DURING THE TWO YEARS THAT Dee Dee Myers spent as White House press secretary, she would rise every day before dawn and, her stomach in knots, read a trio of newspapers, fearful of stories beginning with Whitewater or Paula Jones. "You're having a pleasant morning," she says, "and then—BOOM!—you'd come across something that you just knew was going to ruin your day." Now, six months after leaving President Clinton's staff, Myers approaches the morning papers with leisurely delight. She reads the comics, the style section and the sports page, even peruses the ads for sales. "Then, when I'm through all that," she says, "then I switch to news."

If Myers, 33, is no longer the most visible woman on the White House staff, she is, she proclaims, something even better—A Woman with a Life. "The whole time I was working in the White House," she says, "I missed my life. Even though what I was doing was incredibly interesting, I felt as if I lived in a tunnel, in mortal fear of crises. But not anymore." These days, Myers is juggling two new jobs, one as Washington editor of Vanity Fair and another as co-host, with Mary Matalin, of Equal Time, CNBC's daily talk show.

With frequent speaking engagements at $15,000 a pop, Myers is earning several times her White House salary of $100,000—while getting to sleep until 7:30 a.m. On her regular four-mile jogs along the Potomac, she no longer feels as besieged as she did a year ago when she passed two joggers chatting about the latest White House imbroglio. "I wanted to run out into the intersection," she recalls, "and just let the cars run over me."

Her death wish wouldn't have been surprising, since Myers was considered generally ineffective as a press secretary. Though reporters appreciated her deadpan wit ("The movie is better than the book," she said of President Clinton's 1,478-page 1994 budget proposal), they were frustrated by her perceived inability to speak with authority about what was happening behind the scenes at the White House. "We felt she was not given the access that she really required to do the job," says CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Myers agrees. "I don't think there's any question about that," she says simply. Moreover, until the last three months of her tenure, Myers had a smaller office, a lower salary and a lesser title—deputy assistant to the President—than any of her male predecessors. Says Ann McFeatters, White House correspondent for the Scripps Howard News service: "As symbols those things are important." The message communicated to the press corps was that Myers was more token than player. "I don't think the White House is different from the rest of the world," Myers says. "Things have gotten better, but it's still harder for women to be taken seriously."

On Dec. 15, Myers announced her resignation; days later it was reported that she would be replaced by Mike McCurry, then the State Department spokesman, who inherited the office and title Myers had fought for. She insists it was neither politics nor pressure to step down that led her to quit but rather the relentless pace. "It just wore me down," she says. "It never stopped."

If the White House is still a men's club, the set of Equal Time is something approaching a subversive sorority. Myers and Matalin were fierce rivals during the 1992 campaign, when Matalin was deputy director of George Bush's reelection bid and Myers, who had directed the press on several Democratic campaigns in her native California, was Clinton's press secretary. But they are now, as Matalin puts it, "partners in cable crime," happily sharing a set decorated with an inflated green dinosaur. When Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) appears as a guest, Matalin hails him as "you charming hunk of intellectual manhood." On another night, during a show Myers dubs a Catholic girls' school extravaganza, the duo christen their guest, ABC reporter Cokie Roberts, "an info-babe."

The levity of Myers's new gig suits her. Tanned and relaxed after a weekend spent visiting friends in East Hampton, N.Y., she says, "I've been surprised by how easy this transition has been." She has vacationed in Paris and Morocco, skied in Aspen, bought a three-bedroom house in Washington and returned, from time to time, to the White House for an early-morning jog with the President. She has no regrets. "I missed the wedding of one of my best friends because of that stupid travel-office scandal," she says. "That sucked. I don't ever again want to be owned by my work."

SHELLEY LEVITT
SARAH SKOLNIK in Washington

  • Contributors:
  • Sarah Skolnik.