Ari Fleischer retrospective (5/20)
By <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">Bryan Keefer</a>
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12510-2003May19.html">announced</a> Monday that he will be leaving the White House for the private sector later this summer. During his tenure, Fleischer went beyond simply serving as the President's messenger to the press. His disciplined style - even in the face of facts contradicting his message - earned him a reputation as one of the most relentless and aggressive press secretaries in recent memory.
As President Bush's emissary to the media, Fleischer was at the forefront of promulgating a number of myths and falsehoods, as <a href="http://slate.msn.com/id/2083117/">Slate's Tim Noah</a> and <a href="http://salon.com/news/feature/2003/05/19/ari/index_np.html">Salon's Jake Tapper</a> showed today. We've compiled our own list from the Spinsanity archives. In his first days as press secretary, Feischer helped fan the flames of a story that Clinton and his staffers had <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20010604.html">vandalized the White House</a> on their way out, as well as suggesting, <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20010611.html">falsely</a>, that a number of rules which went into effect in the final days of the Clinton administration had been "left unaddressed for eight years of the previous administration." In early 2002, Fleischer helped <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20020204.html">confuse the press</a> about the facts of a dispute between Vice President Dick Cheney and the General Accounting Office over records of Cheney's meetings to formulate energy policy. More recently, he invented a <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20021108.html">blatantly false</a> story to defend Bush's assertion that Iraq was "six months away" from acquiring nuclear weapons when inspectors left the country in 1998; repeated a number of misleading statistics about <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20030110.html">the average benefits</a> of Bush's proposed tax cut; and <a href=""http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20030404.html>claimed</a> that the administration had repeatedly suggested that the war would be difficult despite a number of statements to the contrary. (Jonathan Chait's <a href="http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020610&s=chait061002">cover story</a> in The New Republic last year covers Fleischer's tactics in great detail.)
Fleischer's most damaging legacy, however, is his pattern of attacks on the legitimacy of criticism of the administration. While he usually stayed away from direct criticism of political opponents, Fleischer helped pioneer the frameworks that other pundits and politicians adopted over time. In the early days of the Bush administration, for example, Fleischer often dismissed criticism with the claim that Bush had come to Washington in order to <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20010604.html">"change the tone"</a> of debate. Late last year, he tried to <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20030106.html">shut down Democratic criticism of the President</a> over national security issues by suggesting that "Any candidate who suggests that when the enemy attacks, the blame lies with the United States and not with the enemy does so at great peril to their own political future." And he has also <a href="http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20030115.html">suggested</a> that criticism of Bush's economic plans amounted to "class warfare."
Fleischer's discipline and devotion to the Bush administration is to be admired. However, his suspect relationship with the truth open serious questions about the administration's commitment to honest and rational debate. We can only hope Fleischer's successor gives us fewer myths and falsehoods from the briefing room podium.