Presidential Press Conferences: A Critical Approach

By Carolyn Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
Evolution of the Adversarial Press Conference

Theodore Roosevelt was the first to discover he could use the private press as a persuasive and frequent means of talking to the American people,1and Woodrow Wilson was most likely the first president to open news sessions to all accredited newspeople.2

Press conferences are new, but the adversarial relationship is as old as the presidency itself. All presidents have tried to stop leaks, avoid disclosure of information that might discredit their policies, and encourage favorable news coverage of their administrations; all have tried to manage the news.


WASHINGTON AND ADAMS: EARLY ATTEMPTS TO MANAGE NEWS

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a secret affair because delegates agreed their task would be impossible if their preliminary discussions were aired publicly and people took sides before the delegates could present a united front.3When a delegate mislaid some papers, George Washington recovered them but admonished the delegates to be more careful; otherwise the newspapers would get ahold of the documents and give rise to "premature speculations" and needlessly upset the public.4

President Washington moved quickly to establish his right to keep secrets. In 1792, the House of Representatives asked to see documents that might shed light on how General Arthur Sinclair lost 600 troops to Indians at the headwaters of the Wabash. Washington refused: "[D]isclosure . . . would injure the public."5Many decades later, when

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Presidential Press Conferences: A Critical Approach
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Foreword xi
  • Notes xiii
  • Introduction: the Limits of Press Conference Reform xv
  • Notes xix
  • Chapter One - The Adversarial Relationship 1
  • Notes 12
  • Chapter Two - Evolution of the Adversarial Press Conference 15
  • Notes 52
  • Chapter Three - Persuasion and Accountability: Press Conference Goals 65
  • Notes 77
  • Chapter Four - The Press Conference Agenda 79
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter Five - The Press Conference Structure 93
  • Notes 108
  • Chapter Six - Good Questions and Good Answers 109
  • Notes 123
  • Chapter Seven - Reagan and the Press: Establishing The Benchmark 125
  • Notes 139
  • Chapter Eight - A Criticism of the Opening Salvo 143
  • Notes 202
  • Chapter Nine - The "Jelly Bean Lottery": An Experiment in Tepidness 209
  • Notes 241
  • Selected Bibliography 245
  • Index 255
  • About the Author 261
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