Title: Metaphor and Irony
Date Completed: May 27, 2008
Website: Dimples and Distinctive Penmanship Style
Character: Will, mentions Toby and C.J.
Spoilers: For Seasons 6 through end of the series
Rating: Pre-Teen (solemn, wistful, ironic, metaphorical)
Disclaimer: I don't own these people or this universe. Aaron Sorkin does. Oh, and the real life press secretaries that I "quoted," they belong to themselves.
Author's Notes: Written for the Sorkin Fest fic-a-thon on LiveJournal. The prompt was "Notes from the flak jacket..."
This story was heavily researched using the internet. Some of the quotes are actually from the attributed press secretary. Others are paraphrased from articles found on the web. The remainder, I made up, based on articles I found about them on the web.
There was a time during my Journalism education that I wanted to be the Press Secretary to the President of the United States. And in writing this piece, I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia for that time.
And, there really is a flak jacket. I found that in my research. So, the bit in here about Ron Nessen being the one to start the tradition, that's true.
Thanks to ethospathos for the beta!
Feedback: Rocks my world. Really.
Summary: Will finds the contents of the press secretary's flak jacket.
After his first briefing, immediately following his sudden promotion to White House Communications Director, Will opened the door to the closet in Toby's office... his office... and found the flak jacket that he'd heard rumors about. He pulled it off its hanger and laid it on Toby's desk... his desk..., sat down and began to look through it.
Under the manufacturer's label on the inside of the back collar, an embroidered inscription had been sewn onto the lining: "This flak jacket hangs in the White House Press Secretary's office closet and has been here since Ron Nessen, press secretary for Gerald Ford, held the position. Traditionally, each of the people to hold the position have added a note in one of the pockets...advice for their successors to read when the going gets tough. Nessen also asked previous press secretaries for notes to include."
The flak jacket itself was old, but looked to be in pristine condition, a stark contrast to the war metaphor that it embodied, Will thought. He sat down in Toby's chair... his chair... and began to search through the pockets, looking for words of wisdom from the people that had gone before him.
The first note Will found was from his new boss and he had a feeling that this whole exploring-the-flak-jacket-thing was going to be riddled with irony. He took a deep breath and read her distinctive penmanship on the blue index card: "I was once told that I had to get in the President's face over an issue. I was terrified at the prospect. But it's absolutely true... Sometimes, you have to get in the President's face when you have this job. ~ C.J. Cregg (1999-2004: Bartlet)"
In the right front shoulder pocket, on a beverage napkin from the bar of The Four Seasons Hotel, that still held a faint smell of scotch, was scribbled, "The day I became Press Secretary to the President of the United States, I was in an entirely different world from the one I'd been in the day before. ~ Pierre Salinger (1961-1964: JFK and LBJ)"
In the pocket sewed into the right seem of the jacket, he found this note: "Folks would rather know you knew full well what was involved, than deal with someone who didn't even know if they were telling the truth. ~ Jody Powell (1977-1981: Carter)"
From the pocket on the left inside lining, Will pulled the following note, scribbled in the margin of a yellowed newspaper clipping from The Washington Post, containing a story about Ford's pardoning of Richard Nixon: "If you can not respect the decisions and actions of your President, you shouldn't be in this position. ~ Jerald terHorst (1974: Ford)"
Will found this note in the left shoulder pocket and it actually made him laugh out loud: "You've heard the saying, 'When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.' I have several stands around here. ~ James Brady (1981-1989: Reagan)"
On a folded piece of crisp white stationery, displaying the PBS logo, found in the lower left back pocket, was this typewritten note with a signature, "Hyperbole was to Lyndon Johnson what oxygen is to life. Remember, you are the President's filter. ~ Bill Moyers (1965-1966: LBJ)"
In another twist of irony, the next note Will found was written on a sheet of stationery from The Watergate Hotel: "I'm proud of what I did as press secretary, I don't feel the need to apologize; there are some things, however, I would have done differently. Be proud of yourself too... and learn from your mistakes. ~ Ron Zielger (1969-1974: Nixon)"
Another pocket held a cream colored card with the seal of LBJ library on it. Inside was this hand-scrawled note, "It might seem simple, but it's true. If they think you've lost your contact and that the President is inaccessible to you, then they will doubt what you have to say. ~ George Christian (1967-1969: LBJ)"
Stuffed in the front pocket to the left on the bottom of the jacket, was a White House envelope that contained this note: "Unfortunately for you, nobody believes the official spokesman . . . but everybody trusts an unidentified source. ~ Ron Nessen (1974-1977: Ford)"
In the lower right inside pocket, Will found this note on a page torn from a copy of Newsweek discussing the impact of the new war in the Gulf: "Good crisis communications is based on a system already in place. When there is a crisis, you just tighten it up and make it better. A crisis is no time to design a new system. ~ Marlin Fitzwater (1984-1998: Reagan)"
He found the nest note in the left seam pocket. Written on a sheet of elegant ladies stationery that vaguely smelled like Chanel No. 5, Will was again struck by the sense of humor and gift of irony that these previous press secretaries all seemed to have: "Lois Wyse, wrote, 'Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.' There are messages for both men and women in that statement. Whichever you are... never be afraid to take credit for what you do right and never fail to take the blame for what you do wrong. ~ Sherie Davenport (1988-1994: Newman)"
On a piece of Press Secretary stationery, under the heading of the Reagan White House, this note was scrawled in bold handwriting: "Being a press secretary is like learning to type: You're hunting and pecking for a while and then you find yourself doing the touch system and you don't even realize it. ~ Darryl L. Edwards (1981-1984: Lassiter)"
In one of the inside pockets, Will found this note on a torn sheet of paper from a yellow legal pad: "Politicians will always see the press as an arena for warfare... The concept that newspaper or television news exists to foster the political dialogue in a free society is incomprehensible to the political mind. Welcome to the game that never ends and will pull you in all directions at once! ~ George Reedy (1964-1965: LBJ)"
Scribbled on the margin of a printout from "The Drudge Report" web site discussing the "latest" in some scandal: "The same thing goes through my mind when anyone approaches us about writing about White House affairs. You sort of say, 'Oh man, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.' Most of the time, though, my view is that you're better off cooperating. ~ Drew McMahon (1994-1999: McDade)"
And finally, the circle of irony completed itself. The last note Will found was attached to a small red rubber ball, and said: "I never wanted the job of briefing the press. But, after having done so, I have even more respect for those who went before me and for those who shall come after me. ~ Toby Ziegler (2004-2005: Bartlet)"
He glanced at the ball already sitting on his desk, heaved a deep sigh, and placed the note with its ball back into the pocket of the flak jacket.
He took out a yellow legal pad he found in a desk drawer and scribbled his own note: "Remember, your first briefing is always the hardest. How true for me. ~ Will Bailey (2005-2006: Bartlet)"
Will tore off the whole sheet, folded it a couple of times and shoved it in the same pocket with the ball and its note. Then he hung the jacket back in the closet and turned out the lights in Toby's office... his office... and shut the door.
He bounced Toby's red rubber ball (he was just borrowing it, he told himself) on the marble floor as he walked though the deserted lobby heading for the door and wondered if he would revise his addition to the flak jacket's history before President Bartlet's term was up.
Somehow, he didn't think so.
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