A "dapper" president walked "briskly" to the podium to confront the raucous, aggressive White House press corps. He treated reporters to a "broad smile and a wink."
He answered their questions with "apparent ease" and "selfassurance." With "disarming charm and humor," he "joked occasionally" during the session. He projected himself as "likable," "amiable," "sincere," "well-meaning," and "earnest."
At the same time, this president conducted "the politest news conference in recent memory," with reporters "sitting docilely in their seats." But it was a "fast-paced news session" at which the president "tried to be fair" in calling on reporters while still "artfully dodging" some questions.1
This press conference description could have been written by a secondrate public relations firm hired to boost a sagging presidential image. Or an aging reporter might have been waxing nostalgic on his imperfect remembrances of John F. Kennedy's news sessions. But no, this is how White House reporters collectively described their first formal encounter with President Ronald Reagan on January 29, 1981.
Seven and a quarter years later, as a new presidential campaign heated up near the end of Mr. Reagan's second term, a frustrated press corps and a weary president put their relationship to bed. Oh, Mr. Reagan held five more news conferences during the last year, but nobody's heart was in it. At the farewell session on December 8, 1988, he opened gamely enough. "We've got to stop meeting like this," he said.2 But the press conference lacked the old sparkle. ABC's Sam Donaldson excused his halfhearted participation. "I just wasn't up for it," he concluded.3