14 July 2003
Ari Fleischer Departs Job as White House Press Secretary
His number two, Scott McClellan, succeeds him
By Wendy S. Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent
Washington -- Ari Fleischer held his last briefing for White House
correspondents July 14, after serving two and a half years as White
House Press Secretary, and before that working with the Bush presidential
Fleischer will now join the private sector after serving more
than 21 years in government and politics, mostly on Capitol Hill.
Reports say he plans to go on the lecture circuit, form his own
communications company, write a book about his White House experience,
and do some fundraising for President Bush's reelection campaign.
In the briefing room packed with reporters, Fleischer thanked
the people who help make the White House work -- stenographers,
telephone operaters, military aides, the Secret Service, senior
staff, the press staff -- as well as President Bush.
"The final person I want to thank is, of course, the president,
the person who gave me this opportunity to serve my country, the
person in whom I believe so deeply, both on policy and as a person,
as a leader, and as somebody I've come to be very close to."
"Thank you, everybody. Thank you for letting me serve. Thank you.
Thank you," Fleischer said.
Taking Fleischer's job as Press Secretary is Scott McClellan,
from Texas, who has been serving under Fleischer as number two
in the White House Press Office.
Discussing the relationship between the press secretary and the
press corps, Fleischer said it "is designed to be a relationship
that has some levels of tension built into it. It is the press's
job to ask anything about everything.
"I always do my best to give you the fullest answers from the
president that I possibly can, and I hope that I've endeavored
to do that and do it well, in the course of our interaction.
"But one thing's for sure. Sometimes as messy as it can be, in
the 225-year history of our country, the fact that there is a free
press who can ask whatever it wants and a government that is accountable
has kept our nation strong and free. And it will forevermore."
Fleischer's immediate plans are to take a vacation with his wife
Becky, who he met and married while working at the White House.
"There's one other thing that the president did by putting me
here that I will always remember and take with me from the White
House, and that is, thanks to the president, I met my wife here,
because she worked at the White House, too. Becky's with us today.
She's with us today. Becky, I can't wait to see you at regular
hours," Fleischer said.
Asked how he wants to be remembered by the press, Fleischer responded, "Fondly."
Asked if he was leaving any legacy behind, Fleischer said "Bob",
referring to Bob Deans, the President of the White House Press
Speaking on behalf of the press corps, Deans thanked Fleischer "for
all you did for us, thank you for the long hours, the red-eyes
we'll miss, and thank you for the times you advocated on behalf
of open access behind the scenes."
The Press Corps then feted him with a good-bye party complete
with a cake.
Deans said "We've received assurances that it's not yellow cake," referring
to the name for uranium ore so much in the news of late. "But that
doesn't prove that it's not yellow cake," to which Fleischer jokingly
said, "Well, if it is, I'm sure we'll find it."
On July 12, after President Bush had returned to Andrews Air Force
Base from his trip to five nations in Africa, Fleischer, who had
accompanied the President, thought he was only posing for pictures
when he was asked to come to the nose of Air Force One.
What he didn't know was his staff had enlisted a base fire engine
to help mark the end of his tenure as Bush's chief spokesman.
He quickly realized what was up when the mist from the engine's
hose blew his way.
Fleischer fled, with firefighters in pursuit.
But finally he indulged his staff and reporters gathered on the
tarmac by walking into the spray and getting a thorough drenching.
"This is what happens to me at the end of a typical briefing," Fleischer
joked, referring to his daily encounters with the White House press
"That's a pool spray."
Pool spray is White House jargon for when a small group of reporters
is given brief access to meetings between the president and his
Cabinet or foreign officials.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)