Today in AFJ History

August 6, 2013  

1979: Press corps rates the SECDEFs

From the archives: August 1979

The Reporters Who Bring You the Defense News and How They Rate The Men Who Make It

Editor’s note: In the summer of 1979, AFJ asked the 37 men and one woman who then comprised the Pentagon press corps to rate the 14 people who had served as Secretary of Defense to that point.

“…The Secretary with the highest rating from the press was Richard Nixon’s Melvin Laird. Laird was endorsed as the most effective (by a nine-to-one margin over [incumbent SecDef Harold] Brown), likable (by a factor of three over Brown), trustworthy (roughly two to one over Brown), strong (a factor of five), and forthcoming (seven times more so than Brown). Laird, it also turns out, was the only SecDef that earned nothing but positive comments…

“The three worst defense secretaries, according to the reporters, were Robert McNamara, Clark Clifford and Donald Rumsfeld. McNamara was seens as a weak leader and called “experimental and dangerous.” Clifford was characterized by one reporter as “a tool of LBJ” and found be “suffering from tunnel vision” by another. Rumsfeld, Brown’s predecessor, got good marks for being candid and likable. He was rated twice as high as Brown on both those qualities — but got only negative votes on every other attribute.”