tv Presidents the Press CSPAN December 27, 2018 1:28pm-2:42pm EST
attorney in private practice. she was elected to the virginia senate in 2013. new congress, new leaders, watch it all on c-span. the white house historical association recently convened a meeting here in washington for those who worked at presidential sites around the country and of descendants of presidents from james monroe to gerald ford. panelists look all the presidents and their relationship with the press throughout american history. it's an hour and ten minutes. to introduce our distinguished panel of presidents and the press is another very distinguished journalist and author and director of the white house transition project and also member of the board of the white house historical association, my fellow colleague and also my fellow colleague as the
committee that we have that work together to bring this summit to life. martha kumar has been instrumental, has added a lot to the planning of this, including putting together this next panel, for which she is perfect to introduce the participants. thank you. >> thank you very much, anita. they've done a great job, stuart and anita, haven't they? it's been a super conference. well, i'm here on behalf of the association to welcome you to the presidential sites summit. we're thrilled to have you join us for the unique gathering of presidential leaders, site directors, education specialists
and specialists. thank you for supporting our organization by your attendance. our first session today is presidents and the press throughout history. this will feature a moderated conversation with former press secretaries, white house association correspondents, former "meet the press" moderators, journalists and speakers. they will discuss the role of media and press play in documenting the presidency throughout history. following this panel, judy wood roof, the managing editor of the pbs "newshour" will introduce presidential history can jon meacham. the relationship between the president and the press is a crucial one for all of us. when you look at all of the great events the president has, where he speaks, in looking from presidents reagan through trump, a third -- at least a third of the occasions where he speaks are ones where our president is answering questions from reporters. and so it's an important relationship for us simply because of what information we get from them.
and from the sessions that they have. and the relationship is naturally a somewhat fraught one. leah rothstein who was writing about washington correspondents during the roosevelt administration talked about the nature of the relationship and the way in which it's a content over information. the newspaperman motivated by the ancient values of journalism
is interested in precisely that type of news, which the official, the president, is least eager to reveal. in the final analysis, press conferences reduced itself to a contest between reporters, skilled at ferreting, and officials adept at straddling. so, the ferreting and the straddling is something that you will always see in the relationship between the white house and the press. writing in the early 20th century in 1902 william price who was one of the first white house correspondents, talked about news and how newspapermen at the white house get their news. there's some ways in which things have not changed. as a matter of fact, the news secured at the white house is nearly always the result of the efforts of the newspapermen themselves. there is no giving out of prepared news. their acquaintances with public men all over the country, with cabinet officers, departmental officials and you could say
members of congress, enables them to get the first start or tip. these same friends develop the story for them upon inquiry. sometimes it's a question of hard digging, as the minor put it, to unravel a story. that is still the case. and you can see that in the white house press briefings that sarah sanders has or her predecessors have had, that the reporters are acting as miners, digging for information. now, i have the great pleasure of introducing our first panel's moderator, who is frank sesno. and frank is the director of the school of media and public affairs at george washington university. joining him on stage is mike mccurry, a board member of the
historical association and one of the planners of this presidential site summit. and press secretary for william clinton. and he also was the spokesperson at the state department before coming to the white house. ron nessen, who was a press secretary for gerald ford administration and he also was at the white house as a correspondent before that. richard benedetto who was a former white house correspondent and columnist for "usa today," and he's now the adjunct professional of journalism at american university. ken walsh who is a correspondent and journalist and columnist for "u.s. news & world report," and susan page, who works as a journalist and washington bureau chief for "usa today." and she's the author of the soon-to-be published biography of barbara bush called "the matriarch." so please enjoy this presentation. i know it's going to be a good one, on the relationship between
the presidency and the press and how communications between the two have evolved and how it's changed over time and the way in which it's stayed the same. >> i'll sit here and you all can sit wherever you'd like. thank you, martha, for that wonderful introduction. i think on behalf of all of us, as we're taking our seat, we want to thank you for what you do to preserve history and the connection between presidents and our current occupants of this great country. i'm really looking forward to this conversation, who knows where it's going to go, but mostly we're going to try to put
into context this relationship, often adversarial between the press and the presidency and the president. i might start -- you know, i was listening to martha and this was -- you know, warms my heart when she was talking about reporters at the white house as miners, digging out information, ferreting out information. it reminded me of a day when i was in the pool covering george h.w. bush, and he went out for a jog and the pool went to cover the jog because we did -- >> this is not a swimming pool. >> no, this is the press pool, a small group of people. and i was on this little knoll and he goes jogging by. and we were in the middle of a big debate in the country over the budget compromise that he and folks were negotiating at the time. and there was word out there that the president was going to flip and raise taxes. remember what he had said at the convention? i screamed, being that miner digging for information, are you going to raise taxes, mr. president? and as he jogs by, he says, read my hips, no new taxes. i thought i did my job that day, don't you? what we want to talk about here is the historical and contextual
sense of the relationship between the press and the presidency. some say the press has moved from sort of lap dog to watch dog to attack dog. adversarial component built in. there should be. but it has changed over time and so we're going to talk about that, with some reflection on where we are today, but not a focus, not a preoccupation of where we are today, but to try, as i say, to contextualize it. so let me, though, start by going down the line and asking each person to tell you which president they covered or presidents so we have some historical and biographical connection. ken. >> well, thanks for having us and welcome. as you can see from my beard and the gray in it, i started a long time ago.
i started covering the white house in 1986 with ronald reagan during his second term. and i covered then reagan, george herbert walker bush, bill clinton and george w. bush and barack obama, and today donald trump. and i'm sure we will get to this, but today is more of an adventure than ever. >> ron. >> i'm ron nessen and i covered the white house for nbc news and then i changed sides and became president ford's press secretary. >> richard. >> i'm richard benedetto, i covered the white house starting with ronald reagan through george h.w. bush, bill clinton and george w. bush. >> susan. >> so i'm susan page, my first campaign was in 1980. i covered president carter's final campaign trip and then i covered the white house and national politics since then. >> well, i have served president clinton, as martha said, for two years at the state department,
in '93 and '94, and then went to the white house in 1995 and spent four years, which is comparatively a long time for a press secretary to be there. but i had an extra bonus year, my last year, because of a certain intern at the white house. >> i remember those days well. as much as i may try to forget them. i just started covering the white house in the reagan administration and went through george h.w. bush and had an opportunity and privilege to interview five presidents. so, here we are. so, mike, let me start with you with this question and then ask all to chime in. as we've noted there is an often adversarial relationship between the press corps and the white house, and yet there's also a fundamentally shared objective of both sides, which is to inform and engage the american people and actually the world because the world tunes into
this in a very profound way. why is it important -- and this is unusual in places of leadership, the press corps is there, they're present on the premises -- that the presidency is under such a constant glare? >> well, i think it goes back to something fundamental about our democracy which is we hold those who have power accountable. now, not every american every day can walk down and ask the president, you know, what are you up to today, so the press is there in effect as a surrogate for all american people to ask questions that sometimes are uncomfortable. by the way, every president going back to george washington chafed at the press. they didn't feel like they were getting the flattery and the great coverage that they deserved, so that's been something that's relatively common. but i think every president,
maybe until now, has understood that the press is a fundamental element of the way in which we protect our democratic process in our country, because it is a way in which we scrape out and ferret out the truth about what's happening in our nation. >> susan, from the journalist's perspective? >> so, i'm going to use a lesson i learned from mike mccurry, which is to answer the question i wish i had gotten first rather than answer the question i did get. on working on this biography of barbara bush i've done investigation at four presidential libraries. i want to thank the archivists and others for their fantastic help and -- you gave to somebody who didn't actually know what she was doing. it was really helpful and a great resource for the nation. and so, thank you for that. you know, i think it's important to have people who cover the
president every day who understand when what he said is a little different from what he said the day before. people who develop the deepest sourcing with the people around the president. at i think it's also important to have people who do other kinds of coverage of the white house who step back to have a somewhat broader and more historic perspective. as part of our role as envisioned by the founders to have reporters -- to have a free press that has -- is watching the president and holding him or her accountable in a way you can only do if you are really there. being there is an important part of doing good journalism. >> ron, you've been both the journalist and the press secretary and you were certainly there at a time of great tumult in america. i'm interested in how you see that relationship of presence and accountability. >> well, it seems to me that i was president ford's press secretary, and it just seems to me that the attention that we pay to -- i don't know exactly how to put this, but it seems to
me that, you know, that the reporters who cover the white house, i think, they need to, i think -- when i was covering the white house, the rule was -- or let me put it the other way. when i was on the other side, when i was president ford's press secretary, there was a rule that said never do anything or say anything you don't want to see on the front page of "the washington post." you know, i think a lot of our public officials don't understand that rule today, but -- tell me your question again. >> just, you know, this balance between the presence, being there physically -- >> yeah. >> -- and that sense of accountability that mike was
talking about. >> yeah. well, i -- you know, my feeling about -- because, as i say, i covered the white house and then i was also in the white house, and i just felt like, you know, as a reporter i needed to find out everything i could find out and pass it on to the american people. and that's -- that's the rule i tried to follow. >> ken, as a print reporter with different deadlines than we are accustomed to thinking of today, right, in the world where it's social media and cable television and talk radio all on all the time, do you see that this coverage has changed dramatically as the velocity of information has increased? >> yeah, well, i think it's interesting, frank, you started off the lap dog, watchdog, attack dog division, and that's a very good way to think of this because i think we've moved from watchdog to attack dog mostly now, and part of that, frankly, is because president trump has put us in the position of being the enemy of the american public, which is what he calls us. fake media, as he says. i know we don't want to draw on
president trump, and so actually last night i did a little due diligence and looked at a little bit of our history. i actually wrote a book on this called "feeding the beast." we're the beast in the media. it came back some time ago. if you look back at our history going back to john adams and lincoln and some of his really prosecution of the media during the civil war, woodrow wilson talked about how shameless and colossal the errors were constantly in the media in his time, of course, jefferson after his initial comments supporting the newspapers then turned against the media. so anyway, there's a whole history of how this relationship has been very adversarial. but now i think it's gotten to the point of -- and i think a lot of us on both sides are uncomfortable with -- an unhealthy situation where both sides have on the attack. >> from your book and looking at that in that historical context, ken, do you think the notion of access and accountability have changed over time? >> yeah, well, there is a long
history of this, you know, teddy roosevelt took pity on the reporters of his time and allowed them space in the white house. that's what started the briefing room tradition a long time ago. but even he was critical of the media. franklin roosevelt was very much friendly with the reporters who covered him, but was very much at odds with the owners of the newspapers and the editorial writers. i'm sure ron and mike understand how different that is, but even roosevelt who is thought of as a guy who got very great press, sometimes what he would do is if he didn't like a reporter's story, he would call the reporters into his office and he from the story, and one time he had a reporter stand in the corner with a dunce cap on and the reporter did it. >> that would be a tough thing to go home after. what did you do today, daddy, at work?
stood with a dunce cap in the president -- >> what about this notion of accountability, then? >> well, the accountability -- you know, the american public wants to know a lot of things all the time. we can't provide them with everything, but we try to give them a window into the thinking and the operations of the white house. the presidents want to keep as much information back as possible, we want to get as much information that we think the american public wants. one of the things that is interesting about this particular president that i haven't heard other journalists say this, but i say this, i say people criticize donald trump for using twitter so much. as a journalist you should love it because you get the president's thinking every single minute that you never would get with any other
president. >> the difference is that you can't then ask a question or counterchallenge that in any way and that's probably where the tension comes. >> yeah, that's where the tension comes because we get the information, here is his position on whatever it might be at that particular moment, we can't question him directly on that, again, but nonetheless, we still get a chance somewhere else down the line to come back with it. so that whether we like what the president is saying or not, you're getting information, you're getting -- we would wait with other presidents two, three, four, five days or more to get the president's words on something that was happening. so as a reporter, you still would want that. >> mike, as i recall, and i think it was when you were in the white house, there was a series of sort of rockwell illustrations of the press and the press secretary in the oval office, and i remember one with roosevelt sitting at his desk
and sort of what looked like fawning reporters gathered around. could you talk about this sort of lap dog, watchdog, attack dog thing. let's go back to -- not lap dog. but there was a very deferential sense, at least that's what it appears, in certainly pre-watergate times. >> i think that's right. i think there was a collaborative effort. >> collaborative? >> yes. i think the president sort of coexisted with a press corps that was heavily interested and sometimes heavily invested in telling the president's story. that then began to break apart. i think partly because of television, because of the changes in technology and the media itself and also because of what we've been talking about, the press woke up to the fact that they had the responsibility not to be the propaganda machine for whoever happened to be president at the time. that they were there to hold those accountable, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the -- >> but wasn't -- yes. but wasn't -- i don't want to say propaganda machine because that's way too strong, but during world war ii, during times of war, there's been a fundamentally different relationship. certainly pre-watergate, pre-technology times, between
press and president. >> that's absolutely true and that's the changing nature of this relationship, when it became much more of what we call -- we've used the term adversarial relationship. i think the adversity in the tw the two conflicting institutions built during the latter part of the 20th century. it is ironic, because in theory, both sides of this equation want the same thing. they both say, if we could just get more truth to the american people, we would be in better shape. the presidency, the white house, the white house staff, said, if they could just hear about all of the great things that we are doing, they would understand what a great job we're doing here and of course, the press sees fundamentally its responsibility to report the truth. the problem is when they skew apart in what matters most. and what is the agenda that the press has, versus the agenda what the president has, and when they're in conflict, as they often are, then you get this
adversarial sense in the relationship. >> in other words, there is definitely a cozy relationship with the white house press corps and presidents during fdr's time, when reporter did not tell americans that the president was in a wheelchair. and during john kennedy's administration when reporters were aware of his personal behavior and didn't tell americans about it. and i think that ended with, i think that the watergate scandal actually ended that period of coziness and made reporters feel their obligation was something different. >> i would actually even go back a bit. i think it was because of misleading the american people about the nature of the war in vietnam. >> i totally agree. >> the vietnam war, followed by the watergate scandal led to a collapse of that feeling of cozy trust, of trust in institutions, it made reporters feel that their obligation was not to find out, not to be friends with the president, but to be a watchdog on things that the president was doing. whether it was war, or something
else. >> ron? >> i think there has been a very big change in the relationship since i was, since i covered the white house, and then as ford's press secretary, and the big change it seems to me is that in those days, you had morning newspapers, which had a deadline of 6:30 in the evening, you had, on television, you didn't have any cable television, and you didn't have any internet. and you had, as i say morning newspapers and huntley-brinkley and cronkite on at 6:30 at night. so when i was at nbc, if i covered a story at 10:00 in the morning, 11:00, or whatever, the press secretary's briefing in the morning, i had until mid, late afternoon, to do research, to contact other sources, and so forth. and now, i think two things.
as a result of cable tv and also as a result of cell phones, basically everybody's a journalist. i've got my cell phone right here. i can type any damn thing i want to, hit the send button, and it goes out to ten million people in the world. >> you have a very good following. congratulation congratulations. >> and i think that's a really big change. >> i say to people, i was with cnn and i think cnn revolutionized things and we knew that in the white house, because if the first time if a president gave a speech from any place, if we took it live, it was going unfiltered to an audience, not through a network, not through a newspaper, secondly, we were on all the time. so we were filling the air with interviews, information, debate, other things. and that accelerated and illuminated the decision making
process, the governance process in a way we never experienced before. ken. >> just a couple of quick points. go back to franklin roosevelt, the reporters didn't write about his disability, he was paralyzed by 38, 39 years old and managed to overcome that but never regained the use of his legs but the news photographers entered into something of a experience among themselves because you don't see pictures of roosevelt with his disability and when the new photographer would come on to the white house, the veterans, when they saw a new photographer taking a picture of the leg braces sometimes would slap the camera away and say we don't take pictures of the president like. that later on, some of the news photographers regretted this because they thought the country deserved to know this. that is one thing. the other quick point is when i started covering reagan, reagan's people understood, even though he was a conservative, key get decent coverage, because they knew, they understood
access works two ways. when a white house staff and a president talk to the media, they not only give information out but they also learn what we're doing. you don't get much of that with the trump presidency now. they don't really care much about what they're doing. they are just constantly streaming out as richard said, twitter and other things, to always on the offensive. >> richard, we were talking about the relationship between roosevelt and the press, and pictures, and illustrations, and press coming in, there is a famous, very famous picture of lbj walking the grounds with a group of reporters. and there was a time when presidents and reporters could sit down or walk, or, and the idea was for the president to be able to speak directly, and share a thought process or whatever. does that happen now? and, because it doesn't. have we lost something? >> yes, we have certainly lost
that personal relationship that reporters who covered the white house, the president knows the reporters who cover the white house, he knows who they are, not only by name, but they get to know them usually. i don't know what is happening now, but i know that when you covered bill clinton, and when you covered george w. bush, when you covered george h.w. bush and ronald reagan, they knew who you were and they wanted to know a little bit about you, whether they did it in the background or whether they did it up front by asking you questions, they knew a little bit about who you were. and where you were coming from. and would try to play to that a little bit. i see this now, and it may have a lot to do with journalism today. it is an interesting question to me. because i remember the days when i was, when i wanted to be a journalist. i really wanted to be a novelist. and i liked to write. and i was going to write this great novel but i found there was a way you could make money writing while you, i was always
going to write the novel on the side, but you like people, you like being around people, you wanted to build a relationship that way, and write about it. and telling people the stories. and so we wanted to go, so when you become a political reporter, you go out there and you meet these political figures, you want to write about who they are. you want to find out something about them personally. you want to find out about them, what they do, other than just govern. and so that's, that was the attraction. i'm not sure that young people today who want to be journalists want to do that. i get the sense that what they want to do, see, we liked politics, and we liked politicians, as journalists, that's what you were attracted to, and you like people. younger people today get the sense that they don't like politics, they don't like politicians and they see that their only role is to be critical. rather than just being given information. they lean more towards the critical side. and i think that has an effect
on how the people feel about government and politics. >> it has a big effect. and the effect of really undermining confidence across the board. but the sense of sharing the thought process of the president directly with the press, so that the american public, the world gets a sense of that, has been something that has been on people's minds, you tried this thing called psyche background as ile. >> a long story. i was thinking as we were talking about senator john mccain, whose memory we are, you know, having on our minds right now, and he was masterful at drawing the press in, and having conversation, and he enjoyed the give and take. i tried some of that with president clinton. and i wanted people to sort of get a sense of his thinking, and it's hard to do that if someone is going to sit there an transcribe everything word for word. we created some opportunities,
once famously on air force one where the president would come back and sit and gab with the reporters. and i got asked, well what are the rules for at bution here and i said, you know, why don't we just call it psyche background. it is like according to someone familiar with the thinking of the president, who happened to be the president, that the president clinton is thinking x, y, and z, well there is strong objections to that particularly. >> that is an understatement, as ile. >> particularly from the associated press which took a very firm stance that the united states president could not talk on background. >> always on the record. >> always on the record. >> so these informal occasions where you kind of sit back and have a beer and talk about life, you know, that's, that's not allowed. because the president has to always be accountable. now, some, i invite you to talk about this, there are some particularly those who worked for magazines who had more
interest and color and flavor and what was really going on behind the scene, they probably had some appreciation for opportunities like that. >> yes. >> it was not a happy episode. >> no, right, but the other thing to be aware of, there are different constituencies in the press corps. of course, the wire services, and the networks are very upset when the president is not live on camera on the record. we in the general, who step back a bit, a lot of us think, well if you're getting, i don't like the idea of the president off the record but something that mike is talking about, you're getting the president's thinking, my thought was always, you wanted to know as much about the president as you possibly can, and so when the president does something, you know the president's thinking, you can put it in context, and you can say to yourself, that's the president i know, or that's not the president i know, to have some context. >> we have had some sense, and ron, i want to turn us to the current, i want to tie some of
these past practices to where we are now, for a little bit of context for a moment, and then go broad again. >> that's going to be hard to do. >> no, we can do it, i know you can do it. you are very adept at these things. so in the currents moment, we're in a situation where we have more antagonistic, more personal, more challenging, more, you can argue ideologically driven adversarial relationships than we have seen before. where the president is going so far as to call the media the enemy of the people, and fundamentally dishonest. and representing the opposition party. is this unprecedented, richard nixon had an enemies list, is this unprecedented, and what impact will it have in the larger scheme of things? >> it is not unprecedented to have conflict. as ron knows very well, or as mike knew during the impeachment debate in his administration, that's not new. i think the intensity of it now
is different. and i think when the president calls the press the enemy of the people, as he did in a tweet about an hour ago, i think that is a different level offing a tag nix than we've seen from previous modern presidents. i think that is a new place for us to be. i do think, president trump deserves credit for being pretty accessible though. not only does he tweet, which i think is an excellent way to get, to look into his thinking, he tends to answer questions when he walks out on the south lawn to go to the helicopter, and he does a lot of interviews on fox, with friendly correspondents, but nonetheless, he is doing interviews with them. he talks to reporters sometimes, with reporters who have covered him for a long time, he has some off the record conversations. so we do have a look into what he's thinking that we didn't always have with other modern presidents, and i think that is a good thing, that is something he did during the, most of the 2016 campaign, not right toward the end, but in the early part, he was one of the more
accessible candidates i've ever covered. >> ron, then richard. >> as i said, there is an old expression in washington, never do anything or say anything you don't want to see on the front page of the "washington post." and i don't think current president understands that rule. but you know, thinking back again to my time in the, as the press secretary, to president ford, he was, i think the pardon of nixon, was so unpopular, it really turned the press against him, and -- >> turned the press against him. you felt that at the time, in the briefing room, in your dealings with the media? >> yes. and as i say, it was very, very unpopular, and ford never really recovered his reputation, i don't think, from that.
he's, i don't know exactly how to put it, but i think that he was popular until the nixon stuff came along, and ford was, he was popular in washington, but not after this happened, and after the pardon of nixon i think was very, very unpopular. and i remember one time, ford, somebody asked ford about how he felt about this, and he said something about those reporters, they get their, you know, he was critical of reporters, and and they get their, they get their information sitting on a bar stool, i think, was one of his favorite expressions. >> richard? >> yes, well, you know, the relationship changes from president to president,
certainly, because every president has a different personality, and the press corps has its own personalities and personalities change. the judgment of history and i think gerald ford used to say it and other winston churchill, i think ron was saying earlier when we were backstage, that history, you can't be judged until 30 or 40 or 50 years later, and you know, think of harry truman, harry truman left the presidency in 1952, 53, with a job approval rating of 22%. one of the worst measures. the lowest measure at that particular time. he's now considered one of the best five presidents or ten presidents. then on the list, in retrospect, looking at harry truman's presidency, he could have run for re-election in 1952, but chose not to, because he was so unpopular. and so he wasn't term limited
out, because it didn't apply to him hen they changed the term limit law, but he didn't run because he was so unpopular. >> bus history looks back to see how did he do, and he comes out pretty well. >> do you want to -- >> well, ford, you know, ford i think was very unpopular with the press because he pardoned nixon. and there was a lot of criticism of ford. and he was probably our most athletic president. and as i said, and i remember one time, there was all of these stories about him tripping and falling or something like that. >> right. >> and ford said, those reporters, they get their exercise sitting on a bar stool. >> he liked the bar stool. that was his refrain, i guess. let me ask you this. in your experience, as reporters, what was your most adversarial moment? did you have something that you thought, well, this is getting
really hot here? >> well -- >> go ahead. >> and no bill clinton impersonations. >> but let me do a mike mccurry impersonation. durpg, i was working for usa today covering the clinton administration and in the morning my phone would ring and it would be joe lockhard, mike mccurry's deputy, and yell at me at stories i had done, stories that other reporters had done, stories that i had not yet read. in usa today. and the first time i got the call, mike, do you think there is something inaccurate, are you asking for a correction, and he was just yelling and the third time, i know what is happening so you're talking to clinton in the morning and he is saying god damn that usa today, writing a story about this. and mike would say to joe, call susan and joe would come back and say i gave her hell then you would go to clinton and said we
really told them off. is that correct? >> yeah. >> you got that 100% correct. >> i got a few of those calls. i got a few of those calls at cnn. i liked those calls. >> but note the key element there. i always had my deputy joe lockhard that went on to be press secretary himself, i always had him make the call, then we'll be friends forever. >> i've got a similar story. one day, i get a phone call from skok mcclellen who was then the deputy press secretary at the white house, and he says the president didn't like that story you wrote this morning. and i said, well what didn't he like about it? he said he just didn't like it. and it was george w. bush. and i thought back, what was the story. the story was that president bush takes a big pride in the fact that he never changes his mind. well, here are three places where he changed his mind. and it was on the front page of usa today. so i said what's wrong with the
the story? anything inaccurate there? well no. what does he want? he says well, nothing, i guess, he is stammering, he said, well, 3:00 in the afternoon comes, this was in the morning, 3:00 in the afternoon comes and he calls again, and says the president is still mad about that story. so i knew what was going on. the president said you tell benedetto he is a big blank. so i says, well, what do you want? and he says can i tell you you've been admonished? i said you can go back and tell him anything you want. so he probably went back and said i told him. >> not to just talk about the clintons, with what is going on, during this period that we have these fusses going on, i remember one time going over there, and having an interview with dogs sonick, a senior political adviser and sat down with me and he paused and he
said, am i supposed be mad at you about something and i said well, and he couldn't remember, but he knew something. >> did you remind him of that? >> no. well i don't know what it could possibly be. but i mean we've all had these fuss, i think john sununu, the chief of staff of president bush the father was a very different chief of staff to get along with and many times, ed rogers, who would do the calling, and the complaining. so there is always that kind of an adversarial relationship. i think what bothers a lot of us now is the idea of whether we're at the point where the administration is undermining the institution of the media by undermining our credibility. >> do you think that's the case? and do you think there would be lasting change? i mean we've talked about this sort of dynamic process of a relationship between the press and the president. >> i think the current administration is definitely intent on undermining the
correct of the mainstream media. i think president trump wants to do is get to the point that his supporter, basically his base will only believe him and not believe anything else. >> let me ask a question of mike and ron here, which is the central tension to the jobs that you have held as press secretary. how does a presidential press secretary balance the commitment to both serving the president and serving the public, through the relationship with the press? i mean yes, you're the spokesperson for the president of the united states, but you're being paid by american taxpayers, and you have relationships with the media, the press in that room, that depend on a degree of trust and credibility on both sides. >> i would like to think of that balance, thinking of the geography of the white house, and all of you have been in that office, that the press secretary has in the west wing.
it's a wonderful piece of real estate. it has a working fireplace by the way. which the park service will light up for you when things are not hot enough already. but anyhow, there is a front door, where the press will sometimes gather, but it has a back door, which is convenient when you're trying to escape the ones who are at the front door. but if you go out that back door, you turn right, 50 feet away, is the oval office, and turn left, 50 feet away, is the briefing room, where you conduct the briefing every day. and that geographic metaphor is exactly for me the nature of the job. it is this balance between keeping satisfied those who are seeking information, who have legitimate questions, who expect the white house to be accountable, and produce information that ought to be the public's right to know, and then also serving the president who signs your paycheck,
representing the president's thinking, the president's point of view, what the administration is trying to accomplish. and that balance is the nature of the job every day, and if you, you're never going to keep either side of that equation happy. i mean you get the president saying you and your friends in the press, are trying to destroy everything good about this country. and then you get the press saying -- >> you had a president say that to you? >> oh, yeah. >> you and your friends in the press? >> well, he, yes, pretty close to it. >> i hope he's watching. >> pretty close. but the difference and the important difference is as much as he would fuss and fume about it, then we go back to reality. and he would stop meeting sometime, and say get mccurry in here because the press is going to be all over him on this and i want him to hear what we're talking about and it is not because he wanted me to go and give my opinion on what was
going to happen but he want mood toe have the understanding and the context of what -- decisions were being made so i could report on it accurately and truthfully. i don't think we have that circumstance. >> ron, i know when you started working for gerald ford, you had a conversation with him about the need for you to be near him. your proximity to the president. >> right. well, what i told him when he offered me the job was that i needed to meet with him every day before my press briefing, because my job, as i interpreted it, was to answer the questions from the press, as the president would answer them if he were there, which means two things. one, i had to find out how he would answer them, from him, and also, i said i wanted to attend all of his meetings with cabinet members and so forth, and kissinger didn't like that too much, but basically, that's what i did, i had a daily meeting with the president, and i could
attend any of these cabinet meetings and other meetings. and so i come in, in the morning, and my staff would put together a list of the questions they thought i would be asked at the briefing. and then some of the questions, you know, kissinger could answer, secretary of treasury could, but most of them needed, i needed to be able to reflect the president's views, so i had my daily meeting with the president. and i don't know whether the press secretaries nowadays still have that or not. but i thought that was very important, and ford agreed to it. >> to all of you for a minute, and then a couple more and then i would like to open it up to questions from the floor because i think it is a fascinating conversation. one of the other things that we talk about is the notion of credibility, both the press's credibility from the white house, and the white house's credibility from the white house. both are under siege today. there is very little trust in the press. and there's very little trust
among some anyway in the information that's coming from the white house. and i certainly remember when i was at the white house and eni was bureau chief at cnn, if the president said something, 0 are a press secretary would say something that was mistaken, or a misstatement there was an effort to quickly correct the record. i marlin fitswater, would walk around with the big cigar that he wouldn't light and we walk through the press office and said what i said or what the president said, let me tweak that. there was a very good relationship there. and he got a lot of credit for that. but we're not at that place now. i mean now, there is a very particular and personal and some would say grandstanding environment around this. where do you see this question of credibility now, in terms of the, again, plugging this into all of the cameras that we got
and, all the technology that we've got and the cameras and the social, how we regain a sense of trust and the information that is emanating from the white house. >> i think the credibility is the number one most important asset that journalists need, and it is under fire. we have all of these new ways of delivering information that are faster and go farther and are more transparent, and that's been to our peril, in some ways, but -- >> to our peril. >> to our peril, because tweet goes out instantaneously, without a chance to check with a second source, or to double check the information against, in other ways, and so it's actually, i think, increased what is our fundamental obligation which is to be, to be careful, to, we want to be first, but we want to be right. we need to always remember that. we need to be more transparent with readers and viewers about how we get information and whether they can trust it.
than is especially true in an era where there are so many stories that rely on anonymous sources. the president this morning sent out a tweet saying if you see the word anonymous stories in a story, stop reading, it's a lie, reporters make up anonymous sources. for legitimate news organizations, that's not true. we try very hard to limit the number of anonymous sources we use. we try to identify them as much as we can. you see that now, where articles say according to five sources, three of them were in the room, you know, you try to build, it is all an effort to build credibility in what you read. and when we make mistakes, and we will, we need to correct them, in a way that is fast and it is honest. it doesn't try to weissle out of correction. but it says we made a mistake on, this we apologize, we are going to make it right, we will try not to make the same mistake again. i think the only way we rebuild the credibility we lost is to do our job every single day as well as we can and to kind of hold on
tight, because these are turbulent times. >> yes, well, a couple of points. one is just to show you the kinds of things we're up against. so many people can get their information from sources that are completely unfiltered, completely uncorroborated, and so in other words, we in the mainstream media are sort of taking a secondary role because people can get any view reinforced on the internet, whatever they want to do, and as an example, i give a lot of speeches these days, there was an occasion where i gave four speeches over a few week, and i got the same question after each speech, privately asked, the person came up, asking the same way, why don't you people in the white house press corps do the biggest story in washington. now, this was a couple of years ago. and i said what would that be? well, the reply was the same in each case. we all know that michelle obama is a man. now, how do you deal with that? i mean so i said, where did you
hear that? and the people said, in exactly the same way, i don't know, but i know it's true. now, that's what we're dealing with. >> where were you giving your speeches? >> all over the place. >> he was on the bar stool. >> i was getting my exercise. but the interesting thing, the same question asked in the same way. so that's part of it. but the other thing is, i think for one side or the other side, we have to have the same sort of suggestion. the politicians in the white house need to understand that we're not monolithic in the press corps. there are some good reporters and some bad reporters and they need to know us well enough to know the difference. and we need to understand that they're none monolithic either. there are people we can trust in government, good sources, people who know what they're talking about and people who don't and we have to make the distinction, too, and it works both ways. >> before i open it up to questions, i would be interested in your thoughts on.
>> this i think several of us have had times, at presidential library, you mentioned that in your opening comments and i did as well when i was working for the documentary for the history channel and cnn for ronald reagan and i spent a lot of time fr , at the ronald reagan and i don't know if anybody is here from the ronald reagan but thank you very much, but in the context of the conversation, the context of the fraught relationship between the press and the healthy adversarial press between the president, if it's good, between the press and the president, and our current moment, and the larger trend we've got about people not understanding the government, people not being historical in nature, we are a rather ahistorical culture, which is not a good thing, what do you think that presidential libraries, boyhood and childhood homes and historical sites can do through their work to help people see, understand, bring to life this weird relationship that the press and the presidency have? mike? >> one suggestion, i have to all
of you, with those kind of responsibilities, is to highlight the importance of this relationship between the president and the presidency and the fourth estate, the media. there are wonderful photos. there are probably archival materials that would really lift this up, so that those who visit your sites see how important and how fundamentally important this relationship is. and the way in which we function as a democracy. so lift up, and pick out those things that really at this moment, in which the press is being called, the enemy of the people, we need to understand how important this equation is in the way in which presidents have functioned. and the way in which we've come to understand them, throughout history. so that would be my -- >> there is criticism. and presidents and other previous, all presidents really, have had their criticism, so how should that be represented as well? >> fully and fairly. i mean i think some of the great
letters, you know, the truman letter to, who was it that said -- >> critic. >> the critic. >> i would otherwise deliver my response on the bridge of your nose, if i could. that letter, bill clinton had hanging in the oval office, at one point, so there are things like that, they kind of highlight some. tension and some of the adversarial nature of the relationship but i think putting it in the right context is what is important. >> i think a sense of history makes a big difference. we worry so much about the tum ultof today. i was thinking about some of the events marking the 50th anniversary of 196 which by the way was a pretty tumultuous year. so i think it is helpful in terms of trying to understand today to have a sense of what happened yesterday. i have lualso been struck by so of the programs at presidential libraries because presidential libraries have, and former presidents, when they're still alive, have a kind of
credibility, i think presidents gain credibility, once they leave office sometimes, they are seen as a little less political. and presidential libraries have a way to pull together officials from past administrations to talk in a way, that officials may be relukt ant to do in some other form and i think that has been a real asset. >> ken? >> i have had the privilege of doing research at presidential libraries for years for a number of the eight books that i have written and they are fabulous resources to pleased to be able to do the research there, and a lot of things that you can get from presidential libraries you can get online now. it is very easy. easier than it has ever been. fabulous resources. i think one thing in the context of frank's question is maybe posting the first amendment might be a good idea. and just leave that up there somewhere. and as an exhibit. i think that also, programs are helpful. and i think that, and the presidential libraries do a good
job with this already. i have to be, about to go to the bush library in college station to do a program on white house photographers, who, as ron was saying about president ford wanting to deal with the media, dealing with the photographers including president ford's own photographer, david, extraordinarily access that he allowed the pictures out there so people could see what he was like as a person and i think that actually helped him and helped the country understand him. but i think forbe the presidential libraries to continue the great programs they do, maybe permanent exhibits, on presidents and the media, sort of without, with all of the blemishes shown, but nevertheless, illustrating the importance of the relationship. >> ron, what do you think? >> i've been to the ford library, of course, in grand rapid, and again, i think one of the effects that presidential libraries have is that you can step back from the kind of day to day political coverage, and so forth, and you know, with the
passage of time, you can get like a broader view of what was going on, who was saying what, and with the passage of time, you will know, oh, well he was right about that, wasn't he? and i think that's one of the great things. >> context. >> of presidential am libraries, yes. >> donald rumsfeld famously talked about the snapshot through a straw, and that's what the media does now on a daily, minute by minute basis and you have context. >> i think presidential libraries and presidential sites, too, could do more programs or exhibits about the relationship between the press and the presidency, because it is an important one. the public is aware of it. they don't think about it in too many terms of how it's supposed to operate. maybe we don't get enough of it in the schools, of that kind of discussion. and that kind of examination. it needs to be done. because it is sort of like the
foundation of our democracy, that the relationship between the public, and the public officials is conducted through the press. and the media. and so it is fundamental for people. i don't know what they're doing in the high schools these days. i don't know, they could be doing a lot more, i think that all educational institutions can be doing a lot more in talking about the relationship, especially in these times when the relationship has become so controversial. >> one of the interesting dynamics here and i would invite anybody with a question please make your way to the mike. is just how the technology has changeed so much and there would be some we don't need you anymore, the president could communicate directly. >> they would be wrong. >> they would be wrong. >> because we need independent trained eyes, ears and brains, on the president in power. >> we also need to teach media literacy in our schools.
we have to, you know, get, the beginning, at an early age, with kids, get them to understand where reliable sources of information are, and what is not reliable, and what the important role of the press is. and there are some great program, i think most of you know allen miller, he used to be at the l.a. times, he runs a program in news literacy now, and that is fundamentally important. >> go ahead. >> great. thank you, frank, and everybody, for a wonderful panel session. i'm reflecting on a comparison between yesterday morning's panel on presidential memory and history, and what both richard and frank talked about today, and that is, how the perception of a president changes over the decades after they leave office, and my question is, if that's true, that means that the perception of the president that's presented by the media currently is not accurate, and whether that's fake news, or
it's not fake news, i wonder if, since i don't hear it very often, if there is any reflection that you hear among journalists and people who study this issue, as to whether there could be a better job done by journalists, instead of just always apologizing for how good journalism is and how the president is the one, like you were saying, that's always just angry over being covered in that way. if history changes the view, then maybe journalism is not doing its job today. >> okay. good question. and i should say, we only have about seven minutes left, so we will try to do this quickly and take as many questions as i can. >> i would disagree by saying what we cover today is not accurate. it is not complete. it doesn't have the benefit of history. we don't know what the consequences of what a president does until we see those consequences unfold. and sometimes they unfold in ways that are more positive than we think and sometimes they unfold in ways that are more negative. i think it is important that we
keep a sense of history, skepticism of when we write things, we shouldn't declare a president, a presidency over, or a presidency a success, we should keep in mind that we're a snapshot in time, and that may change over time. >> i think there should be some, i think there needs to be, if i can, much more hue tilt in t, m mi humility about how it is done and too much back patting and let's dress up and take our awards. we have to recognize that the media is a very big, plural word. so is breitbart and msnbc and all of them are part of the media. and especially in talk radio, cable news, and online, world, everything is streaming instantly and all at once, more context is needed but also to your think about news consumer,
we will hear from julie woodrough shortly, the news hour gives people context every day, so people need to be, news consumers need to be much smarter about where they go and how they consume and we're going to need to help them and news organizations should help them, too, but i think your question is, you know, if the airline industry, an airline company had the level of public trust that the media have right now, they would be flying empty airplanes and that needs to be addressed. >> paul, with the george w. bush childhood home. all of you mentioned the impact of the immediacy of social media on the way in which people perceive your stories to be real and fake, whatever. there was a time in this country when major events would bring the country together, most recently of course 9/11, the death of presidents, first ladies, those types of things, hurricane harvey, katrina. what responsibility do you feel
the press should have in allowing the country to use the time of these events to allow themselves to come together, at least for a brief period of time, and in what period of time do you think that should be? >> great question. ken? >> i think one way of looking a the this from a journalist point of view is that i was always brought up in the idea, in the field that you have an educational function that we're public educators in some ways, and we have an entertainment function. too much of what we do now is the entertainment function. the lines are blurred, as frank said, to all of these different groups. you look at these panels on television, who is the journalist, who is the commentator, who is the poll session, who is the strategist, it is always blended together. so i can understand the public not understanding the distinctions as to what a journ lift is anymore, but as far as consensus moment, they are very difficult to even encourage, from a media perspective,
because we're so polarized. people, even the death of john mccain is an indication for people to beat on each other. this is the nature of the country. of where we are now. and i hope we come to the point where we can be more unified. there is a limit to what the media can do. we can try to do this sort of thing. and have rallying consensus moments. even political conventions used to be unifying. at least to parties. that's hard to see anymore. >> sure. >> quickly. and what we will try to do is take as many more questions as we can with quick answers, from the panel. >> we're just very quickly, i think one of the things that has happened to journalism that has affected the coverage and what people are getting to know is that back a couple of decades ago, the networks and the major newspapers had full-time reporters assigned to the state department, and the pentagon, and five reporters on the house side, five reporters on the senate side, and so forth.
you became an expert on your beat. you got to know all of the players, all of the sources and so forth, and now, for economic reasons, there's been a big cutback, and everybody's a general assignment reporter, you go to the office in the morning and you get your assignment, and you don't have this expertise of covering a beat. >> yes, sir. >> i'm steve gilroy with the friends of sagamore hill. talking about the relationship between the presidency and the press, when president ford pardoned president nixon, what caused you to resign, and how did president ford react to that and how did it affect your future relationship with him? >> well, i agree with you that that was a really big turning point in ford's relationship with the press. and there was, and i think there was a feeling among the press that when the, when the vice president, spiro agnew resigned,
ford was appointed vice president by nixon and there was a theory that nixon knew he was in trouble and he thought he would appoint ford, who would, you know, be more protective of him. so i think that's one of the things that happened. and then about a month after ford became president, nixon resigned, ford became president, and then ford pardoned nixon. and what he said was, he was spending 25% of his time, the staff was spending 25% of its time, on leftover nixon matters. and he needed to spend 100% of his time, because of the vietnam war was stid still going on, big depression in the country and so forth, but i think that there has always been this view, that there was a deal, that if nixon would appoint ford as vice president, to replace the retiring, the resigned vice president, then ford would
promise to not, to save nixon from -- >> and the question about your resignation, and how that affected you. >> well, the way it affected me was -- >> you didn't resign? >> no, it is the other way around. ford's first press secretary resigned. >> terry terhorst resigned because he disagreed with the pardon. i was covering the white house for nbc, and i had covered ford as vice president, i was one of the ford five, traveled all over the country with him, in the little two engine propeller-driven airplane, and so he asked me, and i wrote a book later called "it sure looks different from the inside" because i wanted to, and the reason i took the job is, that i had covered the white house, from the outside, as a reporter, i wanted to see what it looked like on the inside. so that's why i took the job. >> go ahead. we're almost out of time. be really quick. >> charlie hyde with benjamin harrison presidential site. we haven't touched upon editorial cartoons and how much they act as a synthesis of these
journalistic assessments, you can just touch a little bit upon that and how much you think these cartoons come to define -- >> mike and susan quickly and i'm sorry that has to be the last question because we have another terrific discussion. >> it is great. humor is what we need more of at the white house and more context. we actually invited a bunch of editorial cartoonists to travel with president clinton from time to time, and some of the wonderful images that came out of that of them hanging in my own house as a matter of fact, but they capture sometimes the essence of what is so improbablebly insane about some of the things that happen at the white house. and i think it is a very, very important point. >> susan, quick last word. >> cartoonists are amazing. since i've been looking at barbara bush i don't know if you saw the cartoon in the clearing ledger that saw barbara bush going to heaven and robin greeting her there. her daughter. who died when she was three. i mean cartoonists can hit a
chord. can make a point. sharp or soft like that one, that is beyond words. >> i would like to thank all of you on behalf of all of ous for what you do. i would like to thank this terrific panel for their conversation. i think we will leave you with this thought, which is that accountability is the key word, but it should also, and must also, and must continue to work both way, accountability both for the white house and for those who are covering it. thank you you all, very, very much. five new members from minnesota join the house of representatives. including the only two republicans elected to seats previously held by democrats. the first of woman is pete stauber in minnesota's eighth district. he was a police officer before being elected to minnesota's st. louis county commission but early in his career he played professional hockey. he speak with us about some of
the lessons he learned from that sport. >> team work, perseverance. hard work is always the equalizer, and for me, you know, many people never gave me a chance to not only play division one hockey but yet alone professional. and it was through hard work, perseverance, dedication, and just that drive to meet your goal. and i was very fortunate. >> how long did you play for professionally? >> i played three years. i retired due to an injury to my neck. >> the other republican joining minnesota's congressional delegation is jim hagadorn in the first district. he succeeds the democrat tim walls elected minnesota governor, the son of former representative tom hagedorn and served on the congressional staff of former representative arlen stangland and later worked for the treasury department. democrat aniy craig is a former reporter for the commercial appeal in memphis, tennessee,
and moved to minnesota to be at the saint jude. and the first -- >> ilhan omar succeeds representative keith ellison who was elected minnesota's attorney general. ms. omar became an american citizen in 2000, she worked in a variety of positions, teaching proper nutrition, while also being engaged in state and local politics in minnesota. that activity led to her election to the minnesota house of representatives in 2016. democratic dean phillips was less than a year old when his father was killed in the vietnam war. his mother later married the son of abigail van buren. who was popularly known for her dear abbey advice column. mr. phillips is now president of the phillips distilling company, which has been in his family for over 100 years. new congress, new leaders. watch it all, on c-span.
c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and today, we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress. the white house. the supreme court. and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. hello. i'm gail berry west and i am on the board of the white house historical association. on behalf of the association, the board is pleased that you