Iran/Contra through the U.S./Soviet Summits to Bush's difficult 1992 election campaign, Fitzwater shows us the pressures of political life at their most intense. In one chilling chapter he describes the potent political and personal forces that broke three White House chiefs of staff and resulted in their resignation. And he explores the sometimes macabre nature of the press's coverage of the president in the "Death Watch," which recounts how a president's smallest ailment has political implications that may be laughable, but are also grimly serious. It is amazing to discover just how complex is every event in the life of a president.
Fitzwater is a very funny Kansan. CALL THE BRIEFING is filled with his candid observations on the personalities and events of the Reagan/Bush years. He also gives an unusually incisive, fair account of how the reporters who cover the president find, investigate, and break their stories. Although he has no illusions about the unsightly and occasionally unsavory business of journalism, his respect and affection for reporters and their craft is boundless. His account of the power of the press and its influence on the presidency in setting the national agenda should not be missed by anyone who wishes to understand the complexities of presidential politics.
Presidential press spokesman from 1983 to 1993, Fitzwater offers few revelations (other than accounts of cabinet members' spats) but engaging recollections of the ``psychological wars'' he helped fight in the briefing room with the White House press corps. He also relates his Kansas childhood and his teenage attraction to journalism, as well as his move to the Washington bureaucracy. Fitzwater hardly appears ideological, offering few of his own political views, but his infrequent revisionism--suggesting that Bush should have been more expressive in his response to the fall of the Berlin Wall--makes for interesting reading. He offers tart views, though, of adversaries like the producers of 60 Minutes or Andrew Rosenthal, whose New York Times story about Bush's struggle with a supermarket scanner misled the public, according to the author, yet was picked up by most media. Increased competition, from unprincipled organs of information, Fitzwater fears, now makes it tough for ethical journalists to adhere to their own standards. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.