John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Tony Blankley

Posted on January 8, 2012
Tony Blankley

Tony Blankley taught me the art of the spin.

He said to me, with his slight British accent, “first, you have a conversation off the record with the reporter where you establish the facts, and then you give them something on the record which gives them your analysis.”

Blankley was Newt’s Press Secretary at the time, and I was Tom DeLay’s newly minted Communications Director, one who had never spoken to a reporter “on the record” before.  Tony’s advice was priceless and I would use it throughout my career on the Hill.

Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich had a complicated relationship.  At times, DeLay would be Newt’s biggest defender (especially when the Speaker was under attack by the Ethics Committee).   At other times, the Whip would try to undercut the Speaker, culminating in an aborted coup.

Tony and I had a pretty good relationship, despite the tension at the top.   But it wasn’t without its complications.

Tony was British, not only by birth but also by his mannerisms.  He was a Tory, a lover of the Empire and a true blue conservative.

I’m an Irish Catholic from the South Side of Chicago, raised to dislike the Brits, and while I think of myself as a conservative, I am not much of a believer in the British Empire.

But Tony was also very much a role model to me.

Under the intense pressure of the Speaker’s Office (especially when Newt occupied the office), Tony never seemed to wilt.  He had an open door policy with the press, and he freely gave out direction, context, information and yes, on occasion, some spin to the information-hungry media horde.

Blankley expanded the role of the Speaker’s spokesman, taking a much more active role in shaping the story.  He was the first, and as far as I know the only spokesman to a Speaker who appeared on television regularly to promote the party line.

Tony did television because he could stay on message better than Newt, better than Armey and better than DeLay.   And when Tony left the Speaker’s office, he used that experience of defending Newt to become a big-time television star in his own right.

I used to get a kick out seeing Tony on the McLaughlin Group, opining with some real insider knowledge about what was actually happening on Capitol Hill.

I would later get the opportunity to follow in Tony’s footsteps when I served as the top spokesman to Speaker of the House Denny Hastert.   I would often think about how Tony did his job, about how he expanded the role of spokesman, about how accessible he was to the media, and about how he never let the pressure get to him.

Tony died today after a very difficult battle with cancer.   His example certainly left an impression on me -- and I am certain -- thousands of others who either worked with him or watched him on television.   He will be missed.