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State Dept's Boucher Moves On

state department spokesperson richard boucher answers questions at thrumont elementary school near camp david
AP
CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson is a former Tel Aviv bureau chief for CBS News, who now covers the State Department.


This week Ambassador Richard Boucher ended his daily briefings at the State Department. Boucher served the last six secretaries of state, from James A. Baker, III to Dr. Condoleezza Rice, as deputy spokesman or spokesman of the department. Boucher says his staff told him he had conducted more than 1,100 briefings from the State Department's briefing room podium. Today, Rice publicly thanked him at the daily briefing, calling him a "consummate professional."

Boucher has obviously thought about the work he's been doing and shared some of his views during an interview with Charles Wolfson.

On the role of a spokesman:
"To represent the president, the secretary, to tell the people what we were doing on their behalf and to tell the world, to try and tell them what we're trying to do with them. The second is, I see this as part of the policy process. … and the third is to answer the reporter's questions. To help people understand our policy by helping out the folks who are trying to explain it."

The hardest part:
"Helping the reporters because you have to remember who you work for. Their agenda isn't always our agenda. You can't do anything about that. They're going to write their stories no matter what we do, so it's in our interest to cooperate. But it's often hard to answer questions that somebody has a piece of. Maybe you can't quite explain the whole thing to them but they don't have the piece quite right or they've got it distorted … It's just hard knowing everything you're supposed to know." Chuckling, Boucher added "it's like going to college. You have those dreams where you showed up for the exam and you forgot to study."

Boucher's view of the daily briefing:
"There's a bit of theatre involved, for both the spokesman and the journalists. We're the confident conveyors of U.S. policy. They are the inquisitive and probing journalists just like we've all seen in movies and on TV. There's a bit of dialectic involved that's probably the most interesting thing, this process of back and forth answering of questions ... And none of us in the room matter. It's sometimes hard to remember when you are being peppered with questions, feeling like you are under assault, whatever."

"But we're only there because we need to convey the president's policy and the secretary's policy to the audience that's on the other side of the pen, or the other side of the recorder, or other side of the camera … We're just the place where the gears fit together … and reporters don't matter because we don't really want to talk to the reporters. We want to talk to the people who read their newspapers and watch their broadcasts. You know, twenty reporters in a room is nice but if they don't write anything after your pronouncements, all you've done is educate twenty people. The goal is to educate millions."

The most troubling issues he's had to deal with:
Abu Ghraib and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "What happened at Abu Ghraib is not what this nation represents, and will be dealt with. But at some point the words don't mean a whole lot when people see the images."

"Of course the issue of WMD in Iraq has been difficult for all of us because we had information that was wrong and a lot of us conveyed that information to the public. But I think we've been pretty up front about how that happened, as much as we know."

Memorable phrase:
"Just because you can connect the dots doesn't mean there's a picture there."