EDITORIAL: You may criticize Fleischer for not serving PR, but you have to credit him for serving his boss

(Julia Hood and Paul Holmes debate Ari Fleischer's legacy.) It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback and criticize Ari Fleischer, especially when a few incidents made him appear a liar. But if the coach doesn't want to play ball a certain way, the team has to follow the playbook.

(Julia Hood and Paul Holmes debate Ari Fleischer's legacy.) It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback and criticize Ari Fleischer, especially when a few incidents made him appear a liar. But if the coach doesn't want to play ball a certain way, the team has to follow the playbook.

Some reporters seem to get that, as many of the stories about his resignation focused less on alleged obfuscation, and more on how his loyalty to the President superceded the press corps' priorities. Others have pointed out that Fleischer was easily one of the most heavily criticized press secretaries in memory, even while his boss enjoyed great approval ratings. Those who worship on the altar of transparency may say Fleischer has damaged the credibility of the PR profession. But while he is certainly not a model for open cooperation with the press, he did his job exactly as his boss expected him to and he got the results that all in the administration wanted. After all, we're not talking about a privately held company where reporters have no other access to the truth. Was Ari Fleischer the only person standing between Bush's agenda and the "real story"? No way. Reporters covering the federal government have many resources to call upon when working an angle. As last week's Media Watch analysis confirmed, Bush's hotshot aircraft carrier landing was a huge success, and I'm not sure anyone cared why he did it that way, rather than take the safer helicopter ride. These kinds of stunts are contrived by their very nature, and the image the public was left with was that Bush took a big personal risk, just like those brave men and women in our fighting forces do every day. To criticize it sounds almost churlish. There are other examples cited to prove Fleischer's dubious relationship with reality. But I don't think there is a single example of a press secretary that hasn't at least avoided the truth at one time or another. Are we in danger of dismissing his good results because we don't like the fact that such rigid information control actually worked? I think so. Mike McCurry, former Clinton press secretary, said it best regarding Fleischer's relationship with the media. "My approach was kill 'em with kindness, but there's absolutely no evidence it produced more favorable press coverage," he told The Washington Post. "President Bush expects much more disciplined, controlled, and taut press relations. Arguably, it has produced much better press coverage for them." Who was Fleischer to argue with America's first CEO president over the extent he controls the message? When the team is winning, the assistant coach doesn't start handing out new plays. Reporters, who want the meaty stories, and political opponents of Bush, who want him defeated in 2004, are frustrated that the Bush machine's strategy keeps paying off. Maybe Bush's next press secretary will pull off this delicate act with more panache. Perhaps he or she will win more friends in the briefing room. But it's hard to fault Fleischer for helping his boss score touchdowns over and over again. To see Paul Holmes' response, click here.

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