''He's one of the best," onetime presidential press secretary Jerry terHorst said the other day of Mike McCurry. "He's up there with Jim Hagerty," he told us, referring to President Eisenhower's highly regarded press secretary.
Mr. terHorst made quite a mark himself as a press secretary, although he performed in that capacity under President Ford for only a relatively few days. When Ford pardoned Nixon in a move that stirred up protest throughout the country, terHorst stepped down from his job in a resignation that itself became a stunning development.
TerHorst, who as a newsman had known Ford for years, explained that his sudden resignation was a matter of conscience. He saw the Nixon pardon as a great moral wrong. So he was leaving government despite the fact that he was giving up a prestigious position before he had hardly warmed the chair.
For his own act of protest terHorst won special respect from his peers. So when he rates another press secretary so highly - as he now does Mr. McCurry - it seems that, at the very least, a press secretary who has only been on board for only about half of President Clinton's first term must be getting the job done.
I, too, have been watching press secretaries up close for a long while. And although I no longer attend White House briefings, I breakfast with a lot of the reporters who see Mike in action daily. And what I hear from them all is this: They like McCurry and find him unfailingly good-humored. Most of all, they appreciate having a press secretary who is a part of Clinton's inner circle and who therefore is positioned to know from moment to moment what the president is thinking and intending to do.
McCurry has, himself, been a guest at Monitor breakfasts where he has proven to be exceedingly fast on his feet: When he gets a question that he can't answer, or shouldn't answer, he sidesteps with a quick witticism. Marlin Fitzwater, Reagan's and Bush's press secretary, would do this, too - although Marlin's wit was more low-keyed and subtle.