Press secretary 'fraternity' mourns loss of Ziegler, 63

WASHINGTON: Ron Ziegler, White House press secretary during America's most infamous Presidential scandal, died of a heart attack in his California home last Monday. He was 63.

WASHINGTON: Ron Ziegler, White House press secretary during America's most infamous Presidential scandal, died of a heart attack in his California home last Monday. He was 63.

Ziegler was one of President Nixon's most strident defenders throughout the Watergate scandal, and hence was remembered last week largely for his attempts to knock down the story.

He famously referred to the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters as a "third-rate burglary." Later, he tried to back away from previous statements about Nixon's involvement by declaring them "inoperative."

Ziegler maintained throughout his life that he had no knowledge of the cover-up until tapes proving Nixon's involvement were made public. After two top Nixon aides resigned in 1973, Ziegler apologized for his attempts to discredit accusations against them.

"When we are wrong, we are wrong," he conceded.

As benefactor of both his title and his legacy, Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary throughout President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, remembered Ziegler as an unsuspecting and unfortunate trailblazer.

"He learned a lot of lessons for all of us," Lockhart said, referring to the "fraternity" of White House press secretaries. "He learned how important it is to measure every word, because almost anything you say may be what down the ride defines you.

"He was also probably the first press secretary who became a known figure in popular culture," Lockhart added.

Ziegler, who at 29 became the youngest press secretary in White House history, later parlayed that status into a stint as chief executive of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. He retired in 1998.

In 1981, Ziegler told The Washington Post that as the President's press secretary, "It's necessary to fudge sometimes. You have to give political answers. You have to give non-answers. But I never walked out on that podium and lied."

He is survived by his mother, Ruby, and two daughters, Cindy and Laurie.

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