Gerald Ford’s Press Secretary Set High Standard

Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon featured prominently in so many of the retrospective stories published this week following Ford’s death. The controversial pardon was the seminal moment of his short presidency, intended to bring about a healing for the nation but broadly criticized as some sort of payback to Nixon (who had, of course, appointed Ford VP after Spiro Agnew had resigned in disgrace).

Blindsided by the Nixon pardon, Ford’s press secretary Jerald terHorst promptly resigned. His decision to leave the White House could not have been easy; terHorst was just one month into the difficult job (after covering the White House for the Detroit News) but had already been widely praised by the White House press corp for his refreshing candor and openness. (The transcript from terHorst’s first news conference as Presidential press secretary provides a look at his professional demeanor but also his unease at his new relationship with his colleagues in the White House press pool.) As is made clear in this excerpt from his three paragraph letter of resignation to President Ford, terHorst resigned as a matter of principle:

As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes – and imprisoned – stemming from the same Watergate situation. These are also men whose reputations and families have been grievously injured. Try as I can, it is impossible to conclude that the former President is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national wellbeing.

Thus it is with a heavy heart that I hereby tender my resignation as Press Secretary to the President, effective today. My prayers nonetheless remain with you, sir.

If there ever is a Force for Good Hall of Fame for PR people demonstrating high-integrity actions in their work, Jerald terHorst will be a charter member. How many of us would give up our absolute dream job under similar circumstances?

- Jon Harmon

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