Paul Greenberg

Mr. terHorst had only held the job for a month when President Ford, in an announcement that shocked the country and its sense of justice, granted Richard Nixon, co-conspirator-in-chief, a presidential pardon. Jerry terHorst was appalled. More than that, he did something about it. Something simple, decent, honorable. He resigned.

That's all. He didn't write a best seller. He didn't go on a book tour to hawk it. He just left. He did, however write a letter of resignation that still stands as a model for what a conscientious public servant does in these circumstances. After expressing his gratitude to President Ford for his many considerations, and assuring the president he was leaving the press office in professional shape, he explained his decision directly, concisely and not without a certain elegance:

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.

Whereupon Mr. terHorst took his personal effects and walked out the White House door. He would go back to his newspaper, the Detroit News, as a columnist and to his life as a conscientious journalist and honorable man. He never did change his mind about the pardon, noting decades later: "But I would still say I am exactly where I was 25 years ago, that it (the pardon) set up a double standard of justice."

Jerry terHorst remained a man not only of simple decorum but simple honor. It is hard to imagine anyone ever saying such a thing about Scott McClellan.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.