One of the major misconceptions about the White House press secretary’s role is to assume that he has more power than he really does. Because he is always the president’s public face, we assume that he is our window into the White House and is a top level policy official or, at least, the one who knows what is doing on. Nothing could be further from the truth.
McClellan’s book is neither right nor wrong. It is just ill-informed. In the Clinton White House, for example, Mike McCurry, perhaps the best press secretary of our generation, never attended white house political strategy meetings. At first, he wasn’t invited. And then, he said he didn’t want to know what he couldn’t talk about. Finally, Clinton insisted that he attend.
In the Bush White House, where policy on defense and national security issues is likely more divorced from political strategizing than it was in the Clinton Administration, the press secretary is two steps removed. The political types are kept out of national security issues and the press secretary isn’t privy to either the national security process or the political strategy.
To grasp the limitations on the role of the White House Press Secretary, think of him as the media’s ambassador to the White House, rather than as the president’s ambassador to the media. Thinking of the job this way reveals how much of an outsider the typical press secretary usually is.