Presidential Press Relations

Article excerpt

When a new president is inaugurated on January 20, 2009, he will come face to face with the importance of his relationship with news organizations and the opportunities and hazards the association presents him. A president needs news organizations as a vehicle for him to reach the public. In a representative system, the chief executive must keep in regular touch with the public and the contemporary president does so by speaking most weekdays with news organizations carrying his words and image to their readers and viewers. While the president finds the presence of news organizations at the White House and wherever else he goes to be an asset in spreading his ideas and words, reporters are there to serve the purposes of news organizations, not the chief executive and his staff. News organizations expect to regularly question the president and his staff and to receive from them accurate and timely responses to their queries. The difference in the needs of the partners in the relationship often puts the White House and reporters at odds over what information news organizations are due as well as how, when, and where they should get it.

With no incumbent president or vice president nominated by either the Democratic or Republican parties, the candidates and their staffs can benefit from information gathered about the relationship based on what we know from the patterns of the past. In this issue, we have articles by those who have been part of the White House--press relationship as well as ones by those studying it from outside the building. Scholars and practitioners demonstrate the benefit of having the perspective of both those who have held office, those who have covered it as part of the press, and scholars who have studied it over time.

In "Who Speaks for the People: The President, the Press, and Public Opinion in the United States," Bartholomew Sparrow looks at the perspective the press has as a surrogate for the public and the claim the president has as the nationally elected official who represents the needs of the public. Public opinion polls give us another view of what the public thinks. With all three having claims to reflecting the public, Sparrow discusses the circumstances under which the president, the press, and public opinion polls reflect the public.

White House institutions are important in the presidential--press relationship just as individual presidents are. In "George Akerson's Legacy: Continuity and Change in White House Press Operations," for example, Charles Walcott and Karen Hult view the development of the White House Press Office from 1929, when the first staff member was assigned the press portfolio, and come to some of the same conclusions as does former White House press secretary Mike McCurry. There has been little change in the office and perhaps it is time to move in some other directions. They see variation in the White House publicity environment resulting from media diversification and the growth in White House structures. Diana Owen and Richard Davis explore White House response to the Internet in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations through an examination of the development and use of the White House Web site. Their "Presidential Communications in the Internet Era" looks at the opportunities future administrations will have to make use of new media to further their programs. …