What is your job?
My job is to talk about what my boss does and thinks. And my boss is the president of the United States.
When I was in school, I talked all the time, so it's great now that I've found something where it is my job to talk. It's a little like playing in the seventh game of the World Series every day. It's long and it's exciting. There's always something controversial to talk about.
It's an intellectual chess game. There are very smart reporters in the press corps who want me to say more than I'm ready to say. But my job is to answer the questions in a way that reflects what my boss is thinking.
There are other jobs that pay a lot more money, but there is nothing like working for the president of the United States.
What subject in school prepared you best for this job?
Probably social studies. I grew up in a very political family. We were always talking politics around the dinner table. I'm from a family of Democrats. My parents didn't vote for President Bush. I don't think they will vote for him in 2004 either.
What's a typical day like?
I'm not a morning person, which is a bad thing in this job. But every weekday I'm up at 5 and I read the papers. I spend a lot of my day in meetings. The rest of the day I spend telling reporters what we talked about in those meetings.
I probably spend about a quarter of my day in meetings with the president. That's because he thinks that the best way for me to speak for the president is to listen to him.
How do you prepare the president to answer reporter's questions?
The president takes questions from reporters several times a week, usually two or three questions from the pool of reporters. My job is to tell the president what's on the mind of the press. What questions he's likely to be asked. We might review some of the issues. He's not someone who needs a whole lot of preparation for this sort of thing.
What's the best part of your job?
I get to go to the president's ranch in Texas or he'll invite my wife and me up to Camp David just to relax for the weekend. I get to travel with the president. Getting picked up on the South Lawn of the White House and flying on Air Force One is pretty cool.
What's Air Force One like?
It's big, it's comfortable and there are phones everywhere. You can be flying over China and call someone on their cell phone in downtown D.C. And it has satellite TV so you can watch baseball wherever you are.
What's the hardest part of your job?
Knowing what not to say. Reporters think they deserve to know everything. You can't talk about everything until the president is ready. The press corps can be aggressive and that's their job. But the president deserves a thoughtful atmosphere while he's making decisions. Once the decision is made, I can provide reporters with information.
What happens when reporters ask you questions that you don't want to or can't answer?
There's a history of the press secretary and the press corps not seeing eye to eye. The press won't be happy until there's 'Oval Cam,' when you can see into the Oval Office 24 hours a day.
But the best way is to be direct. Like yesterday, I got asked, "Who are we spying on?" I said, "I can't talk to you about that" or "We don't talk about matters like that."
Is it ever your job to lie?
You can never lie in this job. There are many different ways not to answer a question. When it comes to questions about troop movements or things that put people's lives in jeopardy, you can just not answer that question. But if you lie, it would be your last day in this job, and deservedly so.
yesterday . . . " Huh?
Everyone knows a building doesn't talk, but TV reporters say it all the time. The Washington Post has written it 25 times since the beginning of the year.
When the White House "talks," it's usually Ari Fleischer who is doing the speaking. He's President Bush's press secretary.
The press secretary's job is to answer questions from hundreds of reporters who make up the White House press corps. They want to know what the president is thinking and doing about very small things, such as Little League games on the White House lawn and very big things, such as a possible war with Iraq.
The first president, George Washington, didn't have a press secretary. In fact, no president had one until James Buchanan in the 1850s. Since then there has been disagreement about just how the press secretary should do his job.
A reporter once called President Grover Cleveland to give him advice on picking a press secretary: "We were hoping that you will appoint a man who will be good to us newspaper men."
The president answered: "I had a notion of appointing a man who would be good to me."
Being good to the president is how Ari Fleischer sees his job. He works long hours, and on any day might have to answer questions about terror alerts, Turkey and whatever Congress has done. But he also gets to fly on Air Force One, meets with President Bush every day, and has a baseball autographed by the 2001 New York Yankees sitting on his desk.
He clearly thinks he has a cool job. He spoke with Tracy Grant about working at the White House.
Ari Fleischer, President Bush's press secretary, talks all the time in his job. "It's a little like playing in the seventh game of the World Series," he says. "It's long and it's exciting."Ari Fleischer during a media briefing.