Presidential Press Conferences: A Critical Approach

By Carolyn Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
The Press Conference Agenda

On August 28, 1974, nineteen days after Richard Nixon resigned from office and Gerald Ford assumed the mantle, Ford held his first formal press conference. He believed he was well prepared. "For several days . . . I met with key members of my staff . . . and tried to anticipate tough questions."1

I assumed that the reporters would zero in on the economy. Then there was the reorganization of the White House staff. Surely, they'd want to know what personnel changes I intended to make. Finally, there were the Cyprus issue, the pending SALT talks and the omnipresent possibility of renewed warfare in the Middle East.2

Ford admitted two of his advisers disagreed. "The press corps was only interested in one issue, they warned -- Richard Nixon."3PresidentFord didn't listen, and was not prepared to deal with the issues surrounding the Nixon resignation.

But I hadn't given any thought to Nixon's legal status. That was in the hands of responsible authorities, and it seemed to me that it would be inappropriate for the press to ask questions about a man whose fate was up to the Special Prosecutor and the courts. There were too many other things of vital importance . . . and I was sure reporters would ask about them.4

President Ford miscalculated the agenda of the White House press corps. UPI correspondent Helen Thomas asked the first question; she wanted to know if President Ford would pardon Richard Nixon.5 Seven of the twenty-seven questions were Watergate related.6 Ford was correct

-79-

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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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