Marriott Alumni Magazine

Fall Winter 1977 Exchange

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EXCHANGE: ALUMNI/ALUMNAE Connie Gerrard greets President Carter in White House Press Office Following Executive Orders "As long as there is a hard-working staff at the Press Office, we will always be the busiest office in the White House," says Connie Gerrard, executive assistant to the presidential press secretary. Miss Gerrard (Business Education- 1963) has worked in the Press Office since the Lyndon Johnson days. Front-page names such as Ron Ziegler, Ron Nesson, George Reedy, and Bill Moyers are past bosses. Carter Press Secretary Jody Powell now heads the office. She has remained in the Press Office through the changes, at least in part, at the urging of members of the press corps. Responsibilities of the Press Office require a staff of 35 people whose duties range from working with media outside Washington to summarizing what newspapers across the country are saying about the president. Mainly, however, the office works with the White House Press Corps. This involves scheduling interviews with the president, preparing answers to reporters ' queries, holding daily press briefings and, during election years, active campaigning. Miss Gerrard has learned to think that no press inquiry is too unusual. "It is just amazing the number of things they ask about the president that you wouldn't think anyone would ask. The press wants to know everything from details about his dog and his cat, to where he buys his underwear, to who makes his suits, to who cuts his hair. Of course questions also deal with very complicated areas or foreign policy and pending legislation." Keeping the press informed requires established procedures for dealing with information about the president's activities. There are constant opportunities for errors because of time pressures. "Even if it is on such a low level as misspelling the name of an ambassador, you have made a mistake and it hurts your credibility." Not only does the Press Office brief the press corps, but it also works hard to keep fallacious reports out of the news. Miss Gerrard remembers "spending a whole afternoon refuting a story that CBS was going to run that was not true and seeing that it did not get on the news that night. The job is not suppressing unfavorable news, but either correcting incorrect information or keeping totally false reports out of the news. " Miss Gerrard has travelled all around the world with presidents- to places like China, Russia, Japan, India, Finland, Israel, Egypt, and Yugoslavia. “Second homes" have been Key Biscayne, San Clemente, Vail, and now Plains. (Actually the Press Office camps out in Americus, Georgia, since there are no hotels in Carter's hometown.) Even when the president is slowing down, Miss Gerrard stays in a makeshift office. “There is still work to do-the next day's schedule, putting out a release, and checking with Washington. I've been to China twice and have never seen the Forbidden City. "Seeing herself as an " implementing person," Miss Gerrard adds, " I have always supported the theory that President Johnson believed in, and that is that a good staff member doesn't try to get publicity. I've always thought that the spokes- people should do the talking. If there are facts that have to go out, then, of course, there is never any problem. But as far as interpreting policy or decisions, I am just very leery of discussing things like that.” 18

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