Ford "had pretty good press relations because he was a nice guy."391 But good press relations came too late. He was defeated in 1976, and voters cited the pardon as much as anything else as their reason for turning him out of office.392
Initially, Jimmy Carter fared better. Watergate was two years old. Reporters appreciated Carter's attention to detail. Ray Scherer's assessment was that Carter "was good" at press conferences, "although a bit dull. He was always in command of his facts, he rarely made a booboo, and he came well briefed."393 Some critics were less charitable. They complained that all of his media performances were "at best lackluster, and at worst dull, disconcerting, and even depressing."394 One critic concluded that his performances will be recalled "as instructive examples of poor elocution."395
Carter met reporters twice a month until July 1978 and then once a month until July 1979. After that, he held two more formal sessions in 1979 and six more during the hostage crisis of 1980.396 Reporters wanted to know why Carter stopped press conferences since he was good at them. Press Secretary Jody Powell indicated that the sessions just did not seem to have any positive results.397 Demonstrating command of detailed facts and avoiding mistakes were not sufficient reasons to continue a regular schedule.
But Carter understood the role of press conferences. He affirmed in his first session on February 8, 1977, that press conferences are "confrontations . . . to kind of balance the nice and pleasant things that come to me as President."398 As one historian concluded, "Carter's public understanding of the press conference's purpose was a far cry from that of the Roosevelts and Kennedy. The conference for Carter was an open forum, not a private seminar, in which the president must inevitably be on the defensive."399
The adversarial relationship between the president and the press that has been developing since the time of George Washington is public and firmly entrenched in the press conference format. This brief historical summary should af Ford us the tools to develop a working description of these sessions and assess the goals and purposes. That is the subject of Chapter 3.