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George what is your biggest challenge as press secretary. Bill I believe it would be operating this office efficiently. Under. What is what are frequently very trying circumstances. The voice you just heard was that of the Honorable George Christian press secretary to the president of the United States. Our guest this week on the NE our Washington forum. A weekly program concerned with the significant issues before us as a nation. This week a discussion of the presidency and the press. This program was produced for the national educational radio network through the facilities of W am you F-ing American university radio and recorded at the White House in Washington D.C.. I'm an E.R. public affairs director Bill Greenwood. Our guest this week George Christian has served as presidential press secretary since the resignation of his predecessor Bill Moyers. He was a former press aide to Texas Governor John Connally and Governor price Daniel his
journalism background includes employment with the now defunct international news service and a Texas daily newspaper. George Christian Many people say your Texas background was one of the big factors in bringing you and President Johnson together would you agree. Bill I don't necessarily believe that is the case. While I have. Known the president slightly over a period of years we have not been. Associated in any intimate way the politically or our governmental aid. The president knew me mostly through. The two governors for whom I worked. And. I think that. He chose me to selected me asked me to come to Washington mostly because he he knew me through them. And if you consider it that way I guess perhaps the fact that I was in Texas maybe.
Had something to do with it. What are your various duties as press secretary certainly more than distributing news releases. My principal. Duty of course is to. Disseminate information to the press on behalf of the president. I hold press briefings twice a day at 11 and 4 o'clock. I also participate and. Foreign policy in domestic. Policy conferences here at the White House. When I first came here I worked with won't Rostow the. President special assistant for national security affairs. Consequently. I have been a part of the. Foreign policy national security operation since I have been here. In addition to. Serving it as press secretary.
BILL MOYERS my predecessor. Was and I served in a similar capacity. Of course there are myriad. The other DVDs. Which won't go into unless there. Is something particularly interest to you. Mr. Secretary you say you participate in policy conferences is this as an observer or as an actual assistant in the formulation of policy. I would have to say that it is primarily as an observer. The press secretary must be informed on. Just about everything the president does. I don't try to read the president's mind. But I do spend as much time as I can with him to determine. How he's thinking on certain issues how he would respond to certain circumstances because. In my position required many times to respond for him what are some of the mechanics involved in keeping this continual flow of information to the
reporters who cover the White House. Well I think the best way to. To answer that bill would be to review. What might be a normal day. When I arrive here. In the morning sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 and. By that hour I usually. Read. Most of the available daily newspapers. I've listened to the. Radio and TV news I pretty well know what the pattern of the day's. News is up to that point. We. Have. Coordinate with the State Department and the Defense Department on any particularly. Sticky questions. About 10 o'clock or so in the morning. I usually. Go to the mansion to be with the president for about an
hour before the morning briefing. During this period we. Go over many things we talk about. What's transpiring and I get a feel for his. Attitudes and reactions to various things. I usually also. Talk with the other. Assistants in the White House during the morning. With. Mr. Rossdale. And with Joe Califano in particular who. Handles the Presidents domestic. Affairs primarily. After the break. We have the briefing at 11:00 as I said. After the briefing. It may be. That I attend a meeting of the National Security Council or the cabinet. Or some other meeting. Involving the president. I frequently sit
in with him when he is when he has office appointments take that step and it's potentially a news event. I'm with him when he makes speeches or. Course when he meets the pressing sale. Pretty much the same routine in the afternoon preparing for the 4:00 o'clock briefing. After after that. That is frequently the beginning of the workday so to speak because it's usually. Not until 4:30 or so that I'm able to get to the. Planning functions and the. Day to day routine the correspondence the other matters which accumulate during the day. During the day of course I also. Say I'm A number of reporters radio and TV people. Columnists.
Are an individual basis people who are asked say me. Mr. Christian do you get many requests for private audiences with President Johnson from members of the news media. Yes we consistently have a number of requests for private audiences. The president does on occasion. Say newsmen on an individual basis. This is always though on my part off the record. Basis rather than that. And on the record interview. And frequently we will hear on the. On the news or read in the newspaper a story which says high government sources said. Would this perhaps emanate from some of these off the record briefings. I wouldn't know. I don't. Most of those stories emanate from other departments frankly or occasionally from White House assistants. The president does not.
Confer with reporters does not say reporters on any basis other than off the record. He is on quotable and they're not supposed to use anything that they get from such from such a meeting. It's generally. Just a. Personal. Not social but a personal visit. That's the way it's intended. I've been told that. Often the White House switchboard will receive telephone calls which they will not know where to refer and they end up invariably in your office is this true. Yes this is correct and we get a. Great number of telephone calls. During a normal day and many of these calls are inquiries from. People from all over the country who. Sometimes don't know who else to call and they call the White House and generally we try to help them here if we can.
Do you have any estimate of the mail which the press office receives in here or in a week. So any breakdown. I would guess we in the press office received. About a hundred pieces of mail a day. Letters. Memoranda. Reports. Things of that nature. Do you recall any unusual requests which may have come to the press office from reporters or the public. We get. Occasionally suggestions from. From individuals on. Many things ideas on ending the Viet Nam war. Ideas on promoting peace. We give all of these very careful consideration nothing is shrugged off of course we do get some some rather. Extreme ideas from various
people have solved some of our problems which we have many. You talk about problems and I imagine you have sound just in the mere fact that you deal with news man from so many different nations here. Does this present a serious problem for the press the foreign reporters in Washington. No one to be perfectly frank. We don't have as close a contact with the foreign press areas. As I would like to see it. The foreign reporters in Washington are spread pretty thin and. The newspaper or foreign wire service will usually. Have only two or three people and it's impossible for them to cover the White House as thoroughly as they would like. We do have contact with them I think. Generally they are. Their attitudes and their responses and their needs are very similar to
domestic reporters. George Christian it's well-known that reporters accompany the president wherever he goes who arranges their transportation. The arrangements are made by this office. This is done as a. As a necessary service. We have to of. Course all the costs are are paid by them. But frequently. We will reserve the charter airplane. For them. Because there is no one individual in the. White House press corps who has any responsibility to do this sort of thing. So it is a service we perform to the extent of chartering the plane. And. Sometimes making arrangements. For their needs where we go like alerting the telephone company that when they are going to need telephones or alerting Western Union that they would need facilities
in a certain place. All of this of course is paid for by the. Media. Do you have any involvement at all in the security matters pertinent to a presidential trip. No not directly. Of course it is a matter which. Is in the. Lands of everyone who has anything to do with it. With the president's travel. It's a factor that all of us all of us keep in mind. On the same subject it's well known by the correspondents here at the White House the Secret Service clearance is required we make application and sometimes it's a lengthy process. What goes on in the interim How do they check on us to make sure that we're not. Going to harm the president. The checks run are essentially the same as as anyone else who has close contact with the president. There has to be a security check.
Made on anyone who works in the White House whether he works for the government or works. For one of the news media or whatever else it might be. And sometimes the security checks do take a little time. And we receive many complaints from the newsman who are assigned here generally on a regular basis. Do you have much conflict. In your office. Surprisingly little. We tried to. Serve the press as best we can keeping in mind always that. The primary responsibility of the office is to the president. We do try to make it as easy as possible for the press to get the information they want. We have our usual complaints so. Various things whether it would be discrimination. Which is usually accidental.
Are they not getting enough information or are getting too much information that they don't get enough notice on travel time. The general run of things mostly. Mostly I think of a relatively minor nature. Some while back a reporter for The New York Times coined the term credibility gap. With respect to the administration. And. They have defined this is meaning it's frequently difficult to assess the truth emanating from the White House. Why do you feel this charge has been raised and is continually raised by newsmen here. I don't know that. Newsman here raised this question. As much as it is raised in a political way Bill. We live in a system. Where. Your opponent our opponents. Of course try to put you in his
bad light as possible and vice versa. I think the question of credibility is something that has existed in previous. Administrations that it will always be a. It will always be exist and. On the. So-called credibility gap I think. Bill Moyers had the best definition. Of that that I've heard. They all said that one time that. The credibility gap was the difference between what the president said and what the news people wanted him to say. And I believe that's a pretty good definition which I have stood up. Mr. Secretary I recall attending a presidential press conference some months ago. A few days before and Bassett Airlines was to resign. And one of the reporters asked the president. If he was considering replacing lines. And I recall the answer was No. A few days later the change occurred and
the president said at the time the question was asked he had already made the decision. You know I believe here you had better. You had better check the question. And the answer and the response because it's so it's not quite as stated. Well that's the question was not in that it's put in that matter and the. President never explained it at all. As to what the difference was that was a press interpretation. Later on as to what he what he meant what he did. So what you're saying really Dan is in some of these cases where this charge is raised it's really the result of sloppy reporting. No I think not just sloppy reporting although we have sloppy reporting we have sloppy administration and sometimes we have sloppy dissemination of information sometimes. I think it's. A combination of all there some human human error is involved and we have
we've never. Put on a mantle here of. Never making mistakes we do make mistakes like everyone else. So do nice people. I've heard a story. Around Washington that. Says when Mr. Johnson is considering an appointee. He sometimes declines to appoint a person who the newsmen of gas at as. A possible front runner. Is this a truism or is this just another misinterpretation. As states ran out of there is the fact that. I can think of several recent appointments made in which there was advance speculation on the individual receiving the appointment the case of the secretary of commerce Mr. Trowbridge the associate justice of the. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
They used here at two very happy positions in the government where there was considerable speculation that they would receive the appointment and they were appointed. We also hear that elaborate precautions are taken around the White House to prevent the leaking of stories. I'm sure there are some stories which would necessitate that this prevented this but are in fact elaborate precautions the rule. I don't think it's much much elaborate precautions as it is a. Desire that people who who handle. Information which is a the classified or or friendly sensitive. That they exercise judgment in how they and how they. Handle their ass have a very deep feeling myself that. That the administration frequently is is either
damaged or in some cases even committed. By News lake which which has nothing to do with the president's position. He sometimes is a victim of a leak from an apartment for example. Where he knows nothing whatever about the certain policy being discussed. It's something completely foreign to him and yet it leaves the impression that he is considering he the president is considering doing something or not doing something when he himself hasn't been involved in it at all. This is the kind of lake which. Has name e.g.. Do you have much problem in coordinating administration statements which originate outside of the White House from other Cabinet departments for example. No no effort is made to. Can you.
Read or have particular knowledge of statements press conference comments speeches made by Cabinet members or anyone else in the government. We try to make the policy in the program of the administration as plain as possible and of course we would hope that cabinet officers. And others would. Would stay with administration programs which they have done above. The reason I ask this question is. For the purpose of explaining possible misinterpretations and statements which as you mentioned a few moments ago might put the president in a band position and I recall during the Mid-East crisis a conflicting statement concerning the US position toward Israel one emanating from the president another from the State Department. Or at least there was an indication in the statements of the two apartments that there
was a gap and that happens in response to a question. A spokesman for the State Department answered it in one way it was interpreted as meaning something he didn't intend it to mean. We answered it over here in a different manner and it did require some clarification. This does happen. So the point I was making a minute ago. Is that frequently people in the department. Start saying this is who it is who are working on a particular project. Will. Intimate that this is something that the president is involved in and. When in fact it has not reached the level of presidential consideration. He may or may not. Be involved in it at all. But when it is printed or used over the air it becomes an instrument of the
Johnson administration. And it ties him directly to it no matter what it is when he may have no direct contact with it at all. There have been some stories Mr. Christian that the president tries to woo reporters to his side particularly those who are in influential positions at the syndicated columnists the network correspondents. Is this a tactic of the administration. I think it is a tactic of any public official. To try to achieve the best press relations again. We don't always succeed. And noticed last night at a state dinner several correspondents were in attendance I would imagine this is along the same. We usually try to do it on a more or less rotation. Basis. State dinner of course as a as a presidential function and you would expect him to invite people who. Who he knows and who
we were his friends and he does have a good many friends in the broadcasting publishing business. Despite what some reports might indicate that yes that's right. Mr. Christian we hear a great deal about the presidential image and President Johnson's desire to put forth the very best image. And I refer. Not necessarily to the polls at this point but to his personal appearance. We hear that he dislikes to appear on television because he doesn't think he looks as good as he would like. Is there any truth to these stories. Well the president appears on television. Almost every day. If it's something he dislikes. That much. We sure. We sure run for dislikes. But.
Everyone has a different television personality or image. I don't know whether any one person you could name has a good image or a bad image I think it's it's determination for each individual. The. President does appear on television a great deal. We're not afraid of television. I think the assumption is probably incorrect. Now with respect to the polls such as the Gallup Poll how closely does President Johnson follow these and how does he react to them especially when they're showing him. In a downswing. Well the president's been in public life now. 35 years. He's he's no greenhorns politics and political fortunes. He he knows that
poems go up and down and he knows full well that poems had to be put in their proper perspective. Everyone would like to have an 80 or an 85 percent poll. That's unrealistic though. You just recognize that when you make decisions when you're in a position that requires hard decisions. You're not going to please everyone. And it's got to be reflected probably in public opinion polls. But no president can let that affect his decisions and certainly this president. Would you say then it would be true to. To state that a great deal of the information which we see about the president's image in his relations with the news man is a great deal of misinformation. No I don't think it's misinformation and I think a lot of the. Judgments of. Public officials are made on all rather.
Shallow considerations. Really. Because people don't have the opportunity to say I'm in any other way. The man's television appearance might give a certain image to the public or a man speaking go out on the radio. Or. A variety of other things and I don't think there's so much misinformation that I think. Any president lives in a goldfish bowl and. Everybody examines him rather carefully and usually examines him through his own eyes. What he would like for him to be or. Wish he were or. Something of that nature. I get the impression that the press office keeps pretty close tabs on what the columnists are writing and it amazed me. Several months ago. To find one of my columns which was distributed regionally lying on your desk it was a column about the president. Do you have a clipping
service that does this. Not a clipping service many of the newspapers. Send us subscriptions here to the press office and. My secretaries. Read these papers as I read as many of them as I can. And when we find interesting Adams we put them out. We don't have a clipping service or search but you do keep a pretty close watch on what is being printed as I like and I like to watch what's being here. Set out in the. Country at large as well as what's printed in the papers here on the eastern seaboard. Sometimes if you. Just read the Eastern paper papers you get a slightly distorted view of what public opinion is in the country. The whole world revolves around three or four newspapers. So final question Mr. Christian do you feel the administrative headaches of your job are worth the Biafrans you may have to take. I thoroughly enjoy what I'm doing. I have been a press secretary of one
kind or another for 12 years now. It's a it's a profession with me. I hope I do a competent job. To serve the president as a very great honor. And it's what I enjoy. Hi Joy being with hail. I couldn't ask for a better job. Thank you sir. That was the honorable George Christian press secretary to the president of the United States. Our guest this week on the NE our Washington forum. This program was produced for national educational radio through the facilities of W.A. MUFON American University Radio in Washington D.C.. I'm Bill Greenwood inviting you to listen again next week for another edition of the NE our Washington forum. A weekly program concerned with the significant issues before us as a nation. This is the national educational radio network.
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NER Washington forum
Presidency and the Press
Producing Organization
WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
The Presidency and the Press. Guest: George Christian, press secretary to President Johnson and successor to Bill Moyers.
Series Description
Discussion series featuring a prominent figure affecting federal government policy.
Public Affairs
Media type
Host: Greenwood, Bill
Producing Organization: WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Speaker: Christian, George, 1927-
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-24-28 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:48
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Chicago: “NER Washington forum; Presidency and the Press,” 1967-09-29, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 25, 2024,
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