Presidential Press Conferences: A Critical Approach

By Carolyn Smith | Go to book overview
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Chapter Seven
Reagan and the Press: Establishing the Benchmark

What snapshots immediately come to mind when you think of Ronald Reagan doing battle with the press for eight years? The most enduring is the helicopter shot. It's early Friday afternoon. Some of the staff is assembled on the lawn -- extras, if you will. Ronald and Nancy Reagan emerge and head to the helicopter that will ferry them to Camp David for the weekend. The dog tugs playfully at his leash, pulling Nancy Reagan along. Above the noise of the rotors, ABC's Sam Donaldson shouts a question. The president grins, cups a hand around his earl, as if trying to hear the question. Sometimes he answers. More often, his grin grows wider and he shrugs his shoulders as if to say he can't hear the frustrated correspondent. The first couple boards the chopper and turns camera left to wave their weekend farewell.

The second image is the formal press conference. It's nighttime, primetime television. There's last-minute flurry of activity as the network technicians check audio levels. The White House gives a two-minute warning. A hush comes over the room. Camera! Lights! Action! The correspondents rise. The camera picks up the president as he emerges from a holding room, stage right, into a wide, royal, red-carpeted hallway. He proceeds down the hallway into the East Room to meet the reporters. His walk is robust and determined. His bearing is -- well -- presidential. He strides confidently to the podium. He turns to face the cameras and the reporters. "Please be seated. I have an opening statement."

The helicopter shot evolved from a practice Mr. Reagan began on day one of his presidency. He liked to spar affably with the press outside the confines of a news conference.

-125-

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