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Being Questioned

Joseph Laitin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, remembers his former boss: “Defense Secretary Schlesinger tended to speak his mind, especially when questioned on matters he considered personal. His prickly manner sometimes carried into routine dealings with the press, often to his advantage. Once, while the Secretary and I sipped coffee at NBC before the start of the “Today” show, I learned that Tom Pettit would be doing the interview. I hastily gave Schlesinger a quick briefing on what he’d probably be subjected to in front of the camera. Pettit had a habit of bullying his guests for a good show. “Don’t let this guy get under your skin with outrageous questions,” I cautioned. “Keep cool and get your points across.” Just then, Pettit walked in, a clipboard containing his questions tucked under his arm. As they entered the studio, Schlesinger plucked the board from a startled Pettit and glanced at it. “Pretty stupid questions, Pettit,” he said, handing the man back his board. They were on the air 30 seconds later. Pettit was a pussycat.

Government Executive, quoted in Reader’s Digest, Sept, 1991