Dee Dee Myers feels tug of press secretary role

October 30, 2001|By Susan Reimer

DEE DEE MYERS, President Clinton's first press secretary and the prototype (sort of) for The West Wing's C.J. Cregg, feels like an old firehouse dog.

The challenges presented by the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon and the elusive threat of anthrax in the nation's capital and beyond have kick-started the adrenaline and the butterflies, and she'd love to be behind the podium in the White House press room giving out news instead of reading it the next day in her morning paper.

"Ring the bell, and I want to jump on the truck," said Myers after addressing a Network 2000 breakfast in Baltimore recently.

But she is married now and has a 19-month-old daughter. She still works, consulting for Vanity Fair and The West Wing, writing and giving speeches. But she has made the kind of compromises - incidental as well as life-changing - women make once they have a husband and a child.

"Life has many seasons," Myers said with a shrug. "I loved the rough and tumble of politics, but the truth is, you sacrifice your life.

"I miss the information. I miss knowing what's going on. If I were Ari Fleischer, I would know where Dick Cheney is right now. I am obsessed with knowing where Dick Cheney is.

"But I don't miss the pressure, and I don't miss the hours, and I know I couldn't do that job with a young child."

Myers came to public attention as Clinton's campaign press secretary, and the new president was praised by women everywhere when he appointed her, as well as a number of other women, to posts both close to him and in the highest reaches of his new government.

But, as Myers said during her sold-out speech to the women executives and professionals, she got the title of White House press secretary, but she didn't get the big office. She didn't get the salary, and, most important, she never got the access she needed to be able to placate a press room full of journalists hungry for news.

As it is with so many women ground-breakers, their status is always conditional. They are given the responsibility but not the authority they need to do the job. And when she was forced out two years into Clinton's first term - burned-out and disillusioned - her critics concluded that a woman just can't do that job.

But life gave Myers the chance for payback. Her character on The West Wing has the inner-circle access - and C.J. Cregg says all the things Dee Dee Myers wishes she'd been quick enough to say. "I get to make things turn out for C.J. the way I wanted them to turn out for me." When Aaron Sorkin asked her to read his proposal for The West Wing, her first thought was, "This is terrific." Her second was, "This will never succeed."

"I liked it because he was showing what I saw in the White House - good people trying to do the right thing. Maybe stumbling, but trying to do what is right. That's my vision of people who run for office and serve our country.

"I figured it never had a chance."

You'll notice that on television, the president's crusading inner circle is made up of idealistic geniuses who are unmarried and childless or divorced with grown children. Heck, they don't even have time to date in President Bartlet's White House, let alone get home in time to put the kids to bed with a story.

Dee Dee Myers says, without regret, that she is a working mother now, and, like her time in the White House, it is without parallel, but not without limitations.

"I wouldn't give up the time I spent in the White House for anything. But having a child changes your priorities. I can't imagine working in [that] kind of job and still trying to be a mom."

Myers thinks of her friends, Mary Matalin, a counselor to Cheney who has two young daughters, and Torie Clarke, spokesperson for the Pentagon who has three kids under age 7. When they signed on with the new Republican administration, they expected it would be a rough, and probably brief, stay.

They had no idea how rough.

"My heart goes out to them. I don't know how they are managing."

Myers probably doesn't want to interrupt them with one of those commiserating mom-to-mom phone calls. But my guess is, she's dying to ask, "OK. So tell me. Where's Cheney?"

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