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