By Meghana Reddy
Highly acclaimed for his ability to tell the “unvarnished truth” former journalist and press secretary Marlin Fitzwater is the inspiration behind Franklin Pierce University’s communications program and a man all journalism students can learn from.
Fitzwater made his debut as press secretary during Ronald Reagan’s final two years, continued on as the press secretary of George H.W. Bush, and serves today as a role model for press secretaries no matter their political affiliation. Bill Clinton’s former press secretary Mike McCurry proclaimed Fitzwater to be “the gold standard” of the profession, admiring him most for his ability to lighten up difficult situations.
Five Souhegan High School students interviewed Fitzwater on August 8. Knowing that he had grown up in a small town in Kansas and moved on to become one of the longest serving press secretaries in history, they asked him about his journey. After attending a small college in Kansas, Fitzwater set out for Washington, wanting to follow what seemed to be the natural path of journalists at the time. Once there Fitzwater, obstinate about making a career for himself, overcame those who told him to “go back to Kansas, kid” and eventually landed the position of White House press secretary.
When it came to humor Fitzwater described Ronald Reagan as a “jokester” and George H. W. Bush as a “teaser.” Fitzwater said however that there are times when jokes should be left aside. Fitzwater learned this the hard way. Once, the people of Denmark, fearing that the boats being sent to their ports contained nuclear weapons, asked if this was true. Fitzwater, unable to disclose information about the location of America’s nuclear weapons, replied, “Danish means breakfast to me.” He expected to get a laugh, but sparked a series of headlines such as “President’s Spokesperson Eats Danes for Breakfast” instead.
Today, in the midst of an election without boundaries and a media that thrives on sensationalism, Fitzwater was asked about the future of rhetoric. He believes that the personality driven rhetoric of the current two candidates is atypical. He said it is possible “that the next two candidates will have a whole new approach to how they argue and debate.”