Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jerry terHorst, 1922-2010. R.I.P.

Former White House Press Secretary Jerry terHorst died yesterday of congestive heart failure. He was 87.

Gerald Ford appointed terHorst after he was sworn into office upon the resignation of Richard Nixon. Immediately there was speculation that Ford would pardon Nixon. When asked about it terHorst informed the White House press corps that no such action was planned. But when Ford pardoned Nixon in September terHorst promptly resigned. His letter of resignation is remarkable in its candor:

So it is with great regret, after long soul searching, that I must inform you that I cannot in good conscience support your decision to support President Nixon even before he has been charged with the commission of any crime.

He went on to say that he could not defend such a decision without pardons being extended to both Vietnam era draft dodgers and to the men convicted in the Watergate scandal. Now terHorst wasn't the only Republican in Washington questioning Ford's decision. Senator Barry Goldwater, when told by Ford in advance, asked the President, "What are you pardoning of? IT doesn't make any sense."

Thomas DeFrank covered the Ford White House. In today's New York Daily News, DeFrank writes of this exchange he had with terHorst over the phone after learning of Ford's pardon of Nixon:

As a young White House correspondent, I called terHorst late that afternoon, a few hours after Ford had pardoned Nixon on national television. It was a routine safety check to make sure no new bombshells might be coming.

I asked terHorst if there had been any adverse reaction to the pardon among Ford’s staff. I hadn’t heard of any, but there was something in his terse, uninformative answer that gave me pause.

“What’s your question?” he asked.

“Has anybody on the Presisdent’s staff resigned in protest over the pardon?”

“Yes,” he said.

The Mouth was stunned.



NBC correspondent Ron Nessen would succeed terHorst who faded into relative anonymity.

Although Ford's pardon Nixon probably cost the election to Jimmy Carter his decision has earned retrospective praise especially after his death in 2007. However, I think terHorst did the only thing he could have done under the circumstances. He was not a creature of government nor party. Not only did the Ford pardon create a double standard it effectively put the President above the law. It also contributed significantly to the decline of public trust in elected officials.

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