nificant facts and impeding efforts by the journalists to verify official statements." 47 Helen Thomas, senior White House wire service correspondent, believes that
Many of the reforms that grew out of the nightmare that was Watergate have been eliminated or will be if Reagan has his way. The drive has been systematic to cut down legitimate access to news in the foreign policy field. New regulations have been devised to tighten the circle of those with access to top secret documents. The Freedom of Information Act is under siege, and Reagan's forces seek to legitimate domestic spying by the CIA. 48
Observers agree that systematic efforts to control the media are not original with Ronald Reagan; they also agree that because of the growth in the White House Press Office 49 and an improved understanding of how to make and define news, 50 conditions under Reagan have gotten significantly worse. It is hardly possible, for instance, that under any of our previous presidents a press secretary could show such contempt for the media as to place on his desk a sign that reads, "You don't tell us how to stage the news, and we don't tell you how to cover it." Larry Speakes did. 51
In sum, this chapter has revealed certain rhetorical tools and tactics used by Ronald Reagan in his dealings with the media that decreased their control over the dissemination of the news and increased the ability of the White House to command the kind of coverage he desired.
The president helps set the U.S. agenda. In so doing, he helps to structure the ways in which Americans think about issues, events, and other political actors. While no single person controls the American public's perceptions, when the president speaks in a strong and consistent voice over time, there can be no doubt that he has a very influential voice. This is particularly true when historical circumstances favor the message the president is sending.