BOB GARFIELD: One of the president's main buffers is his press secretary. George W. Bush has had his mouthpiece working for him already this week. His name is Ari Fleischer, a loyal staffer for New Mexico Senator Pete Dominici; able spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee and deputy spokesman for the Bush/Quayle Campaign in 1992.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Earlier this season Fleischer was Elizabeth Dole's spokesman, but when she withdrew, the Bush campaign swiftly recruited him. We asked Amy Dickenson to prepare this profile of Ari Fleischer.
ARI FLEISCHER: I'd be happy to take the question and say that I know that the President-elect and David spoke to each other probably--
AMY DICKENSON: Ari Fleischer stands at the podium of his temporary press room and drops his phrase for the day.
MAN: Ari you, you referred to President Clinton as a "busy beaver." Right--
ARI FLEISCHER: I said the administration has been a busy beaver.
AMY DICKENSON: Busy Beaver. Fleischer test drove it earlier in the day at what is known as the 10 a.m. Gaggle -- an off camera daily briefing for a few reporters. Then he waited to see if it took. Sure enough by 2 o'clock he was being asked a question to which the perfect response - the best possible punchline was:
ARI FLEISCHER: Busy Beaver. You - I choose my words with care. And so I said that, knowing that it would spark some interest from the press in a legitimate story about the last minute executive orders and the regulations and the recess appointments that President Clinton is making here in the final days of his administration. But he has been busy, and so I noted it.
AMY DICKENSON: As a phrase, "busy beaver" doesn't have long legs. It's no "read my lips," but it did surface on some live shots, network stories and in the Washington Post and New York Times the following day. Busy Beaver did what it needed to do; it carried George Bush's message of the day. Ari Fleischer is the consummate Washington functionary. A 40 year old insider who's been working in politics and with the press for half his life. He grew up the youngest of 3 boys in little Pound Ridge, New York. He describes his childhood as idyllic except for one thing. Ari Fleischer's parents are Democrats, and he has been drifting to the right since he first split with them politically when he was in 3rd grade.
ARI FLEISCHER: I think although my, my parents are wrong about most things; all things politically. But I really learned from them, on politics at least, how even though you have a diametrically different political approach than somebody else you can love them and respect them.
AMY DICKENSON: Fleischer says his political views, even if they are in lock step with the administration, will not interfere with his position as press secretary.
ARI FLEISCHER: My politics are my politics. A staffer represents the boss, and that is more - even more true as a press secretary.
AMY DICKENSON: And as a staffer, especially that staffer, any mistakes or missteps by an administration will land on his head. John Dickerson covered the Bush campaign for Time Magazine and is now its White House correspondent.
JOHN DICKERSON: The biggest pitfall will be that the press shop almost always gets blamed early for failures and problems -- both - it gets blamed from the press's point of view and it also gets blamed internally because the messenger is the one who gets shot, and often his job will be to carry ugly messages back in to the administration.
AMY DICKENSON: Fleischer doesn't take risks in his briefings. He doesn't leak to reporters and he plays the party line.
JOHN DICKERSON: He is rigidly on message, and he - he doesn't really step much out of the confines of the day's talking points.
AMY DICKENSON: That's not very satisfying, but reporters say at least Fleischer doesn't add insult to injury by lying to your face.
BILL PLANTE: Well there are some people who speak for government officials -- press secretaries --whether the White House or other places - who would not tell you if your shirt were on fire. But Fleischer does not seem to be like that at all.
AMY DICKENSON: Bill Plante has covered the White House for CBS news for 16 years.
BILL PLANTE: Ari has a good sense of what works in Washington, and it's not a surprise because he comes off the hill, and on the hill, the sort of comedy is a - is a way of life, and it's really clear, watching Ari Fleischer, that he's not going to get tripped up and venture where he knows he shouldn't go.
AMY DICKENSON: One place he must go is the oval office, because if he doesn't have the president's ear, the press will go around him to find someone who does.
BILL PLANTE: When DeeDee Myers became the press secretary, she was kept out of the inner circle, and it showed.
AMY DICKENSON: Reporters speculate that Ari Fleischer's access to George Bush may be blocked by Karen Hughes, Bush's formidable counselor. As for his relationship with the media, various members of the press corps have given Fleischer gifts, but the requisite period of mutual gladhanding is over. Now the arm wrestling begins.