Tag Archive: Larry Speakes


How would you like to hold a thankless job in which your boss loathes the media, the media in turn hates your boss, and you’re stuck in between?

To top it off, the White House press secretary is never good enough to satisfy all of the internal and external critics. There is also one “critic,” who is the most equal of all and demonstrates all the signs of being insatiable.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer just did Sarah Huckabee Sanders and by extension the entire nation a huge favor. He quit.

Please don’t let the door hit you too hard on the backside, Sean. You were overmatched for the job from day one. The only one who is crying is Melissa McCarthy of SNL.

As a former press secretary, albeit for a mere state (California), the author of Almost DailyBrett understands the pressure associated with being a message developer and voice for the administration, simultaneously charged with the caring, comforting and nurturing of the Capital Press Corps.

One of the major surprises in your author’s three-decade career in public relations is the inconvenient fact the majority of communications practitioners – particularly at PR firms — never come in contact with a living, breathing reporter/editor/correspondent.

These august professionals may talk a great game, but they literally run for cover when it comes time for on-the-record, stakes-are-high dialogue. Gasp … they  actually may be quoted/misquoted.

Standing Behind the White House Media Podium

Still remember sitting in the White House media center watching Ronald Reagan’s deputy press secretary Larry Speakes conduct the morning briefing with elite media — Helen Thomas (UPI), Sam Donaldson (ABC), Lesley Stahl (CBS) and Chris Wallace (NBC) — all sitting in the first row.

Serving as press secretary for the nation’s chief executive with a target on his or her back is the pinnacle of public relations. You have to be offensive without being offensive. Humor is a huge plus. Institutional knowledge is vital. Most of all you must instinctively know when to punt (e.g., “I don’t know”), buy time, and come back with a winning answer, which separates the enduring press secretaries with those who hide in the bushes.

Presidential press secretaries used to be an old boys club: Pierre Salinger, Ron Ziegler, Jody Powell, Speakes, Marlin Fitzwater, George Stephanopoulos …

Huckabee Sanders is now the third woman to hold the title of White House Press Secretary, serving as a lead on message development and delivering the daily briefings to the carnivorous media. Dee Dee Myers (Clinton, 1993-1994) was the first, Dana Perino (W. Bush, 2007-2009) was the second, and now Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Perino in her open-advice-to-Sarah-Huckabee-Sanders column implored her to embrace and enjoy the job, actually being thankful for the opportunity to serve.

As a woman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, 34, has already been viciously attacked for her appearance by Daily Beast columnist Ira Madison III. Madison tweeted that Sanders was a “butch queen first in drags at the ball.” Madison the Third later retracted the tweet and apologized, but his misogynist and homophobic digs have already left their mark.

To her credit, Huckabee Sanders has not overreacted to this insult. She knows more of the same, if not worse are in the offing. Think of it this way: she seems to be a natural for the job. After all she is the daughter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and the contact sport of politics is not new to her.

Huckabee Sanders also understands that more heavy lifting is required for a Republican press secretary than those holding the same job for a Democratic incumbent. The media tilts heavily to the left, and appears in most cases to be incapable of being fair and objective to President Trump.

Life is not fair. Translated; the magnified challenges of this awesome responsibility under fire on an uneven playing field also provide tremendous opportunities for Sarah to distinguish herself as a good/great press secretary.

If Huckabee Sanders can turn the temperature down even just a hair, introduce a greater sense of professionalism to the White House briefings (e.g., turn the cameras back on) while at the same time, serving as an impassioned advocate for her boss and the administration, she will have done a great service to the nation.

More power to you, Sarah.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/07/26/dana-perino-advice-for-sarah-huckabee-sanders-from-one-female-press-secretary-to-another.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbpUcfpbnrs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Huckabee_Sanders

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/two-of-three-female-white-house-press-secretaries-worked-for-republican-presidents/article/2629496

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-long-can-the-trump-tumult-go-on-1501106914

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/has-the-media-reached-the-point-that-it-can-never-cover-trump-fairly/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Okay it’s really “Meet the Press,” the very same NBC Sunday public-affairs program that debuted in 1947. Harry “The Buck Stops Here” Truman was in the White House.

press

In the 14th year of the 21st Century, can anyone contemplate debuting a new program, naming it, “Meet the Press?” Or how about inaugurating a women’s general interest periodical and calling it, “Good Housekeeping”? Of course not, and yet the 1885 brand lives on as “GH.”

 

“Meet the Press” can be found on NBC, hosted by David Gregory, every Sunday morning reportedly running three-out-of-three in the ratings of the major network Sunday talking-head shows. Is the Rockefeller Center network so attached to this tired brand, which is an anachronism to the game-changing technological shifts west of the Hudson River that it refuses to acknowledge the obvious?

Maybe the rocket scientists at NBC should call the program MTP similar to making-love-in-a-canoe Pabst Blue Ribbon trying to be cool with the PBR acronym. Sorry, we won’t be fooled again.

Is this the time to strike the analog word, “Press” from our collective vocabulary, especially for people who should know better: public relations practitioners, communications choreographers, digital media pros etc.? Almost DailyBrett argues in the affirmative.

And if you do use this word, what does that say about your mindset? Are you closer to the “laggard” classification when it comes to the “Diffusion of Innovation” curve?

diffusioncurve

 

They buried Johannes Gutenberg in 1468. And now it’s time … actually it’s way past time … to deep-six his printing “press,” literally and figuratively.

gutenberg

And with it should be the permanent prohibition by public relations/communications professionals in using the anachronistic and woefully outdated five-letter word: P-R-E-S-S.

That’s right. There should be no more “Press” or “Press Room” icons and pages on company and agency (Hello? … digital) websites. There should be no more “press conferences,” and please no more “press releases.”

There are still scars on my back and vivid memories of uttering the word, “Press” in the presence of electronic media types back in my Sacramento days. “Press” to the conventional electronic (e.g. radio and television) media refers to the “pencil” reporter/editor types. And now even fewer media are actually using printing presses.

Surveying the office bookshelf, the author of Almost DailyBrett comes upon “The Press and America: An Interpretative History of Mass Media” and “The Press: Inside America’s Most Powerful Newspaper Empires – From the Newsrooms to the Boardrooms.” These books were written and published in the simpler analog days of the 1970s and 1980s.

No more kicking and screaming: These “press” references, including the titles of these outdated books, are just so 20th Century…or one could argue, they are really 15th Century. And that is the unavoidable truth when it comes to “legacy” media. Maybe we should label them as “antique” media?

It’s time for the digital natives to reign supreme.

According to The Economist, the high-water mark for employment of full-time American newspaper journalist was about 57,000 circa 1990. Fast forward to the present day and the number is down to 38,000 and dropping, claiming the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Rocky Mountain News and many others as casualties.

These are all legacy media that are now legacies, and others will be soon joining the ranks.

Does this mean that college and university journalism schools should shut their doors, and ask the last student to “Please turn out the lights”?

To borrow a well-worn metaphor, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is not an oncoming train.

 

The illumination comes from serious digital-native startups that some may be tempted to dismiss as blogs. Pew Research’s State of the News Media cites the literally dozens of digital news providers, some better than others, which are meeting the insatiable global demand for news and information on a 24/7/365-day basis.

digitalmedia

Do you want to label Vice and its 1,100 journalists as “Press”? The question sounds silly when you think of it. How about The Huffington Post with its 575 journalists or POLITICO with 186 or BuzzFeed,170 or Gawker, 132?

One may be tempted to dismiss these contributors as mere bloggers until you examine the departure of reporters from legacy media New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NPR and others for jobs with digital native news services. Are the lost jobs in legacy media being replaced on a one-to-one basis by digital native outlets? Alas, the answer is ‘no,’ but the trend is clear. The demand for news and information is being filled, mainly by providers that use software, binary code, search engines and keyboards.

Michael Deaver, Larry Speakes and others in the Reagan communications team had to make more room in the crammed White House briefing room for a new network, CNN.

The Clinton White House had to do the same for Fox News and MSNBC, which ironically both debuted in 1996.

Undoubtedly, the present White House and administrations to follow will have to make the calls when it comes to digital-native media. Some deserve admission to this club, and some do not. Regardless the vast majority media now and into the future will never use printing presses. They are so yesterday. The world continues to change, but the demand for accurate news and information will never change.

It’s time to bury the word, “Press” once and for all.

http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/as-meet-the-press-struggles-in-the-ratings-plenty-of-questions-for-host-david-gregory/2014/04/20/247ed4c0-c72f-11e3-bf7a-be01a9b69cf1_story.html?wpisrc=nl%5Fhdln

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Housekeeping

http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21599784-some-moderately-good-news-news-industry-digital-resurrection

http://www.vice.com/en_us

http://www.businessinsider.com/

https://firstlook.org/

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/

http://www.politico.com/

http://www.journalism.org/packages/state-of-the-news-media-2014/

 

 

 

 

“I’m sorry if my message got misconstrued, but it really was in the best interest of the young men. Hindsight’s 20-20. I probably should have said it was an interview. Semantics are semantics.” – New USC Football Coach Steve Sarkisian

“Misconstrued”?

“Semantics are Semantics”?

How about, to be charitable, telling a big fib?

Sorry Sark, you will never totally restore your reputation for integrity.

sarkuw

Media types and the general public will always have an extra degree of skepticism whenever they interact with you. There is no way to change this inescapable conclusion.

Almost DailyBrett has commented before about Jody Powell’s self-proclaimed, “Right to Lie.”

Powell, former press secretary to President Jimmy Carter, was placed into a lie-or-jeopardize American lives dilemma, when he was asked point-blank in 1980 about possible rescue mission for 52 American diplomats trapped in Iran.

He knew the score. He protected the (ultimately failed) mission. He lied and deceived. He really had no choice.

Larry Speakes, former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was told to “knock down” rumors about a 1983 American invasion of Grenada. He did. The GI’s landed the following morning. An internally misled and peeved Speakes was charged with lying.

In both cases, the press secretary must interact with the White House Press Corps on a daily basis. A “no comment” response would be interpreted as tantamount to confirmation. The press secretary does not have the authority, regardless of her or his conscience and upbringing, to jeopardize American lives.

jodypowellwhitehouse

Power lied. Speakes lied without knowing it, and was charged with…lying.

Looking back to this previous weekend, former Washington, now USC Coach Sarkisian could have easily avoided being put into a situation in which he had to tell a big white lie.

Until this past Monday, Sarkisian was the head football coach for the University of Washington. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, he was a high-profile assistant coach for Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans.

And naturally because of his relative success (e.g., never beat Oregon) during his five years with Udub and his USC pedigree, he was a natural for the short list of potential new coaches at Troy.

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden flew this past Sunday to Seattle to interview Sarkisian. Trust me; he was not heading to the Northwest to bask in the freezing weather. Ultimately, the interview went well. There were still “I’s” to dot and “T’s” to cross as Haden returned to SoCal.

Sarkisian still in his Udub head coach capacity had a scheduled Monday morning interview with Seattle KJR (AM-590), the flagship station for Husky football. He knew that he was going to be asked about the swirling rumors that he had been interviewed by Haden for the SC job.

What were his personal public relations and reputation management options (Keep in mind, none of them were perfect)?

Sark’s options were to go ahead with the previously scheduled radio talk and mischaracterize his meeting with Haden as a nice chat, and not an interview. Keep in mind, the majority of the UW Athletic Department administrators and his team was presumably listening to the interview.

The other option was to postpone the interview, thus maintaining his credibility. This option requires POing the media, particularly the chaps at KJR Sports Radio, and starting rumors as to why he was not available.

As we all know now, Sark went forward with the Monday morning interview and his credibility took a huge hit just hours later when USC announced he was Troy’s new head coach.

sarkusc

“I just felt like at the time, nowhere near finalizing the deal, that it wasn’t the right thing to say,” Sarkisian said. “I didn’t either want to put (USC or UW players) in a situation of uncertainty.”

“Nowhere near finalizing the deal?”

Sark, you met with Pat Haden on Sunday, and USC announced your hiring on Monday afternoon. When you are in a hole, stop digging.

In football, there are times when it is best to punt than being stopped short of the first-down markers.

This was a time when Sark personally should have punted. Postpone the interview. Let the rumors fly. Keep your reputation intact. And later, offer an exclusive post-USC hiring interview exclusive for KJR. Do you really think the torqued-off station would decline that opportunity?

They would have jumped at it.

Presidential press secretaries have the right to lie (and this is debatable) to protect American lives. The same latitude does not apply to Semantics-are-Semantics football coaches.

http://seattletimes.com/html/huskyfootball/2022386995_sarkisian04xml.html

http://sportspressnw.com/2171412/2013/sark-the-liar-my-message-got-misconstrued

http://www.sportsradiokjr.com/main.html

http://www.latimes.com/sports/college/usc/la-sp-1203-usc-sarkisian-20131203,0,7317089,full.story#axzz2mdDVswIi

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20131202/steve-sarkisian-usc-head-coach-washington/?xid=ob_sisports

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/the-right-to-lie/

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies” –Winston Churchill, 1943.

churchill

(Editor’s note: As a gubernatorial press secretary, I was accused of lying by a few members of the media. I will go to my grave convinced that I was telling the truth, but in the way that I wanted to tell the truth. It is hard to conceive the high stakes involved and the pressure upon presidential press secretaries as literally hundreds of lives could be compromised by loose lips and a lack of judgment. Read on.)

Jody Powell “The Other Side of the Story” and Larry Speakes “Speaking Out” were Presidential press secretaries of sequential administrations (Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981) and (Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989). They hailed from opposite sides of the great American political divide, but their experiences working with difficult US political media, particularly the White House Press Corps, unites them based upon common experience. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jody_Powell. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Speakes

They also were both guilty of lying to the media and by extension the general public to protect the lives of American service men and women as well as civilians. Are their actions any more acceptable or deplorable today nearly two decades later?

Both Powell and Speakes were placed in remarkably similar, extremely delicate positions involving the confidentiality of imminent American military intervention: Powell, the American rescue mission of hostages taken by Iran in April, 1980; and Speakes, the American invasion of Grenada in October, 1983.

Despite the similarities, there is one key difference: Powell was briefed about the rescue mission in advance and was compelled to lie to protect its confidentiality and with it, American lives; Speakes was misled by the National Security Advisor and subsequently was accused of deliberately lying by the media.

Jack Nelson, the LA Times Washington, D.C. bureau chief, confronted Powell point-blank during the Iranian hostage crisis asking: “You aren’t thinking about doing anything drastic like launching a rescue mission, are you?”

“This was the moment of truth, or more accurately, of deception,” Powell remembered. “Now I was faced with a direct question. With a swallow that I hoped was not noticeable, I began to recite all the reasons why a rescue mission would not make any sense.”

jody-powell

Even though there were similarities about the need to protect lives and not jeopardize an American military operation, the Powell and Speakes dilemmas were not exactly the same. Speakes stated categorically: “(National Security Advisor) Rear Admiral John Poindexter hung me out to dry, and I didn’t even know it.”

Instead of Jack Anderson of the LA Times, it was Bill Plante of CBS News asking the direct question. Speakes relayed Plante’s question to Poindexter, the president’s National Security Advisor, and was told that an invasion of Grenada was “preposterous” and that he (Speakes) should “knock it down hard.”

Later Plante asked a second question of Speakes, after hearing reports of US mobilization in the Caribbean. This time, White House Chief of Staff James Baker, told Speakes to “be careful about what you say” and asked him to report to the White House mess the following morning at 5:45 am. Speakes was finally told the truth at this meeting and asked to announce the invasion to the media at 7 am.

speakes

“Not only was I furious about having been deceived, but I had been given just an hour or so to go through dozens of pages of material and prepare myself to present it to the press and to the world in some coherent fashion,” Speakes said. “That was treatment about as unfair as I had ever received. I had never been so mad in my life, but I knew there was nothing I could do except choke it down and head out there in front of the press and try to do my job.”

Powell even asked Plante what he would have done if the Reagan White House was truthful and confirmed the Grenada invasion plans: “I don’t know; we would have tried to find some way to use what we know without endangering the operation.” That answer begs the question as to exactly how CBS could air that story without alerting the Marxist rebels and compromising the US invasion and the lives of American military personnel and civilians on the island.

“That in itself would seem to confirm the wisdom of the White House judgment,” Powell said. “You cannot expect government to leave such questions in the hands of the fourth estate. The consequences for error are too severe.”

These two situations, not identical but similar, bring up another intriguing question: Is it best to keep the press secretary in the dark about highly classified national security matters, thus not putting that individual in the position of having to deliberately lie?

Or is it better to brief the lead spokesman and leaving it to her or his judgment as to when it is permissible and even wise to lie?

“I have always preached to members of the White House staff, ‘Tell me everything, so I’ll know not only what to say, but what not to say,” Speakes said. “…Ninety percent of the politicians deal with press secretaries in the same fashion. Two exceptions were Jimmy Carter, who gave extraordinary access to Jody Powell, and Dwight Eisenhower, who did the same with Jim Hagerty. It’s no accident that Hagerty and Powell were two of the best press secretaries of all time.”

Powell sympathized with Speakes predicament stating: “Mr. Speakes made it clear if a lie was required and he was sent out to tell it, he wanted to know what was at stake. And he was exactly right. Keeping the press secretary in the dark can create serious problems.”

Powell said this unfortunate practice erodes the effectiveness of the press secretary. “Putting the guy whose business is information in a position that makes him appear to be uninformed, out of touch, and not trusted makes no sense over the long haul.”

More to the point, Powell said: “…If a secret is worthy lying about to protect, it makes sense to come up with the most effective lie possible…Dealing with the press, particularly in ticklish situations, is very much an art. You cannot treat the press secretary like a robot and then expect him to perform like an artist.”

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