Jerald terHorst

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J. F. terHorst
Born Jerald Franklin terHorst
(1922-07-11)July 11, 1922
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Died March 31, 2010(2010-03-31) (aged 87)
Asheville, North Carolina
Cause of death
Congestive heart failure[1]
Nationality American
Occupation Journalist, White House Press Secretary
Spouse(s) Louise Roth terHorst (m. 1940–2005), her death
Children Peter, Karen, Margaret, Martha[1]
Family 8 grandchildren[1]
TerHorst's letter of resignation

Jerald Franklin "Jerry" terHorst (July 11, 1922 – March 31, 2010) was a longtime journalist and the first person to serve as press secretary for U.S. President Gerald Ford.[2] He resigned in the aftermath of Ford's unconditional pardon of former president Richard Nixon, which is still regarded as "a rare act of conscience by a high-ranking public official".[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Jerald Franklin terHorst (pronounced "terHORST") was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on July 11, 1922, the son of Dutch immigrants who did not speak English until he was five years old. He dropped out of high school at age 15 to work on his uncle’s farm but returned to school when his high school principal successfully persuaded him to graduate.

He went to Michigan State University on an agriculture scholarship and wrote for the school newspaper. His education was interrupted yet again when World War II broke out; he served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946 in the Pacific theater. He finally finished his college education at the University of Michigan in 1946.

Career[edit]

In the midst of the war, in 1945, he had married his wife, the former Louise Roth, whom he had met at Michigan State University. She wrote for The Grand Rapids Herald; he wrote for The Grand Rapids Press, the Herald’s rival, after graduation until 1951.[1] He returned to active duty with the Marine Corps in 1951–1952 before going to write for The Detroit News, first in its Lansing bureau, then in the city room in Detroit.

In 1958 he was appointed as a correspondent in Washington, D.C. (1958–1960), eventually serving as bureau chief (1961–1974). On November 22, 1963, TerHorst was in Dallas, Texas, riding in the motorcade during President John F. Kennedy's assassination.[3]

White House Press Secretary[edit]

When he was appointed in August 1974 to serve as Ford's White House Press Secretary, he was a veteran journalist, respected member of the White House press corps, and an "old friend" of Gerald Ford's, whom he had known since He had known Ford since his first Congressional race in 1948; in fact, he was writing President Ford's biography at the time. The Detroit News allowed him to take a leave of absence to serve as Press Secretary.

He was applauded for "restoring openness and honesty to the White House" at a time when morale was low, after the Watergate scandal and the Nixon administration's deliberate misrepresentations.

Resignation[edit]

However, his stint as press secretary lasted but one month, from August 9 to September 8, 1974. He resigned in protest in the wake of President Ford's announcement that he would pardon former president Richard Nixon for any possible crimes connected with the Watergate scandal, saying that "to pursue criminal charges against the former president would be detrimental to the interests of the country".[1] At the time, the story that circulated was that terHorst had resigned because he had been blindsided by Ford's decision and furthermore because he had consistently denied to reporters in his daily press briefings that Ford had any intent of pardoning Nixon. Once the pardon was issued, the story went, terHorst felt that any credibility that he had had with reporters had been undermined. Therefore, he handed in his resignation even before Ford went on the air.[4] terHorst found the pardon especially unconscionable, in light of Ford's refusal to pardon those who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.[5] His permanent successor was NBC reporter Ron Nessen, who served until the end of the Ford administration.

Post-White House career[edit]

Shortly after his resignation, his book on President Ford, Gerald Ford and the Future of the Presidency, was published (with an epilogue about the circumstances leading up to terHorst’s resignation). He was the first-ever recipient in 1975 of the Conscience-in-Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He returned to The Detroit News as a national affairs columnist until 1981, when he joined the Ford Motor Company as their Washington, D.C. director of public affairs. He and Ralph D. Albertazzie, the pilot of Air Force One during the Nixon administration, co-authored The Flying White House: The Story of Air Force One (1979), a history of Air Force One—all seven aircraft—and presidential air travel in general. Albertazzie's Boeing 707, known as the “Spirit of ’76”, was the first jet to serve as the official Air Force One.[6]

Reflections[edit]

On November 12, 1999, terHorst appeared on a C-SPAN panel regarding Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. The program was chaired by Professor Ken Gormley of Duquesne University, and hosted at Duquesne in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the panel discussion, terHorst discussed why he was chosen by Ford, and his decision to resign as Ford's press secretary after the Nixon pardon. Other panelists included Robert Hartmann, White House Counsel during the Ford administration; Benton Becker, Special Counsel to Ford who negotiated the wording and acceptance of Nixon's pardon; and Herbert Miller, Nixon's personal attorney during the conclusion of the Watergate scandal. Ron Ziegler, Nixon's own press secretary, was scheduled to appear via telephone hookup, but failed to connect; Ford's third son, Steven Ford, joined the panel briefly to participate in its conclusion. This was re-broadcast January 6, 2007, as a segment of Contemporary History on C-SPAN 3 as part of their public affairs programming in the wake of Ford's death.[7]

In the end, terHorst agreed with the rest of the panel's assessment that the Nixon pardon was granted to end the drain on Ford's White House resources (rather than as any part of a covert deal Nixon made with Ford before resigning). He pointed out, however, that the Vietnam War was also a "searing ordeal" and was a significant drain on the administration at the time, yet Ford did not act to heal that wound with the haste Ford evinced in moving the Nixon matter off the national agenda. Although other panelists expressed retroactive support for the pardon, terHorst disagreed: "But I would still say I am exactly where I was 25 years ago, that it set up a double standard of justice" in which Nixon was granted highly favorable treatment in comparison to his co-conspirators or the men who had evaded the Vietnam War draft.

Personal life and death[edit]

TerHorst was married to Louise Roth terHorst for 64 years, from 1945 until her death in 2009. TerHorst died at age 87 of congestive heart failure in his apartment in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 31, 2010. He is survived by his four children, Peter, Karen, Margaret, Martha, and 8 grandchildren.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Weber, Bruce (1 April 2010). "J. F. terHorst, Ford Press Secretary, Dies at 87". New York Times. 
  2. ^ Obituary, Washington Post, April 2, 2010.
  3. ^ "The Assassination: The Reporters’ Story" by the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review
  4. ^ Dominic Sandbrook, Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (New York City: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p. 21); ISBN 9781400042623
  5. ^ Glenn Greenwald, "Things that would not happen today", Salon.com
  6. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (16 August 2011). "Ralph Albertazzie, Nixon’s Pilot, Dies at 88". New York Times. 
  7. ^ "President Ford's Pardon of Richard Nixon, Duquesne University School of Law Panel Discussion" C-SPAN Video Library, 12 November 1999
Political offices
Preceded by
Ron Ziegler
White House Press Secretary
August 1974 – September 1974
Succeeded by
Ron Nessen