Jerald Franklin "Jerry" terHorst (born July 11, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Michigan) was the first person to serve as press secretary for U.S. President Gerald Ford. Before being appointed press secretary, terHorst had been a newspaper reporter from Michigan who had covered Ford's career since 1948.
Jerald terHorst served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946. After his military service, he worked as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Press (1946–1951). He returned to active duty with the Marine Corps in 1951–1952. He then joined the Detroit News, where he served as city and state political writer (1953–1957), Washington correspondent (1958–1960), and Washington Bureau Chief (1961–1974).
He served as press secretary for one month (August 9–September 8, 1974) before resigning 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. At the time, the story that circulated was that terHorst had resigned because he had been blindsided by Ford's decision, having consistently denied to reporters in his daily press briefings that Ford had any intent of issuing a pardon. Once the pardon was issued, the story went, terHorst felt that any credibility that he had had with reporters had been destroyed, and that he would subsequently be unable to function satisfactorily in the position of press secretary. However, as his letter of resignation and numerous personal statements in the years following clearly demonstrate, terHorst was ultimately moved to resign because he found Ford's decision unconscionable, especially in light of the President's refusal to pardon those who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. His permanent successor was NBC reporter Ron Nessen, who served until the end of the Ford Administration.
After his brief services as presidential press secretary, he returned to the Detroit News as a national affairs columnist (1974–1981). In 1981, he joined the Ford Motor Company as the Washington director of public affairs.
Jerald terHorst is the author of Gerald Ford and the Future of the Presidency (1974) and co-author (with Ralph Albertazzie) of The Flying White House: The Story of Air Force One (1979).
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 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 rebroadcast 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.
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.
|White House Press
August 1974 – September 1974