EDITORIAL: Ari needs access to do the job well

At first glance, Ari Fleischer seems to have what it takes to be a successful press secretary. He respects reporters, displays a quick wit which helps him out of tight spots and possesses an intimate knowledge of his boss, gained from his long run on President Bush's campaign.

At first glance, Ari Fleischer seems to have what it takes to be a successful press secretary. He respects reporters, displays a quick wit which helps him out of tight spots and possesses an intimate knowledge of his boss, gained from his long run on President Bush's campaign.

At first glance, Ari Fleischer seems to have what it takes to be a successful press secretary. He respects reporters, displays a quick wit which helps him out of tight spots and possesses an intimate knowledge of his boss, gained from his long run on President Bush's campaign.

But what concerns journalists most is what he may lack: access. Murmurs from the press corps already suggest that many do not believe he has the direct line to the president he needs to be effective - a predicament that has sunk other press secretaries.

Hearst News Service columnist Helen Thomas recently remarked in The Hill, 'I don't know if he has the kind of direct access he needs to do his job.' And Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post expressed similar concerns to PRWeek: 'The most influential press secretaries - Jody Powell, Mike McCurry, Marlin Fitzwater - are those who have unfettered access to the Oval Office. The big question for Ari is whether he will be part of that inner circle.'

It's no secret that the White House will handle communications much differently under Bush than under Clinton - when Pennsylvania Avenue sprung more leaks than a Firestone tire. This administration has already shown remarkable discipline in controlling its message.

But we can't help but wonder if Bush's game plan with Fleischer isn't a sort of plausible deniability - keeping the press at bay by keeping his press secretary in the dark. If that is the case, the president should remember that the press corps rarely accepts a useless spokesperson. If Fleischer cannot give them what they want, journalists will bypass him as they have bypassed others That is professional death for a press secretary. Just ask Dee Dee Myers.





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