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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tom Brokaw: The Offer From Nixon I Refused - The New York Times

"When Sean Spicer was appointed White House press secretary by President Trump, Mr. Spicer tweeted, “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for this amazing honor.”

Given the self-inflicted wounds of Mr. Spicer since the inauguration, he’s in danger of joining Ron Ziegler of Watergate infamy among failed White House press secretaries.

For personal reasons, I’ve long been a student of White House press secretaries.

In late 1969 I received a call from the White House chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, that I would be invited to lunch by a friend of his, and that I should keep an open mind.

As a young political reporter in California in 1967, I often encountered Bob Haldeman in his role as a regent in the state university system and as head of J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency that handled NBC’s West Coast promotion campaigns. (Ron Ziegler supervised the NBC account for him.)

The crew-cut Haldeman I knew was an affable source of information on university and Republican issues during the early days of Gov. Ronald Reagan’s administration, not at all like the stern figure of President Nixon’s White House years.

Haldeman had been an advance man for Nixon’s losing 1960 presidential bid, and when he rejoined Nixon for the 1968 campaign, he quickly became a powerful insider, leading to his appointment as chief of staff.

His friend, my luncheon host, was a personable Los Angeles public relations man who quickly got to the point: “Bob would like you to consider becoming the White House press secretary. He’s talked it over with the president, who approves.”

White House press secretary to Richard Nixon? I had been raised in a family of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman Democrats. My parents were skeptical about John F. Kennedy, but my wife and I were generational enthusiasts.

I worked hard at keeping personal beliefs out of my work, but there were limits. My first job, in a deeply conservative Omaha newsroom, was a test. Most of my colleagues thought I was a crazed liberal for supporting Medicare and the voting rights and civil rights bills.

At lunch with Haldeman’s emissary, I stammered something about having just signed a new contract with NBC News, a big step to becoming a national political correspondent, my dream job.

He suggested I think about it. “I have,” I said, “and it just isn’t what I am equipped to do. Please tell Bob I am flattered but no.”

Tom Brokaw: The Offer From Nixon I Refused - The New York Times

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