Ex-White House spokesman Larry Speakes can forget about asking President Reagan to sign his new book, which his former boss finally has denounced as a "kiss-and-tell" chronicle.
Capping a controversy that has danced around official Washington this month, especially in the last few days, the president personally addressed the issue Wednesday, angrily asserting he was unaware Speakes fabricated quotes for him and attacking Speakes for implying he does not read newspapers."Yes, I do," Reagan assured the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "So you're not getting away with anything."
In his first public response to "Speaking Out," the Speakes tome that has just hit the bookstores, Reagan chose to approach the affair lightly, joking in his prepared remarks: "One of the great things about this job (is) you get to quote yourself shamelessly. And if you don't, Larry Speakes will."
The line drew sustained laughter and loud applause from the several hundred editors attending the group's annual convention.
But the first question put to Reagan later was about Speakes' admission that during his six years as chief White House spokesman after the shooting that crippled press secretary James Brady, he made up a remark and relayed it to reporters as a direct presidential quotation during the 1985 Geneva summit.
Though the statement was reported around the world at the time, Reagan said Wednesday, "I was not aware of it and just heard it recently, as all the rest of you did, in the words in his book."
The president then added sternly, "I can tell you right now that I have no affection for these kiss-and-tell books that are being written, and I find them entirely fiction."
Former President Jimmy Carter's press secretary, Jody Powell, said Thursday he was "mildly surprised" at Speakes's admission, while the "hysterical reaction to it is a little bit more of a shock" to him.
"I don't think it's the proper thing to do," Powell said on NBC's "Today" program. However, he added, "No press secretary is going to do that if the president doesn't allow him to do that."