He is the president's most powerful advisor and closest confidant. The White House chief of staff shapes the president's agenda, and turns his policies into reality--or disaster. He passes judgment on the president's noblest ideas and his riskiest schemes. "He is the one person besides the president's wife," says Donald Rumsfeld, Gerald Ford's ex-chief, "who can look him right in the eye and say, 'no, you cannot go down that road, trust me, it's a mistake.'" And because he rarely talks about his role--what happens in the Oval stays in the Oval--the chief of staff is the keeper of the president's secrets. Until now.
Featuring exclusive interviews with all 20 living White House chiefs of staff and two presidents, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, The Presidents' Gatekeepers explores the fascinating and untold story of this unique fraternity and the presidents they serve. Epic in scope, spanning 50 years and nine administrations, it is an unprecedented series that pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of the Oval Office.
From the acclaimed filmmaking team of brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet (9/11, In God's Name), Peabody Award-winning news producer Chris Whipple (60 Minutes, ABC News) and Peacock Productions comes an unprecedented series looking at the key moments, the quiet conversations, backroom bargains and heated debates that made history and have never been heard before. In addition, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House photographer David Hume Kennerly serves as producer of The Presidents' Gatekeepers, lending his extraordinary body of work to tell this rich, untold history.
Three years in the making, The Presidents' Gatekeepers grew out of the Naudets' fascination with Washington politics. Raised in Paris, but U.S. residents for more than 25 years, they were eager to find out what really happens in the corridors of power. "We wondered: who is this mysterious creature, the White House chief of staff?" says Jules. "What does he do for the president, and what difference does he make in our lives?" To conduct interviews with all the living chiefs, the Naudets turned to Chris Whipple, a veteran network news producer with a keen interest in American political history.
Persuading all 20 chiefs to agree to interviews took more than a year; but when it came to talking about their job--perhaps the toughest in Washington--the fiercely partisan chiefs left their differences at the door. When Democrat Bill Daley was appointed as Barack Obama's chief of staff, the first thing he did was call Republican James Baker for advice. "Congratulations," said Baker, "you've got the worst ----ing job in government." Explains Baker: "The White House chief of staff walks around with a target painted on his back and on his front. Your job is to catch the javelins that are aimed at the old man." Producer Whipple was struck by the common bond among the chiefs (who have served in many other powerful positions)--a bond that seems to transcend partisanship. "They are a Who's Who of the most powerful people of the last half-century--governors, defense secretaries, vice presidents," he says. "And yet every one of them will tell you that being White House chief was the toughest job he ever had."
And, perhaps, the most powerful. Baker, who held the job twice, says: "you can make the argument that the chief of staff is the second most powerful job in government." Dick Cheney, who served as the 34-year-old chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, says: "the White House chief of staff has more power than the Vice President."
The Presidents' Gatekeepers reveals new insights from the chiefs into some of the iconic events of the last half century. How did Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney rescue Gerald Ford's "accidental presidency"--reeling in the aftermath of Watergate--and what secret almost derailed Cheney's career? How did chief Leon Panetta help Bill Clinton recover from a first year of dysfunction and drift (and how did he handle the boss's famous temper)? What is the real reason, according to James Baker and George H.W. Bush, that the 41st president lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton? What secret doomsday exercises were the chiefs of staff called upon to perform? What crisis, according to George W. Bush's chief Joshua Bolten, was more frightening than the attacks of 9/11? What incident under Lyndon Johnson brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war? What unexpected threat did Obama chief Rahm Emanuel have to confront on Inauguration Day? What led Obama's chief Bill Daley to fear that the Osama Bin Laden Mission was in jeopardy?
Says Rahm Emanuel of serving as Obama's chief: "Nothing, nothing, nothing ever comes easy." And yet, for all the 24/7 hardship, the chiefs are proud to have made a difference in shaping the world. "Sometimes I'd be alone in the Oval Office," says Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton's chief, "and I'd say to myself, 'Man, what a great country, where a son of immigrants can be in the Oval Office--the most powerful position on the face of the earth.'" Emanuel, who confronted economic disaster and two unfinished wars, says: "Is it miserable going through it? Are you getting the wind shear, whiplash--can't tell up from down? Yeah! But would you trade it in and not have done it? And I guarantee, to every chief of staff you ask, they will say, 'I would do it again if asked.'"
THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS
Jules and Gedeon Naudet, executive producers and directors of The Gatekeepers, are brothers and acclaimed French filmmakers. They shot, produced and directed the documentary 9/11, which has been compared, for its historical significance, to the Zapruder film of JFK's assassination. Airing on CBS, 9/11 won every Emmy, Peabody and DuPont awards. More recently, Jules and Gedeon produced and directed for CBS the remarkable In God's Name: an extraordinary, intimate look at the lives of the world's great religious leaders.
Chris Whipple, executive producer and interviewer for The Gatekeepers, is a veteran network news producer, executive producer and journalist. He began his career in Washington D.C. as assistant to Richard Holbrooke at Foreign Policy magazine. As a correspondent for the monthly LIFE magazine, he reported on famine in Somalia, apartheid in South Africa and revolution in the Philippines. He spent more than 20 years at 60 Minutes and ABC News, winning Emmys, Peabodys, a Columbia DuPont and many other awards for investigative journalism. For Pastor to Power: Billy Graham and the Presidents, he directed interviews about faith and the presidency with Charlie Gibson and all the ex-presidents.
David Hume Kennerly won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for his photos of the Vietnam War, and two years later was appointed President Gerald R. Ford's personal photographer. He was recently named, "One of the 100 Most Important People in Photography" by American Photo Magazine. He was a contributing editor for Newsweek, and a contributing photographer for Time and Life magazines. Kennerly has published several books of his work, Shooter, Photo Op, Seinoff: The Final Days of Seinfeld, Photo du Jour, and most recently, Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. He was a producer and one of the principal photographers of Barack Obama: The Official Inaugural Book. He received a Primetime Emmy Best Picture nomination as executive producer of The Taking of Flight 943: The Uli Derickson Story, and a film he executive produced, Portraits of a Lady, made the short list of documentary films considered for the 2008 Academy Awards. Kennerly is on the Board of Trustees of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, and the Atlanta Board of Visitors of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). His archive is housed at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas, Austin.