WASHINGTON -- When six former press secretaries returned to the White House for a brief reunion and friendly question-and-answer session, only one could remember ever lying to news reporters.
In their nostalgia, five of the press secretaries could think of no big moments when, as the voice of the White House, they had sacrificed their credibility, though some did recall walking a tight line in their responses to reporters.
Only the most recent former press secretary -- Jody Powell - admitted that he had ever deliberately lied to reporters, and he suggested that it was justified on national security grounds to prevent any leaks on the Iranian hostage rescue mission.
Jimmy Carter's spokesman recalled a couple of reporters asked him at the time 'if something was up... and I said 'oh, no.''
Larry Speakes, President Reagan's chief spokesman, invited the former press secretaries to the White House for lunch and Reagan dropped by to welcome them.
Sitting around the long mahogany table in the familiar Roosevelt Room, which once was the 'fish room,' they were served seafood chowder, London broil, potatoes, asparagus and vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries.
Each was presented an official-looking certificate admitting them to Speakes' newly formed elite club, the 'Association of White House Press Secretaries.'
The certificate says each of the holders is 'a member of that august group who stand fearlessly between presidents and the press, caught in the onslaught of verbal crossfire -- announcing, pronouncing, fending and defending ad infinitum, without fear or trepidation for their jobs, their future or their reputation.'
The press secretaries' visit was a prelude to the White House Correspondents dinner tonight, where they are to be the guests of Cliff Evans, vice president of RKO General Broadcasting, who originated the reunion idea.
Those who came back to the White House for the occasion were: Roger Tubby, who served under Harry Truman; George Christian, Lyndon Johnson's press secretary; Ron Ziegler, who served under Richard Nixon throughout his presidency; Jerry terHorst, who served Gerald Ford briefly; Ron Nessen, who served the remainder of Ford's term, and Powell.
They dropped by the press center, and fielded a few questions for old time's sake.
'I don't think I ever lied' to reporters, Tubby said. 'I'm not aware that I ever deliberately lied.'
'I heard so much about the credibility gap, I don't think I ever lied,' said Christian.
Ziegler, famous for declaring during the Watergate era that everything he had said to reporters was inoperative, told reporters that he 'never knowingly' lied. But he added, 'Clearly it was a period in history in this country' referring to the scandal and 'there was a cover-up.'
TerHorst, who was lauded for his integrity during his brief stint in the White House, said 'I think I have to say press secretaries are as vulnerable as the information they get.'
'I never knowingly stretched the truth,' said terHorst who quit the Ford administration after one month when he was lied to by other Ford aides about the Nixon pardon.
Nessen said he had not lied, but could have misled reporters on one occasion.
Tubby, who had a long career in the State Department after his brief tenure as Truman's chief spokesman, delivered a lecture to reporters, saying they slant the news 'toward those who espouse leftist causes.'
The others generally gave reporters high marks for fairness and balance.
Asked if they were glad to be back, Ziegler quipped, 'for the first 10 minutes, yes.'