Undersung Overseers

White House chiefs of staff in ‘The President’s Gatekeepers’

President Barack Obama, flanked by outgoing White House Chief of Staff William Daley, right, and his replacement, current Budget Director Jack Lew, makes, the changes announcement, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. . (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Sept. 11, 2013, 2:41 p.m.

Call them point guards, heat shields or con­sigli­eres (we would settle for chiefs of staff). Those are the names trot­ted out in The Pres­id­ent’s Gate­keep­ers, a two-part series premier­ing to­night on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel.

The doc­u­ment­ary, which spans five dec­ades and nine ad­min­is­tra­tions, is based on in­ter­views with all 20 liv­ing White House chiefs of staff — all white men, natch.

At a red-car­pet re­cep­tion at the An­drew W. Mel­lon Aud­it­or­i­um on Tues­day, Ken Duber­stein, a former chief of staff to Ron­ald Re­agan, told Na­tion­al Journ­al what to ex­pect. “This is go­ing to cel­eb­rate all 20 of us and the role that is so cru­cial that the Amer­ic­an people, which they fun­da­ment­ally have not un­der­stood. It’s go­ing to give people an edu­ca­tion.”

Per­haps this is where these power­ful men re­veal their deep­est, darkest secrets? Per­haps now is when they un­bur­den them­selves to the world? Un­likely. Ac­cess, ap­par­ently, comes at some cost, and any­one savvy enough to be White House chief of staff is pre­sum­ably savvy enough not to spill to a bunch of doc­u­ment­ary film­makers.

The Pres­id­ent’s Gate­keep­ers of­fers up de­tails on a few pivotal points in his­tory — the 1981 as­sas­sin­a­tion at­tempt on Pres­id­ent Ron­ald Re­agan, the 9/11 at­tack, and the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s com­pound. It also helps trans­port the audi­ence back in time.

“A lot of this is his­tory,” Duber­stein said, “told through our eyes, the people who were closest to our pres­id­ents. We can shed light onto some of the de­cisions that were made and how things were handled on a day-to-day basis.”

House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and former White House Chiefs of Staff John Sununu, Jack Wat­son, Ken Duber­stein, Jim Jones, and Josh Bolten were all on hand for the event Tues­day night. So was Reg­gie Love, the 31-year-old former per­son­al aide to Pres­id­ent Obama.

Asked if he felt the role of White House staff had changed in re­cent years, Love told Na­tion­al Journ­al, “Be­fore Pres­id­ent Obama took of­fice, we had a lunch with the people from the Bush, Clin­ton, and Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion’s. The only thing I no­ticed that was very dif­fer­ent was that I was the only Afric­an-Amer­ic­an.”

“We all had on suits,” he ad­ded with a laugh. “We all ate with our forks.”

The Pres­id­ent’s Gate­keep­ers

Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel, Wed­nes­day and Thursday night at 9, East­ern and Pa­cific times; 8, Cent­ral. Dir­ec­ted by Gedeon and Ju­les Naudet; writ­ten by Chris Whipple and Steph­en Stept.

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