At the White House, a few good flacks

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A collection of former White House press secretaries gathered recently for a little reunion at the mansion before the aging press room is renovated for the first time since 1970.

The job of White House press spokesperson is one of the toughest jobs in Washington. You are expected to put the best twist on the president's policies and performance while keeping faith with reporters who often badger you for details beyond the spin of the daily story.

In reporting on Presidents Ford, Carter, and Bush 41 during my career, the highest marks went to Marlin Fitzwater and Jody Powell. They stand out as true professionals.

Fitzwater had the distinction of working for two presidents--Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush.

During all that time, he was unflappable. He handled every crisis, and there were many, with a calm demeanor. When things grew tense, he was still a class act at the podium.

Fitzwater combined a down-to-earth presentation with a Kansas style and self-deprecating sense of humor. He usually kept his temper in check even when some ridiculous questions were fired at him.

He served both presidents well. And he was and is a highly decent man.

Jody Powell never worked in the media before coming to the White House in 1977. But he understood our mission and worked hard to that end.

Powell was an important link to reporters because he was a trusted and key aide to President Carter. He didn't have to "wing it" as some have done in he past. You could count on his information as coming from the Oval Office because he was there in all the important meetings.

He had a temper, but he usually kept it under control. Like Fitzwater after him, he could defuse a potential confrontation with a humorous anecdote from his native Georgia.

Powell went on to a successful career in public relations and lobbying. He paid his dues.

Fitzwater and Powell were popular with the White House regulars, but neither became tight friends or pals with any of them. They and the press understood the need to stay at arm's length from the men and women who covered their presidents. It is necessary.

In retirement now, I am proud to call them my friends.