Five former White House press secretaries critiqued the administration’s response to Egypt and offered new press secretary Jay Carney advice Monday night at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.
“It’s nearly impossible to be a decision maker, a key policy adviser and do our job,” said Mike McCurry, Pres. Bill Clinton’s former press secretary. “You have to be a fly on the wall. If you’re participating, then colleagues know you have a point of view. Don’t give the president your opinion.”
The audience laughed during a montage of President Barack Obama’s former press secretary Robert Gibbs repeating the phrase “Now means yesterday” about the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. His repetitive statement from early February offered no clear consequences if Mubarak does not step down.
Dana Perino, press secretary to former president George W. Bush, said the administration’s messages about Egypt proved too mixed, saying “They should really be more synced up.”
The press secretaries also offered advice to Jay Carney, Obama’s new press secretary and long-time Washington journalist.
“Good luck!” said Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary during the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Fleischer said the jobs of journalists and press secretaries differ completely, suggesting that Carney will find it difficult to transition into the role. The job sits in an awkward position between the president and the press, where Carney must defend the administration and speak for the country simultaneously. The job leaves reporters and the public guessing where the message comes from.
McCurry got some laughs when he referred to his time as a press secretary during the Clinton impeachment scandal.
“Sometimes the key is to tell the truth slowly,” he said. “You can never consciously lie. It destroys your credibility. You’re caught in this weird position, juxtaposed between the press and the president. You can’t make both happy.”