Friday, April 2, 2010

Jerald terHorst: A Profile of Courage & Integrity

Jerald terHorst, who resigned as White House press secretary rather than defend President Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, is dead at age 87. TerHorst died Wednesday night of congestive heart failure at his retirement community in Asheville, N.C., attended by his grown children.

A longtime Detroit News journalist, terHorst served for a only month as Ford's spokesman in 1974 before quitting to protest the president's decision not to hold his predecessor accountable for any crimes in the Watergate scandal.

In a Detroit News interview last year, terHorst lamented that the job of White House press secretary has become less about telling Americans what the president is doing and why, than about peddling the presidential party line. He told the paper,

You do a lot of spinning. I did not want to do that kind of work. I wanted to be the connection between the media and the president on his policies. That gets to be very difficult these days. It's a shame in a way that it's evolved in that direction.
But let's get back to that original letter of resignation on Sept. 8, 1974. That's what interests me! It was short and to the point:
Dear Mr. President:

Without a doubt this is the most difficult decision I ever have had to make. I cannot find words to adequately express my respect and admiration for you over the many years of our friendship and my belief that you could heal the wounds and serve our country in this most critical time in our nation’s history. Words also cannot convey my appreciation for the opportunity to serve on your staff during the transitional days of your presidency and for the confidence and faith you placed in me in that regard. The Press Office has been restructured along professional lines. Its staff, from Deputy Press Secretary John W. Hushen down the line, is competent and dedicated and comprises loyal employees who have given unstintingly of their time and talents.

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 pardon former President Nixon even before he has been charged with the commission of any crime. As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes - and imprisoned - stemming from the same Watergate situation. These are also men whose reputations and families have been grievously injured. Try as I can, it is impossible to conclude that the former President is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national wellbeing.

Thus it is with a heavy heart that I hereby tender my resignation as Press Secretary to the President, effective today. My prayers nonetheless remain with you, sir.


Jerald F. terHorst
In the decades since Mr. terHorst's resignation from public service, there have been hundreds of opportunities for men and women to quit their official positions of influence on account of their troubled conscience. Some undoubtedly may have done it discretly, telling the public they wanted to spend more time with their families. Few have taken their public leave with their finger pointing at an offensive act by their superiors. I wager none of them - or extremely few of them - took their leave with their heads higher than Jerald F. terHorst's.

May he rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. It is an atrophy-ing character quality in society today... it's called integrity. TY Vig for bringing this man's to our attention. :-)