McCurry: Exit Podium Left

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WASHINGTON: Few White Houses have given their spokesmen more to do than Bill Clinton's gave Mike McCurry. So it was perhaps a gesture of gratitude that when it came time to announce McCurry's not-so-surpising resignation as press secretary, President Clinton poked his head into McCurry's daily briefing Thursday and did the disseminating himself for a change. "Much to my regret . . . the long-awaited coup in the press office is finally taking place," Clinton said, and it's no surprise that the President's smile seemed a little rueful.

"He's been the consummate professional," says TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty, "and one of the most effective press secretaries that anybody's ever had." But the reasons the press liked Mike for the 22 years he served in Washington spokesman positions had changed over the last year. "His immense credibilty had always come from the fact that he always had all the information," Tumulty says. "But when the big Clinton scandals hit, he was shut out. His obvious frustration with that -- and his refusal to lie about it to us -- earned him both respect and a degree of sympathy."

Come fall, Mike McCurry will finally get to slip out the side door after three years of keeping scandal-hounds and Republicans at bay. He's been wanting to leave for a while. "The Lewinsky scandal held him hostage," says Tumulty, "and if it wasn't still hot these days, he'd be out the door tomorrow." As it is, McCurry will spend the next few months preparing his well-regarded protege, deputy press secretary Joe Lockhart, in the fine art of keeping mud off a troubled President -- without getting too much of it on yourself.