This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," Mar. 3, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: From 2001 to 2003, our next guest was an eyewitness to history and the face of the White House to the nation and the world. Joining us now in a cable news exclusive is the author of what is soon to be a bestseller, "Taking Heat: The President, The Press, My Years in the White House," former White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer.
How are you doing?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Great to be with you.
HANNITY: Come on, this is — compared to what you have been through — this is easy, even Alan.
COLMES: Thanks for talking to me now. You wouldn't talk to me when you were press secretary.
FLEISCHER: Well, they made me talk to White House reporters only, pretty much. You know how that goes.
HANNITY: You say it was the most rewarding, engaging, enjoyable job, but yet the hardest, most grinding and grueling. So it's a hard job.
FLEISCHER: Absolutely right. It's a fantastic job. You travel on Air Force One. You travel on Marine One. And you take people behind the scenes into the Oval Office in the West Wing. And I described life on September 11th aboard Air Force One.
But at the same token, it is the most grinding, grueling, pressure-filled job, and especially when your job is to handle all of the tough questions that it's the press's business to ask.
HANNITY: What do you do when you disagree with the president personally? Has that ever happened?
FLEISCHER: Sure it happened. And I would talk to him about it. And I would tell him. Now, not on policy, because he is the one who ran for office. He got elected, not me. So whatever his policies are, that's one thing. But when he communicated something that I thought he could say it differently, say it better, I would tell him.
FLEISCHER: And sometimes he would listen, sometimes he would say you're wrong.
HANNITY: He'd say, "You're wrong, I'm going to do it my way."
FLEISCHER: One example that I put in the book is the president went to the FBI and posted a list of the most wanted terrorists around the world. He gave a speech where he said, "This is about good versus evil. And we good people will bring justice to these evildoers."
We rode back to the White House and I said, "Mr. President, I think it's more complicated than that. I think there's a lot of subtleties in this War on Terror." And he said to me, "If this isn't good versus evil, what is?"
And then, Sean, he reminded me that when Ronald Reagan went to Berlin, Ronald Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." He didn't say remove some bricks. He didn't say put a gate in it. He said...
HANNITY: Take it down.
FLEISCHER: ... right.
The president's point was he speaks about the big vision in a morally declarative tone. And he thinks his job is to lead the nation and the world to achieve it. That's how he speaks.
HANNITY: What I love about this book — and we don't have enough time to get into it — is I think you do a masterful job by putting in their own words. Because I think there's a mainstream media bias. And you talk about the new media, talk radio, FOX News, the phenomenon of FOX. I think it's because of a dominant liberal media culture that's there. And the way, I think very effectively, is you put their own questions in there. And it's obvious by the questions how biased they are.
FLEISCHER: Well, what I tried to do in the book is bring the West Wing to life and also bring the briefing room to life, so people could see what it is like. And I put in some of the best clashes between me and the press that are in there. The reporters words speak for themselves. My words speak for themselves. It's a part of the history now.
HANNITY: September 14th, you say, was the toughest day you ever had on the job and you do a very good job of outlining why. Tell us why it's that day. Explain the context of the day. Explain that moment with a woman by the name of Arlene — what is it — Howard.
FLEISCHER: Right, well, September 14th, it was raw and it was emotional. I mean, it was the day the president came to Manhattan to stand in the rubble of where the World Trade Center...
HANNITY: Three days later, with the bull horn, with the fireman.
FLEISCHER: Bullhorn, with the fireman. And then sadly later at the Jacob Javits Center, with 200 families, every single one of whom had relatives in the tower, all of whom believed their loved one would come out alive three days later. And none of them did.
HANNITY: Is it true the president teared up at that moment?
FLEISCHER: Oh, he did. Everyone, the Secret Service teared up. It was a remarkable meeting. And Arlene Howard's son was a Port Authority police officer. He rushed to the scene. They found his body the next day with his shield still on it.
The police gave the shield to the mom. She gave it to the president so he would always remember.
HANNITY: And he held it up.
FLEISCHER: He held it up. And he held it up in a speech before Congress as the nation's symbol to always remember.
And this again is the wonderful thing about the White House and it's what I tried to capture in the book. Presidents, and therefore their staffs, you get to touch the raw emotions and feelings of the American people. And that's what government should be about. You have to understand what the country is going through if you're going to lead it. And unfortunately, there were some very tough days...
COLMES: Hey, Ari. Good to have you with us. How's Scott McClellan doing?
FLEISCHER: I think Scott is doing great.
COLMES: Is he?
FLEISCHER: A tough job, and I think he's doing well.
COLMES: Yes. You ever sit there and critique and say, "I do it this way. Here, I would answer it that way?"
FLEISCHER: To tell you the truth, I read the transcripts, but I don't watch it every day. I have a normal life now.
COLMES: Yes. Happy not to be in that room every day.
FLEISCHER: Well, that's true. On the day after I left the job, I was working out in the middle of the day. I was on a treadmill. I saw him. And I said, "Woah, I wouldn't want to be in that guy's shoes."
COLMES: It's a tough job. Who are you, who the president is and who the press secretary is — you've got guys like me, you know, who just keep going for it.
And you watch shows like ours, and people like me come on who clearly are not on the president's side.
FLEISCHER: That's right. I've noticed that!
COLMES: Is there like — but does the White House say, "Oh, I hate that guy. I don't like him saying those — we don't like the fact that he's out there saying these things."
HANNITY: No, just the co-host says that...
COLMES: Because Hannity is saying that. I wonder if you're saying that.
FLEISCHER: You know, the president's instructions to us were always to try to change the tone in Washington. And I got the joke. You turn on the television at night and people are giving their opinions left and right. That's the way it should be. And frankly, a lot of people tune in.
COLMES: Now, you indicate in the book a left-wing ideological bias in the media. But an argument can be also made that the press in the run-up to the war in Iraq did not strongly and aggressively question some of the president's contentions about WMDs. The New York Times, in fact, did a mea culpa and said that they relied on bad information from certain informants. So couldn't an argument be made the other way?
FLEISCHER: I'm sorry. I really disagree with that. The questions that I got in the run-up to the war with Iraq about where's the weapons of mass destruction. The weapons inspectors say they need more time. Why won't you give them more time? Helen Thomas was particularly tough. And she turned out to be particularly accurate, I'm sorry to say, about we haven't found any WMD. "Why won't you give the inspectors more time?" So it was plenty tough. It's always plenty tough in that job.
COLMES: How did a guy like Jeff Gannon, Jim Guckert, get in there? How did that happen? As I understand it, you wouldn't take his questions for a week, is that right?
FLEISCHER: For one week, that's correct. This is a real tough one, because the problem you have got is who in the government should decides who is a reporter and who isn't? What standards do you use to make those decisions?
In the history of the White House — it's a long history — has been relatively inclusive, more so than the Senate and the House press galleries. And it's led to some colorful characters left and right...
COLMES: But it's not easy to get a day pass. He gets these daily passes. How does this happen? Isn't somebody on the inside giving this guy a pass?
FLEISCHER: Oh, sure. He couldn't have gotten in if he didn't have a pass.
COLMES: Knowing he would ask softball questions of the president, right?
FLEISCHER: Well, you know, he asked conservative questions. I don't know I would say those are softball...
COLMES: Oh, come on. You know some of the questions...
FLEISCHER: Does that mean the liberals in the room asked softball questions to Bill Clinton.... who asked softball questions to Bill Clinton?
COLMES: I don't know. To that extent, did they?
FLEISCHER: I think reporters' jobs are to ask tough questions. And if you get a question that matches what you believe, that doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with that.
COLMES: All right. But is there a security problem when someone like that gets in there, no one knows how he gets in, no one takes responsibility, using a phony name?
FLEISCHER: There was never a security issue. He had to go through the same metal detectors as everybody else and be searched just like everybody else. That was never a concern or an issue.
I think the tough part is, in this day of bloggers and computers and Internet, how do you define who is a reporter anymore? And even the White House Correspondents Association, which represents White House reporters, refused to take a position or a stand because they recognize, who can make this division and who else should be thrown out of that room?
HANNITY: Ari, there are a lot of liberals in that room. I watch them and I hear them often.
COLMES: That's good.
HANNITY: And you've met a lot of them.
It's a terrific book. It's a real — what a life you had working with the president. I hope everyone reads it. And I learned a lot reading it. Thank you.
FLEISCHER: Thank you.
HANNITY: Appreciate it. All the best to you, Ari.
HANNITY: We will be watching you.
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