WASHINGTON: Ari Fleischer, the Presidential press secretary who for two years enforced the thin line between a reticent White House and a voracious press corps, is leaving his post in July to embark on the lecture circuit.
"I want to do something more relaxing - like dismantle live nuclear weapons," he jokingly told reporters last Monday.
Fleischer has been President Bush's White House press secretary from his first days in office, transitioning from a deputy spokesman role in the 2000 campaign. The New York native, raised in a staunchly Democratic family, was an anomaly in a West Wing dominated by GOP Texans, but observers spoke of his tenure as one characterized primarily by unflagging loyalty to his boss.
Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for The National Journal, said Fleischer differed from many of his predecessors by always representing the interests of the President regardless of the media's needs.
"His first allegiance always was to the President," she offered. "That's true of all press secretaries, but in Ari's case, the President wanted his [press] office to work almost entirely for him, and not for the media. So I think that all of us who've worked with Ari have appreciated the task that he was handed, but that does not diminish the frustration that we've had with him as the front guard of a policy that we often felt was not always even in the best interest of the President."
Although no official replacement has been named, speculation has focused on Fleischer's deputy and longtime Bush loyalist Scott McClellan.
Martha Joynt Kumar, professor of political science at Tow-son University and a published expert on Bush communication policy, predicted that McClellan's arrival would change little about White House operation.
"What Scott will bring is an intimate knowledge of the President and of the White House staff. But this White House is very disciplined about its messages and how they are delivered, and that's not likely to change," she said.