The job of White House Press Secretary might not be one that immediately comes to mind when thinking about the most dangerous professions in the world, but there’s no doubting that it is one that’s fraught with risk. While current Press Secretary Sean Spicer may not face bodily harm or actual physical danger on a daily basis like those in other dangerous professions, his job is definitely not an easy one by any means.
If history is anything to go by, it’s highly likely that a different person will be giving the daily White House press briefings by the year 2020, as you have to go back to the 80s and early 90s to find a single press secretary that remained in their job for more than three or so years. The sheer amount of stress and responsibility involved in the position makes it almost inevitable that a person will either burn out or run afoul of the administration eventually.
Even if this doesn’t happen, there is virtually zero chance that a new incoming president won’t want to bring in their own press secretary should the sitting president lose an election or be ineligible to run again. This is precisely what happened as soon as President Trump was sworn in, as he immediately replaced President Obama’s Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, with Spicer. Nonetheless, the fact that each of the last three presidents has served two full terms and all have used at least three press secretaries suggests that politics alone isn’t sufficient to explain the high turnover rate.
These factors all indicate that White House Press Secretary is indeed a fairly dangerous profession, at least in terms of the chance of losing your job goes. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a dangerous job in terms of harming the person’s future career prospects. In order to understand how risky it is for the future, it’s necessary to examine a few of the past secretaries to see how their careers fared after leaving the White House.
Past Press Secretaries and Their Futures
As of writing, Obama’s former secretary Josh Earnest has only been out of the position for a few months, meaning it’s impossible to judge the impact of the job on his future career. Nonetheless, the fact that many journalists named Earnest as the best ever White House Press Secretary suggests he’s likely to be successful no matter what career path he decides to pursue.
In truth, the high-profile nature of the job means that most former press secretaries are almost guaranteed to land on their feet, seemingly no matter how long the last in the role or how well they do. One only has to look back at the two other former press secretaries under President Obama to see quite definitive proof.
Obama’s first secretary Robert Gibbs, who served from the inauguration in 2009 until February 2011, serves as chief communications officer and executive vice president of McDonald’s, while Gibbs’ successor Jay Carney went on to work for CNN and then as a senior vice president for Amazon.com.
President George W. Bush’s former secretaries also fared equally as well. Dana Perino is an executive at Random House publishing company and also a noted television personality for Fox News, while Scott McClellan is a best-selling author and vice president at Seattle University, and Ari Fleischer owns his own communications firm and works as a consultant for the NFL and other major sports organizations.
The Challenges of Being Press Secretary
While not all former secretaries have taken the same career path, it seems that the various challenges they faced in their role each day definitely prepared them to better handle their future tasks. One challenge many of them had in common was updating the press and American public on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The situation regarding Guantanamo Bay is another great example of the delicate line press secretaries must walk, trying to balance acknowledging the public and international resistance to the controversial base with putting forward the president’s agenda. This proved especially tricky for Obama’s press secretaries after he made closing the base one of his biggest campaign promises. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem to have harmed any of their careers, and if anything, it’s the fact that these former secretaries have shown the skill to successfully manage controversial issues like these that lies at the heart of their future success.
Going further back, other former secretaries have also had to manage similar situations. From former Clinton Press Secretary Joe Lockhart’s coverage of the NATO bombing campaign in then-Yugoslavia to former Reagan and Bush, Sr. Secretary Marlin Fitzwater’s detailing of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, almost every person who’s served in the position has had to face their own unique challenged and major international situations.
Is White House Press Secretary Really a Dangerous Job?
After examining the evidence, it’s quite apparent that most former press secretaries go on to experience even more success in their post-White House careers. Still, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as it takes no small amount of skill, determination, and hard work to rise to the position in the first place. As well, this guarantee of future success seems to be quite common amongst most high-profile jobs, many of which have similarly high turnover rates. For this reason, if you’re ever lucky enough to be offered such a high-profile job, you should take it without hesitation as it seems it’s not likely to harm your future career prospects, even if you only manage to hold onto the position for a short time. All you need to do is look at how many disgraced former CEOs have eventually fared to see that there’s nothing to worry about.