The Talkative President: The Off-The-Record Press Conferences of Calvin Coolidge

The Talkative President: The Off-The-Record Press Conferences of Calvin Coolidge

The Talkative President: The Off-The-Record Press Conferences of Calvin Coolidge

The Talkative President: The Off-The-Record Press Conferences of Calvin Coolidge

Excerpt

CALVIN COOLIDGE, President of the United States from August, 1923 until March, 1929, never seemed a talkative man, and indeed made a reputation for being the opposite; but when he let down his guard, when he felt that what he said would not be subject to misinterpretation or used against him, he could be so talkative as to appear almost garrulous.

After Coolidge became President, the reputedly quiet man from Vermont soon realized that he had a sympathetic audience in his conferences with the White House press corespondents. He revealed a talkative streak. He met the press twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. All questions had to be submitted in advance, and correspondents were forbidden to quote the President's answers or to attribute them to him. The President permitted, although usually with a show of irritation, occasional on-the-spot questioning. Once sure of his ground, certain that what he said would not be subjected to the repetition and speculation which presidential remarks always seem to provoke, Coolidge relaxed and began to enjoy himself with the reporters. These were meetings which he could control completely, yet where he encountered sympathy from his auditors, with the certainty that nothing dire would result. They were intimate dialogues, attended by a dozen or so correspondents as compared to the several hundred who jam the sessions which more recent presidents have had with the press. And they were entirely different from the meetings in his office with high-pressure individuals who wanted pofits in the government for themselves or their friends or wished legislation pushed in Congress. With such ambitious people the President-as any sensible successor to Warren G. Harding knew instinctively -- had to be exceedingly cautious.

The President obtained much free publicity from the press conferences. As he told reporters on several occasions, he himself could never have composed such skillful accounts of his administration for verbatim or background release to the country's newspapers. It was far easier, and much more effective, to meet the correspondents twice a week and let them do the work. Moreover, face to face with the correspondents, he was disarmingly friendly. He liked most of them; they, in turn, must have thought twice . . .

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