Wednesday, April 29, 2009

April 29, 2009

     Well, it's a hundred days and the President will celebrate or ask for sympathy by holding a press conference.  It's an old tradition.
     Woodrow Wilson held the first formal one (I read this;  even I don't go back that far) in 1913.  But you couldn't quote him;  it was off the record.  Herbert Hoover took written questions submitted in advance and answered only the ones he wanted to.  Sometimes reporters just got remarks, no answers at all.
     Franklin Roosevelt held the most press conferences--more than a thousand--but he was president longer than anybody else too.  It was very different from today, of course, a handful of reporters with notebooks in the Oval Office.  And again, you couldn't quote him;  you had to write, "The President thinks..." or "is known to believe..." or something like that.
     You could quote Dwight Eisenhower.  He had one almost every week, but there was a catch.  Radios could tape the press conference, cameras could film it, but then you had to wait for the White House to clear the tape and film to make sure the president hadn't put his foot in his mouth, said something he didn't mean to say.  
     John Kennedy was the first POTUS to hold live press conferences, a sign of his confidence on television.  He didn't have nearly as many as Ike, but they were live and added excitement to the show. Lyndon Johnson had press conferences in more different places than most presidents, including his Texas ranch.
      And now Obama.  Is the press getting bored?  One network, Fox, says it will carry regular programming, not the Prez.  But press conferences remain a good way of telling the country what you think about things.  Can you have one if Helen Thomas doesn't ask the first question?  I'm not sure.

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