him to task in their ensuing reports because the administration bombarded the press all day with coverage options.
The strategy was clever. Reporting responsibilities had to be divided between the White House press conference, where the real news information was Soviet related, and the El Salvador story, which was reported by others outside the White House press entourage. If presidential aides had not come up with a wealth of material on El Salvador options from other sources, the White House press might have concentrated on Mr. Reagan's lack of personal attention to El Salvador options instead of on the president's agenda. However, the desire of the administration to use the press conference vehicle meant someone in the administration had to be prepared with public policy options on El Salvador.
Ronald Reagan understood from the beginning that the power of the presidency is the power to persuade. An important element in the ability to persuade is the ability to "act" presidential -- in the best sense of that word.
The administration also understood from the beginning how to use media to enhance a positive leadership image. The president intended to make the press an active participant in his persuasive efforts. He met with the press on the average of once every week. He was willing to answer occasional reporter questions from ambush even when, in hindsight, it might not have been to his best advantage to do so.
The Reagan administration understood early on that press contact could be used for a variety of purposes, including sustaining policy momentum and as a forum for diplomatic response. The press conference was not just something to be endured because precedent required it.
Finally, this president was determined from the beginning to improve the decorum of press sessions, meaning to increase the orderliness and to meet the conventions of polite behavior. He sought a more formal, dignified interaction between the president and the press. That was not an arbitrary decision. By demonstrating he could control the rambunctious press corps, he also demonstrated his presidential mettle.
We have to go to the detailed extemporaneous give and take of the press conference to understand more about what the relationship between Reagan and the press was like during the initial period of contact. Two detailed press conference criticisms are the subjects of Chapters 8 and 9.