Ari Fleischer Biography

Government Official(1960–)
Ari Fleischer is best known as the former White House Press Secretary serving President George W. Bush from 2001-2003.

Synopsis

Ari Fleischer is an American politician born on October 13, 1960 in Pound Ridge, New York. The son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, he started a career in politics after graduating from college. Fleischer served as Press Secretary for Jon Fossel, Communications Director for Elizabeth Dole and White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush in 2001. He provided his resignation to President Bush in 2003 to work in the private sector as a consultant.

Career Highlights

Spokesperson and government official Lawrence Ari Fleischer was born in Pound Ridge, New York. Fleischer became the official spokesperson for President-elect George W. Bush in December of 2000. As White House press secretary, Fleischer was in charge of handling media queries and disseminating information about the administration, its policies and its goals to reporters.

His notoriously tough job became even more difficult in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent U.S. military assault on Afghanistan, but Fleischer won high marks for his performance. Joe Lockhart, a predecessor of Fleisher who worked for the Clinton White House described the role of White House press secretary to People as "an impossible job." Lockhart went on to say, "If you can avoid making yourself the story and reflect the President's beliefs, you've done a good job. And so far he's done that."

Starting out Democrat

Fleischer, who turned forty years old the year that Bush was inaugurated, grew up in Pound Ridge, a suburban enclave near New York City. His father was an executive recruiter, while his mother worked as a computer programmer at IBM. He attended Fox Lane High School, where he was elected president of his class twice. Both of Fleischer's parents were committed Democrats, and admitted later that their youngest son's Republican sympathies, which emerged during his years at Middlebury College, surprised them. After graduating with a degree in political science in 1982, Fleischer found work as press secretary to Jon Fossel, a Republican from New York who was running for a Congressional seat. Fossel lost, but Fleischer was still determined to work in politics, and so he moved to Washington and lived with his older brother. He first worked the phone banks for the Republican National Committee, and was eventually hired as press secretary to New York congressman Norman Lent. From there he took a job with New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici in 1989.

Fleischer became a trusted up-and-comer in Republican Party circles. He served as deputy communications director for incumbent President George Bush in his failed 1992 re-election campaign. During the Clinton years, Fleischer ran his own lobbying firm for aircraft makers and cattle ranchers, and returned to the back halls of Congress when he took a job with a Republican from Texas, Bill Archer, who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee. He quit that job when he was hired by American Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole as communications director in her campaign to become the Republican Party nominee for the White House in 2000.

Wavered Before Accepting Bush Offer

Fleischer quit the Dole team in September of 1999, and Dole herself dropped out of the race when the presidential campaign of another Republican, Texas governor George W. Bush, began to gain momentum. When the communications director for the Bush team, Karen Hughes, learned that Fleischer had quit the Dole campaign, she offered him a job. He initially declined, but Archer urged him to take the job, and so he interviewed with Hughes. "I remember him telling me what he really wanted to do was find a nice Jewish woman and get married and have children," Hughes told Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz.

After the election dispute between Bush and Democratic hopeful Al Gore was resolved in the Texas governor's favor, Bush began making his staff appointments, and Fleischer was named the next White House press secretary. Fleischer endured some initial trials during his first few months on the job. Members of the White House Correspondents' Association complained that he called press conferences on short notice, and in June of 2001, a Washington Post article allowed Fleischer to voice his ire about acts of vandalism he claimed were committed by outgoing Clinton staffers. At times, he was derided as a member of a tightly controlled Bush White House staff, and termed an official spokesperson who appears to be tied to "a very short leash," as four-decade White House correspondent Helen Thomas told New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley. In response, Fleischer stated, "My job is to faithfully represent the president at all times. The French use the expression 'porte parole,' which means 'carries the words,' and that is what I do."

Voice of the White House

Barely a year into his high-profile job, Fleischer rose to new challenges when suspected militant Islamic extremists launched devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On September 11, 2001, Fleischer was at the side of the commander-in-chief for the entire day aboard Air Force One, Bush's plane, which ferried him and his staff to two different military bases and then back to the nation's capital in the evening.

Fleischer weathered a small crisis when he commented, not long after the September 11 attack, that Americans needed to "watch what they say." The quote was mentioned in newspaper articles exploring issues of censorship in the new, highly charged atmosphere of national uncertainty and critics attacked his statement as an unprecedented restriction on free speech in modern times.

"Fleischer says he was also directing his remarks at GOP Rep. John Cooksey, who made the dopey remark that 'diaper heads' should be pulled over on the highway," reported Newsweek's Jonathan Adler. Adler noted that the White House official rescinded his remark afterwards and stated that he hoped that in such times of crisis, everyone would become "much more thoughtful" in their remarks. Fleischer, as Adler wrote, "went out of his way to note that 'the press has an unlimited right to do what it sees fit--in war and peace.'"

"Ari-Bob" Honorific

In his highly visible job, Fleischer earned high marks for being unflappable and stoic in his demeanor before a determined group of media representatives. Still single, he lives in a condominium near Capitol Hill with his two cats, and gets to his office by 7 a.m. daily. An ardent New York Yankees fan, he is known to play catch sometimes with President Bush, who calls him "Ari Bob," because "in Texas, you have two first names," People quoted Bush as saying, "and as far as I'm concerned he's a Texan."

In May 2003, Fleischer announced he was resigning his post as press secretary to enter the private sector.

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