WASHINGTON—Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon’s spokeswoman during the September 11 attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is stepping down. Clarke, who transferred to the Department of Defense after heading the Washington, D.C., office of Hill & Knowlton, was widely credited with developing the strategy of embedding reporters with military units in Iraq.
Clarke was one of the two most visible spokespeople for the Bush administration, along with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who announced his resignation last month.
“Torie Clarke is a gifted communicator,” said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a statement. During Clarke’s two years at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld said, “she has developed countless new methods to tell the story of our fighting forces, and bring their courage, dedication and professionalism into sharp focus for all Americans.”
Clarke said she was planning to spend more time with her family. “I depart sadly, because this has been the best professional experience of my life,” she said. “It has been a true honor working for the men and women of the U.S. military. I am going to take care of some things on the home front and then think of what is next.”
Her most important legacy may be creating the Pentagon program of “embedding” more than 600 correspondents who lived and traveled with the Iraqi invasion forces. The strategy brought reporters closer to the troops they were covering, and helped encourage more favorable reporting from the battlefront.
According to Kenneth Bacon, who was Pentagon spokesman in the Clinton administration, the program “established a new modern standard for access by the press to the military during combat operations.”
Bacon also praised Clarke’s realization that Rumsfeld needed to talk directly to the American people on a frequent basis. “I think you have to judge her on the effectiveness of her communication strategy,” he said, “and it was pretty effective.”
Lawrence Di Rita, a special assistant to Rumsfeld in a role similar to chief of staff, will take over Clarke’s duties until a replacement can be nominated and confirmed by the Senate
Before joining the Pentagon, Clarke was general manager in Washington for Hill & Knowlton and public affairs assistant for Carla Hills, the United States trade representative. She also served as press secretary for the congressman and then senator John McCain of Arizona.
According to media reports, Clarke established a strong bond with Rumsfeld and was one of only a handful of Pentagon civilians or military officers who could stand up to the defense secretary on issues of policy and press relations.