News in 20th Century America; 8; President & Press 2
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant and aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters news in 20th century America. A series of radio documents on the gathering writing and dissemination of news compiled from interviews with men and women who make news their business. I don't think television. Is serving any rights. They have one obvious. Advantage namely speed. Same as radio does. I think you'll find many newspaper men are probably prejudiced against TV and radio. Because from. Purely a communications standpoint they get the news across faster. On the other hand what equals it all out is the fact that. You can only hear a radio newscast. Once. Even only see a television telecast once
you can read a newspaper. Over and over again. Until you understand what you're reading. The voice is that of Robert Serling radio news manager of United Press International speaking on the rivalries between the various news media with particular reference to Washington and White House coverage. Mr. Serling is one of several distinguished newsmen including James Haggerty presidential news secretary whom you will meet in part two of the president and the press. Today's edition of news in 20th century America. Now here is your host at Burrowes Merriman Smith is familiarly known as the dean of White House wire service correspondence. To him follows the privilege of closing every presidential news conference with Thank you Mr. President. Merriment Smith's day however is by no means limited to waiting in the White House press room or strolling the few short blocks from there to the United Press International offices in the press building. We live in an age when all public
officials presidents of the United States not accepted travel a good deal. And whatever the president of the United States goes Merriman Smith Goes To. It may be California one day Geneva Switzerland the next. We asked Mr. Smith how such trips for the press were arranged and what correspondents went along. Well I. People all across the country particular people in our business are very interested in this and the question that comes up. Quite frequently. And our bass stands are usually just to hand them a list of when I have a what we call a trip list shows that a number of White House staff members along and also a number of reporters and photographers. It varies but I would say that the hard core coverage. Of a president is represented by the men and women who are assigned to the White House six days a week. That's their only assign that would consist of
the two Press Association. UPI An AP that would consist of. At least the networks the big networks don't have TV and radio Representatives. Normally they all have one man for the network. Let me bring here to another floor man. Then you'll find that the New York Chicago and Washington papers keep men stationed there. Uniformly. Are they newsreel crew. They cover the theater newsreels and the television news room and the still photographers. The UPI and the AP photo send it gets and the picture magazine. You have us shy Ed United States Information Agency keep a report of their cars
frequently are tired. And they also travel to. Now that I think I would out really holding you to figures comes up somewhere about between 20 and 25 people than on a on a on a trip across country you will add another 8 or 10 people who will go along for that want to take a trip now there are number of big newspapers I don't want my references to certain times to be for a moment at all including First the bomber son as a man to White House all the time. The Philadelphia papers have men frequently there. The St. Louis papers I mean frequently they're so out of the Los Angeles paper. Atlanta paper Norman's face but the man I knew were aided and including the Baltimore man they are there from sun up to sundown every day and wherever the president goes they go out in
Gettysburg where most Daryn are spending the weekend quite frequently is a somewhat different matter most of the newspapers judge coverage of Gettysburg on the basis of whether or not pressure sector Heidi goes along. And I faggoty is there that means it's going to be a working schedule and will pick up quite a few actor reporters. But if Haggard he is remained in Washington and all that we know on the schedule in Gettysburg. The golf game. Or two or three. The paper generally will leave it to the pressure and the networks. Is there any particular value we wondered in having the same news man travel with the president no matter what his schedule. All the tremendous value of continuity. The man who is regularly on the assignment is better equipped to
deal with a continuing story. For instance they want to rush a signer now are very familiar. With. I missed Eisenhower's statements during the campaign on federal economy is now supposed to be three weeks from now he's visiting say and. Somewhere in Michigan and makes a statement about. Federal finances there could be a hairline change in a statement it could be a while important. It would show a shift but if you heard it for the first time it might not it might not ring a bell at all you might just ride right over it. That's where continuity of assignment is most bad. The United Press International has certainly found that
out with me. I'm going into my 18th year now in the White House and my company has dated other companies. Not too many years ago I worked under the theory that you change the White House periodical way more now that it is not as advisable as it might seem even with a change in administration. You get the continuity able to cook and the ability to compare to Nash and there's only one way to get it not just to have been there continuity or having the same man on the road is very valuable. Sometimes in a negative way. I'll give you an example. In the winter when I was a December 957 was dying hard shortly after having that circulatory
ailment he had. I went to the NATO council meeting in parish. Several reporters in parish saw for the first time oxygen equipment being stored in the trunk of the President's car. They saw the president and the proximity of a doctor and they waved to show that while I was concluding their wish heard had por credit I now write death's door which he was not and. The experienced White House man were able to bring this stuff and some semblance of focus. One of our men came in very excitedly might have never seen a White House party before reporting one of the big French papers I think it was later war had discovered they had
a portable oxygen tank and I said when I just sit down here by me and ask them coffee and I'll tell you they've been carrying those things in the back of presidential cars probably since they were invented. They certainly carried one of the FDR that carried one with Truman that it's just standard equipment for a resuscitation easier than you know. The man passed out easy to get money back in a black artificial respiration you got an oxygen thing as Clapper I always know very standard equipment on the other French reporters went almost hysterical about the presence of machine guns. Well by the time he told this to the time they were bristling all over the place well we had explained then and for ever since the invention of the Thompson submachine gun that they'd carried on with the presidential party and it carried in what we call a follow up card sic our secret
service agent was right behind the president and it's on limbered and it's hell where and why and I know there's only that one they probably have a spare in case that one gets wet or something. But I think it were oddly hard by the Secret Service if they ever had to use it. They practice with it every time then but the thought of firing at thing in a crowd would be you know I believe beyond belief and it's carried there mostly for picture value I like that but they would be evil doers take a look. But I can't conceive of a crowd condition where an SS man and start cutting down with one of those choppers why have 200 people bowled over before he ever got the assignment he was after. How do you explain this to people and they understand it and appreciate it but if if you had completely new people you'd suddenly changed everybody on the assignment. On a trip like that why goodness knows what might get an effect. So the delightful Mr. Merriman Smith of UPI on the advantages of
continuity and being assigned to the president of the United States last week on this program we sampled the opinions of a number of newsman on the pros and cons of introducing the radio tape recorder and the television film camera into the White House press conference. Today we hear from a number of others on this and related subjects. We asked Drew Pearson syndicated columnist and commentator on TV and radio whether he thought the newspaper reporter was becoming more of a performer than a news gatherer. Under the new conditions yes to some extent what happens is that a local newspaper man who writes will say for a. While I'm just plucking a few cities out of the air with shall we say Maine or Portland Maine or Portsmouth New Hampshire or Boston. Well when he asked a question. He wants to make sure that the folks back in Portland Maine see him asked that question. Now if he's too tough in
his question. Jim Haggerty cuts the question out of the film. And so they don't see it back in Portland Maine. Therefore the tendency is to ask the less critical questions. If the newspaper man wants to get his picture back with the home folks it helps his readership of course it helps him with his editor. And so he's only human. Well the old days when we had just plain questions without the opera buffet of the television camera I think was probably a more accurate and better press conference. Under existing agreements between the White House and the correspondents it is still possible for a film and tape to be edited before it reaches the eye and the ear of the public. What about the possibility of live television coverage of the president's news conference. Wouldn't this be a natural evolution something we might anticipate in the future. Merriman Smith again I wouldn't think
so. Not as a general rule there are too many too many technical and commercial problems and I would doubt very much right now that a network and lord knows I'm in a position to speak farm but this is just a personal Hodge I would doubt any Let's put it any. Major audiovisual outlet would want to you know commit it shall presenting the president live at a certain period every week for 52 weeks a year because for this reason not their attitude will be much different if they were guaranteed this but you see the press Carm just as sporadic we say they're regular but they're not. I hard as an average bettors and one every two weeks he had and since he's been and I've. He might run say seven in a row and then go eight weeks without
having one so how could you schedule it. It's just an impossibility. I can see the eventual president of live television in a press conference sometime when you know there's going to be a dramatic story something you can plan you definitely know the conference is going to be how that live television would change the complection of the conference a great deal it would it would I say probably put an added burden on a president as it is now if a president makes a real bad boo boo it can be edited out it can be changed and presidents being human beings are bound to make errors every now and then as our reporters show I can see possibly a ceremonial use of live television some time at a press conference but as a regular thing I wouldn't think so not in anything approaching the immediate
future I don't see how did it work out. Not unless you had a completely different physical set up or conference. And also until you could guarantee regular performance which you can't now. Perhaps this is a problem the future newsman will have to face. But already television has had its effect and in ways which we might not have anticipated according to Mr. Smith one of the major results of television and the break than is has been to produce more news stories. On Sunday afternoon. That's because of the big panel shows Sunday afternoon and discussion show. Our politicians have known long before the development of the iconic Scobee 2 that it was a smart thing to shoot for the Monday morning papers. The politicians went through a period some years ago shooting for the Sunday papers and the
Sunday papers became such a lucrative org and so full of advertising and so many people trying to say that the real inside boyish started saying well shoot the Monday AM. Well now television has reinforced that by having a big panel shows and Sunday afternoon when they do not have afternoon newspaper competition and then gets them into the Sunday morning the Monday morning papers. That's about the only big difference I know there's one other difference that you find in this I've heard ministration largely because the industry developed during the Eisenhower administration. You find that. Well a good case in point is when I cheerfully on Tuesday mornings when the Republican congressional leaders this is when Congress is in session and they come down to see the
president they come into the press secretary's office after so weekly meeting and they go over what they've taken up with that. This is for the pen and pencil set. Now they are usually wondering sometime quarrelsome sometimes jovial I talk all over the lot you make a million notes and you may get a 4 500 word story out. Then they march outside in front of the microphones for the TV news room. And replay the record. But invariably they tighten it up to make it much more colorful. There senator suddenly straighten out and I really do a better job. And so as a result quite frankly we had sent another reporter out there to see if they're going to say the same thing on television they said in charge. Now quite often and I say not frequently but sometimes the story we got inside from is better than the
one out for the microphones in other words we may have pinned them down inside with such pointed questioning on an uncomfortable subject. We will have gotten a better basically better news story. Then when they get out in front of the cameras the man who did the interrogation from the camera that had the benefit of this trial run inside and can pose the same questions but by then you're quire ears alone. He's happy he don't know what you're doing and he may clean up some of this controversial stuff and not put it on the air. That happens a lot. Some of your then too you find that quite frequently a government official now when he makes or has a big pronoun smh and a policy or action takes into consideration. When the TV news scheduled an hour he'll do is own film
film clip and distribute it. But as for the general and general flow of the news there haven't been too much of a change I suppose one of the most dramatic changes has been on Capitol Hill where they televise hearings now. They still can't operate on House hearing. They go find hearings would have been really wonderful to watch and tell. But the House Rules Committee will not let. Television live or film and sharing a moment ago. Drew Pearson supported the theory that television in the news conference is making the newsman more of a performer than a reporter. Robert Serling of UPI whom you heard at the beginning of the program does not agree. I don't think that's true at all I've been. Editing president presidential press conferences and reading them. And being fairly intimately connected with them now since 1940 five. I haven't noticed any difference in tone
since television came and I think the questions are the same. Under Eisenhower the conference is run a little shorter held to 30 minutes which I think is fine. A lot of times they usually ran so long you had trouble covering everything. But I haven't noticed any difference in the type of questions answered. The fact that television has made an entertainment. Media out of it. On the contrary. A press conference is entertainment let's face it I know a lot of reporters who go to press conferences because they're fun to cover particularly a presidential press conference. I don't have a slightest. Doubt that a presidential press conference is a form of entertainment for it to be of people out in the country who have never seen one. If you came to Washington as a tourist. And were allowed to go to a presidential news conference it would be the high spot of your trip. Obviously sometimes.
Clients or newspapers or radio stations will ask their reporters to ask the president certain questions directly on a. Gun questions involving a region or an area. Mr. President. Do you have any comment to make on Congress refusing to pass money to build a dam and so on so. In the Midwest. That isn't exactly a pertinent question except in the area affected. You get those kind of questions but I haven't seen any lessening and I haven't seen any questions planted by the administration themselves in eater. The Truman. Roosevelt or Eisenhower administrations were some guy and the press corps asked a question the White House obviously would like to have asked. No I think they're a fine demonstration of democracy and work that works. John Hayes of WTOP The Washington Post station in the nation's capital was even stronger in condemning the idea that the press conference was
no longer as valuable as it once was because of television. I have no patience with that argument at all. This is the same argument which is used occasionally by the American Bar Association about Canon 35 insofar as putting cameras in courts of law is concerned. This if what these people say is so you would have to presume that first of all and I assume you're talking about a presidential news conference that the president of the United States regardless of who he is suddenly becomes a ham actor because a television camera is in view. And then you would have to assume that two to three hundred of the best reporters in this country also at the same moment simultaneously become actors and forget that they're reporters. And I think the first time you put a camera in a news conference there is a great factor of curiosity I think by the third or fourth time that just disappears completely not if the news conference itself. Is a viable institution. It seems to me it must become more valuable the more members of the public who view it. And it seems to me that
television and motion picture cameras inside a news conference can only help in the long run. As a matter of fact it has. It has this advantage too that the reporter who tries to become a ham and to forget that he's a reporter. After a while he stands out and the public begins to lose confidence in him as a reporter. But if you watch the news conferences on television you see that the same people who've always been good reporters are still good reporters and are quite unaware of the camera. On the other hand when Marcus Chiles columnist and correspondent for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was asked Is there an increasing danger that reporters will be affected adversely by the presence of cameras and recorders he replied. That is very definitely a danger and it definitely has been a danger in the White House press conference. They want to get that name on television. They want to get to have that question heard across the country. I think another bad
practice out of that that's been introduced in the last few years is in printing the transcript to print the name of the reporter and his newspaper. Now this sounds like a small thing but it means that every managing editor says to his WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT Why didn't you get a question in. What's the matter with you. So whether the reporter has or his managing editor behind him has a legitimate question or not. He struggles to get out there and get his name in the paper or on television. This is a very different thing from the informal relatively simpler a much simpler kind of press conference that prevailed under Roosevelt in droves. And so the arguments go the critics of the electronic media are probably fighting a losing battle. And change is inevitable. The gentleman chiefly responsible for changes in the conduct of the president's press conference in recent years is James Haggerty President Eisenhower's press secretary.
How did he feel finally about the accusation that the press conference had become a staged affair. Well I'm quite sure. That some of the newsman feel that weight report is for papers particularly. But as I said when we decided to do this we are in the second half of the 20th century and a pencil or rather a camera has every right in the same room as a pencil and radio and television particularly television are here to stay. We got a set of what I report is the newspapers may think and every news media has a perfect right to cover the president. I do not think that they are staged. I think that it's time we had the cameras there and of course we have to have a certain amount of light flood lights not money many but a slight amount. I think some of the men myself included were
aware of that. But I do not honestly know of anybody who has been aware of it lately. And you just forget the cameras are in there or the room is lip so that cameras can take it on film. As far as stadium is concerned I don't see how we can stage it. The president asked answers questions that the report isn't there will mask and I would not think that they were staged talks it is a modernization. I'm an existing institution that has continued for many years but we have changed it. We have limited cameras both television cameras still cameras and radio tape. In those conferences that is the addition we have made I before we came into office. Only the reporter and his pencil was allowed there. Now the reporter and his tape and his camera eye permitted and I think is a good thing arranging for the press conference is only one of Mr. Haggerty's duties as press secretary
- News in 20th Century America
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- President & Press 2
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- News in 20th Century America is a radio series on the gathering, writing, and dissemination of news. Each episode addresses a specific topic in the news industry, and features interviews with men and women who make news their business. This program is produced by the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-48-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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