A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Secret Service Tattletales?


Q: Does a recent book quote Secret Service agents saying denigrating things about Obama and other recent Democratic presidents while praising only Republicans?

A: No. The book's author, Ronald Kessler, states that a viral e-mail's descriptions of Obama and Clinton "are completely wrong." His book quotes both flattering and unflattering observations about presidents of both parties.

FULL QUESTION

I received this today, and don’t believe that any ex secret service agent would put out this stuff.

Subject:  Secret Service
In The President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect
by Ronald Kessler

This book about the Secret Service reveals an awful lot about the Presidents and Vice-Presidents . . . very interesting recap thus far:

[EET ]

JFK and LBJ = Philanderers of the highest order, both kept a lot of  women in White House for affairs.  Both set up "early warning" systems for it and when their wives were nearby.  Total immoral men.  In addition, LBJ was as crude as the day is long.

Richard Nixon = Weird, moral man but very odd and weird. Paranoid etc.  Horrible relationship with his family, almost a recluse.

Spiro Agnew = a nice, decent man, everyone was surprised at his downfall.

Jerry Ford = A true gentlemen who treated them with respect and dignity.

Jimmy Carter = A complete phony who would portray one picture of himself to the public and a very different one in private; i.e., he would be shown carrying his own luggage, suit cases were always empty, he kept empty one just for photo ops.  Wanted the people to see him as pious and a non drinker, he and family drank alcohol a lot. Had disdain for the Secret Service, and was very irresponsible with the "football" nuclear codes.  Didn't think it was a big deal and would keep military aides at a great distance. Would never acknowledge military or Secret service they were there to serve him.

Ronald Reagan = The real deal. Moral, Honest, respectful and dignified. Treated Secret Service and everyone else with respect and honor.  Would always thank everyone all the time. He took the time to know everyone on a personal level.   One
story was early on in Presidency the President came out of his room with a side arm attached to his hip.   The Agent in charge said "Why the pistol Mr. President."  Ronald Reagan replied, "In case you boys can't get the job done, I can help."  It was common for him to carry a pistol.  People do not know that when he met with Gorbachev, he had a pistol in his briefcase.  Upon learning that Gary Hart was caught with Donna Rice during the election Ronald Reagan said, "Boys will be boys, but boys will not be President"

Nancy Reagan = Very nice but very protective of the President . . . the Secret Service was always caught in the middle. Nancy would try to control what the President ate all the time (healthy) and he would say to the Agents  "come on you gotta help me out."   The Reagans rarely drank alcohol. Secret Service said they could count on one hand the times the Reagans were served alcohol other
than wine during dinner. They made the comment for all the fake bluster of the Carters it was the Reagans who lived life as genuinely moral people.

George and Barbara Bush = Extremely kind and considerate. Always respectful. Took great care in making sure the agents comforts were taken care of. They would bring them meals etc. One time Barbara Bush brought warm clothes to agents standing outside a Kennebunkport.  One agent who was given  warm hat tried to nicely say no thanks when he was obviously freezing and President Bush said "Son, don't argue with the first lady, put the hat on."

Bill Clinton = Presidency was one giant party. Not trustworthy, he was nice because he wanted everyone to like him but life is just one big game and party to him.

Hillary Clinton = Another phony.  Her personality would change the instant cameras were near. She hated with open disdain the military and Secret
Service.  Again another one who felt people are there to serve her.  She was always trying to keep tabs on Bill Clinton.

Al Gore = An egotistical ass who was once overheard by his Secret Service detail when he told his son he needed to do better in school or he "would end up like these guys" and pointed to the Secret Service agents.

G. W. Bush = They loved him and Laura Bush. They said no one is a nicer person than Laura Bush who never has a harsh word to say about anyone.  The Bush's went out of their way to take care of the Secret Service and made sure they were well cared for with meals and other comforts. GW was the most prompt of the Presidents. He ran like a well oiled machine. He was also the most in shape who had a very strict work out regimen. The Bush's made sure their entire administration understood to respect and be considerate of the Secret Service.   Karl Rove was the one who was the most caring of
the Secret Service in the administration.

Barack Obama – Clintons all over again – hates the military and looks down on the Secret Service.[/EET]

FULL ANSWER

This partisan screed has some very red flags flying, which should warn the wary reader that it's not accurate. It's not signed, a clue that whoever wrote it does not wish to take responsibility. He or she gives no direct quotes or page-number citations from the book supposedly being summarized — only paraphrases that, it turns out, reflect the opinions of the anonymous writer but not necessarily those of Secret Service agents. Most versions of the message (unlike the one we cite here) do not even give the title of the book or the author.

The truth is the message makes grossly false and misleading claims about what is contained in the book. "In the President's Secret Service" was written by Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter who is now chief Washington correspondent for the conservative news site Newsmax. When we contacted Kessler, he told us:

Author Ronald Kessler: [A]bout a third of the items are wrong and not in the book. In addition, the summaries of Obama, Agnew, and Bill Clinton are completely wrong, Contrary to the email, the book actually says Obama treats the Secret Service with respect and appreciates what the agents do. It does not say he hates the military.

Furthermore, the book is not the one-sided partisan attack that the e-mail describes. As Kessler says:

Kessler: The book is totally non-partisan and skewers Democrats–JFK, LBJ, Carter, Gary Hart,– and Republicans–Nixon, Jenna Bush, Barbara Bush, Dick Cheney's daughter Mary, Agnew, Ford, and Bush's treasury secretary John Snow–alike.

We won't attempt to address every claim this message makes about every president. Some are accurate enough. The book does quote former Secret Service agents as saying Lyndon Johnson had numerous sexual affairs in the White House and elsewhere (pages 15-16). It says agents considered Jimmy Carter the "least likeable" modern president (page 70), and relates a number of unflattering anecdotes about him (pages 70-79). And it also says that unlike Carter, Ronald Reagan "treated Secret Service agents, the Air Force One crew, and the maids and butlers in the White House with respect" (page 87).

But the e-mail grossly misrepresents what the book says about Obama and some others.

Obama

Contrary to the e-mail's account, the book does not say that President Obama "hates the military and looks down on the Secret Service." In fact, it says the opposite.

"In the President's Secret Service," page 223: Agents say both Barack Obama — code-named Renegade — and Michelle Obama — code-named Renaissance — treat them with respect, as does Biden.

"Twice Obama invited agents to dinner, including a party for a relative, both at his home," says an agent who was on his candidate detail. Michelle Obama insists that agents call her by her first name.

About the least flattering thing the book says about Obama is that he "has continued to smoke regularly," despite saying he was quitting (page 224). That was early in the administration. Kessler's book first appeared in 2009.

Agnew

Kessler's book does not describe Spiro T. Agnew as "a nice, decent man" or say that "everyone was surprised at his downfall," as this e-mail falsely claims. Agnew was the Republican vice president who resigned in disgrace in 1973 after pleading "no contest" to criminal charges stemming from his acceptance of bribes, and who later repaid $268,000 in kickbacks and interest to the state of Maryland as the result of a civil suit, and was disbarred from the practice of law.

Kessler's book says that Agnew — far from being "a decent man" — was "having affairs while in office" and relying on Secret Service agents to cover for him. "We felt like pimps," the book quotes one unnamed former agent as recalling (pages 35-36).

Ford

The book doesn't describe Gerald Ford as "a true gentleman," as the message claims. To be sure, agents are quoted calling Ford "a decent man." But the book says he was also so "cheap" that he tipped golf caddies only a buck and sometimes cadged money from agents to pay for small purchases, such as a newspaper (page 49).

Clinton

Bill Clinton is described as chronically late for events (page 143), and the book tells a number of unflattering tales about his wife, Hillary, who is described as having an "angry personality" and "an explosive temper" (page 169). But agents don't describe him as "not trustworthy," as the message claims. And there's no reference to the Clinton presidency being "one giant party," or anything similar. In the book, one unnamed agent says Bill Clinton "is very friendly to agents" and "does treat the guys really well" (page 170).

We can't vouch for the accuracy of everything in Kessler's book, which sometimes relies on quotes from former agents who are not named. But this anonymous e-mail is wholly one-sided and in many instances a false description of what the book contains.

— Brooks Jackson

Sources

Kessler, Ronald. "In the President's Secret Service." Three Rivers Press. 2009 and 2010.

Kessler, Ronald. E-mail interview with FactCheck.org. 2-10 Jun 2011.