The early years of the twenty-first century were a tumultuous time in America. The country faced a hotly contested presidential election, the largest terrorist attack in the nation's history, and the early stages of war. Through it all, President George W. Bush surrounded himself with a handful of close advisers. During this time the man beside the President was Ari Fleischer, his press secretary and one of his most trusted confidants. In this role, Fleisher was present for every decision and became an eyewitness to history.
In this riveting account, Fleischer goes behind the scenes as he recalls his experiences in the West Wing. Through the ups and downs of this time, he took the heat, fielded the questions, and brought the President's message into living rooms around the world.
In Taking Heat, Fleischer, for the first time, gives his perspective on:
- The 2000 election, from the recounts to the transition to power
- September 11, 2001, its aftermath, and the anthrax scare
- The pressure-filled buildup to the war in Iraq and the President's thoughts as the war began
- Life in the White House, from learning to adjust to the pace of the West Wing and his early briefings to his relationship with the press
- The White House press corps, who they are, and how they report the news
- The factors that led to his decision to leave Washington behind.
This is the story of the men and women of the White House press corps and the cornerstones of democracy: freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. Fleischer presents an in-depth, insider's view on the Washington political arena from a perspective few have seen.
Fleischer writes of his belief that the press has a bias in Washington. It's not a question of partisanship or press-driven ideology. Instead, it's a focus on conflict, particularly if it's a conflict they can attach to the President. It's the nature of the White House press corps, regardless of who's in power. The members of the White House press corps are masters at being devil's advocate, able to take with passion the opposite side of whatever issue the President supports. Fleischer's job was to calmly field their questions, no matter how pointed.
Taking Heat is an introspective exploration of the top political events in the first half of the Bush administration, as well as the candid observations of a professional who stood in the bright lights of the world stage.
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About the Author
Prior to resigning his post in 2003, Ari Fleischer served as the official liaison between the White House and members of the press, acting as the primary spokesperson for the President and delivering the daily White House briefing. Fleischer served as press secretary for Senator Pete Domenici from 1989 to 1994 and later spent five years as spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee. Prior to joining the campaign of then Governor Bush in the fall of 1999, he served as communications director for Elizabeth Dole's presidential campaign. He is a graduate of Middlebury College and lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
Taking Heat LP
The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House
The Winds of War
September 14, 2001
The President's armored limousine turned onto New York City's Forty-second Street. Moments earlier, President Bush had hugged the last of some two hundred widows and widowers to be at the Jacob Javits Center in midtown Manhattan. On September 14, 2001, Forty-second Street could have been Main Street in any midwestern community or a small southern town. The street was lined ten deep on both sides with people holding signs reading "God Bless America" and "God Save the U.S." But this was New York City, the place where I was born and where my father commuted almost every day of his working life. It was Ground Zero, the place where America had been attacked seventy-two hours earlier. The city is not known for its outward displays of faith, but on September 14, New York City was a quiet, pious place.
During my two and a half years as the press secretary in the White House, no day was tougher than September 14. The attack of September 11 fell like a blow. My day was consumed with reacting to it, wondering how it could have happened, and learning what we were going to do about it. The suffering was tremendous, but it was somehow distant. It was on TV, on the phone, outside the so-called bubble that shields the President and the entourage around him. September 14 brought it home.
The President was scheduled for a thirty-five-minute meeting with a group of family members whose loved ones were still "missing" at the World Trade Center site. Instead, the meeting lasted almost two hours, as he walked around the room, hugging and consoling every grieving person there.
A New York City police officer came up to him with his niece in his arms and a picture in his hand. The child, who looked like she was six years old, pointed to the picture of firefighters. The man she pointed to, the cop explained, was her father, his brother. He was missing at Ground Zero, and the little girl wanted to know if the President could help her find him.
Family after family presented the President with pictures of their missing loved ones. There wasn't a person in that room who thought his or her missing wife, husband, son, or daughter wouldn't get out alive. Despite their hopes, nearly everyone in the room, President Bush included, had tears in his or her eyes. The Secret Service, which usually form a protective phalanx around the President so no one can get very close for very long, stood back. They understood the solemnity of the scene before them. I wouldn't have been surprised if there were agents with tears in their eyes.
One woman approached the President with a picture of her husband, also missing at Ground Zero. He signed it, telling her that when her husband returned she should let him know that she had met the President and had the signature to prove it. He wanted to give the families a ray of hope that their missing loved ones would be found. She thanked him and tucked the picture into her Bible.
I stood a few feet away from the President and took it in. I had never witnessed such sadness. People waited for President Bush to make his way around the room. Some cried out loud. Many sobbed softly. Several had to link arms to have the strength to stay on their feet in this makeshift room, with blue curtains acting as walls inside a giant convention hall. As people waited for their turn to talk to the President, some struck up conversations with me. One woman told me her brother had served in the United States Marine Corps during Desert Storm and had been working at the World Trade Center. She hadn't seen him since the attack. "If anyone knows how to get out," she told me, "it's him. He's a Marine. He knows how to survive for days." I told her I was sure she was right.
Moments before it was time to go, the President approached an elderly woman seated in a chair. Her name was Arlene Howard. She sat serenely, waiting for him. In her hand she held the shield of a Port Authority Police officer. The shield belonged to her son, George Howard, a Port Authority cop with the Emergency Security Unit at JFK Airport and a volunteer fireman in Hicksville, on New York's Long Island. When the towers were attacked, he rushed to the scene.
Rescue workers found her son's body the day after the attack with his shield still on his shirt. It was given to her as a loving memory. When the President arrived at her side, she took the shield and gave it to him. "This is so you remember what happened here," she said. "This is so no one will forget."
Six days later, when the President addressed the nation in a speech to a joint session of Congress, he held up the shield and said, "I will carry this: It is the police shield of a man named George Howard, who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. This is my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end."
As the motorcade sped down Forty-second Street, the President still clutched George Howard's shield in his hand, and I stared at the silent crowds from my vehicle, several cars back. Manhattan never felt so still. We were on our way to the Wall Street Landing Zone to catch the Marine helicopters that would take us to New Jersey's McGuire Air Force Base, where Air Force One waited. As we passed Times Square, the billboard carrying that day's news circled round -- "President Bush Calls Up 50,000 Reservists," it said.
The winds of war were blowing.Taking Heat LP
The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House. Copyright © by Ari Fleischer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You probably knew before listening that this would not be an unbiased view. Hearing that he sometimes felt like a 'pinata' reinforces this opinion. Well, everyone's entitled to have their say and so this is Ari Fleischer's take and now it's his turn. Whether one agrees with his views or not, Fleischer served as the White House press secretary during some of our country's most momentous days, from 9/11, the prelude to the war in Iraq, and more. The author/reader has no love for the press and reiterates what he feels are some of their more frigid exchanges. He has high praise for his former boss, Mr. Bush, extolling his leadership abilities. No surprises here. While not a seasoned actor (some may take issue with that), he gives a straightforward, listenable reading of his story. Condemn him or praise him, his story is sure to be fodder for debate, diatribe, and discussion. - Gail Cooke