News in 20th Century America; 9; Press Secretary
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service underground in aid from the Educational Television 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 the development of these press secretaries or spokesmen so-called could have been prevented. This happens all over the world that the demands on every government department every cabinet member but not from the president just simply too overwhelming he couldn't possibly cope with all these demands of all these reporters. Which are incessant. I don't know I think they have been of value both to government and to the press and to writers in general. Where they become a problem is when they try to overprotect their boss and when they tried to manage the new list to
blow up things that are really not important in order to make their boss look good. Those kind of those kinds of artifices about and a lot of that goes on. But people don't experience it is pretty well learned to take that in their stride and know it for what it is and handle it accordingly. The voice is that of Eric Sevareid CBS correspondent in Washington speaking on the role of the press secretary in Washington. The subject of today's edition of news in 20th century America. Now here is your host at Burroughs matching in size the press correspondents corps in Washington is the army of public information men and press secretaries as their numbers and activities of grown along with the growing complexity of government and its multiple agencies controversy has surrounded them with charges of government by publicity and of information by hand out. We
will get opinions on these charges in a few moments. James had a good day. The presidential press secretary used to be a newspaper man himself. Mr. Haggerty worked for many years as a political reporter on the New York Times and served with Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York in a position similar to the one he feels today under Mr. Haggerty of the status of presidential press secretary has risen to the extent that some observers compare it to that of a member of Cabinet. Mark was trials of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave us a bit of the history behind this development. Well of course the role of the press secretary depends entirely on the president himself. Under President Hoover who disliked the press conferences and who increasingly in the last year or two of his administration abandoned them. This was not the fault of the press secretary although he got a lot of the blame and complain that all the complaints about it. With Franklin Roosevelt who understood so well how to use the press conference for
ends that were perhaps he considered national ends and people consider them personal and political and an event he used the press conference and his press secretary was highly effective. Under President Eisenhower I think technically Haggerty has been very effective. James Haggerty I think when he has been not effective it's been when he has tried to enlarge his fear for reasons that perhaps that have to do with the reluctance of President Eisenhower to use media communication when James had to be has stepped into the role of policy pronouncer. I think he's got into trouble occasionally. James Haggerty's office in the White House is quiet compared to the bustle down the hall in the correspondent's news room. But even here there is the sound of wire service ticker tape machines. He is the only person in the country as far as he knows Mr. Haggerty told us who has the AP and
UPI wires in his bathroom. But let's hear from Mr. Haggerty himself on the nature of his duties as presidential press secretary. Well it's a little difficult to define them exactly. I'll try however to define them in an overall light. As press secretary to the president it is my job to present the views the actions the philosophies the thoughts of the president of the United States to our news media magazines radio television newspapers anything else I do that each day. By meeting with the newsman here in Washington I also then have probably another job as a staff officer here in the White House. I help in working out the development of
programs prior to the time they were announced. But overall my main job is to act as a spokesman for the president. With the news media not only of our own country but the news media of the work I have two formal meetings with the press each day a formal news conference at 10:30 in the morning and a formal news conference at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. But the rest of the day is spent primarily in meeting with individual reporters who have individual questions who have individual problems who are working on individual stories and I would suspect that three quarters of my time in any day is answering questions. Another one of the most important information man in the capital is Lincoln white news officer for the State Department. We asked Mr. White to describe his duties. While they're there they're quite similar to that of Mr. Haggard in the White House.
The philosophy of this shop is and it has been the same under every secretary that I've been and honored to serve under going back to Colorado hall that the State Department is essentially the research on the president and formulating foreign policy. And once that policy is adopted by the president to follow up through the formulation of programs to implement that policy. Now we know perfectly well that. The best policies and programs to implement them devised by the mind of man do not are not worth the paper they are written on.
On the last one they are understood by the American public and to Alric excepted and supported by the American public. Now there are a variety of ways of getting your story across to the public. But the time honored way of doing it is through the press and by press of course I include radio television news magazines and song. So essentially our job is to explain to the reporters as best we can and given the requirements of security what we are doing why we are doing it and why we're not doing something else. That's is basically what our job is and that is how we operate. Sectarian as you know travel was considerably but when he is in town
he meets with the press each Tuesday morning at 11 o'clock every other day of the week. I meet with the press briefing with reporters at the 12:15. We have what is known as the State Department Correspondents Association. The requirements for admission to that association roughly correspond to the requirements for the Standing Committee of correspondents which is the Capitol Hill organization that is that a reporter must be a bonafied a full time employee of a recognized newspaper magazine radio network station and television network or station. In other words he has to be a full time newspaper man whose job it is is the writing of news and not a
part time news man who might otherwise be interested in any legislation pending before the United States Congress. The larger bureaus obviously the wire services the larger magazines with bureaus in Washington have at least one man the wires have as many as three assigned a full time to the State Department. Now if you take the smaller bureaus the. Five man Bureau down to the one man bureau. Obviously he can't spend his full day over here at the State Department. The way we manage that is to have. Get to know these people when they come around to see us occasionally. They are on a special list to be notified of Special Topics which is of interest to them either from a circulation standpoint or some something
in the foreign affairs field that their editorial policy is particularly interesting. That is handled mainly by telephone they check in with us three or four times a week. To see if anything is brewing that they are particularly interested in that is all handled by telephone conversation. We asked Mr. White whether other press secretaries offices in Washington where run similarly to his. I can't speak for them and I shouldn't but defense for example that has a Consolidated Press Room. They have sent officers from Army Navy Air Force so all assigned to a consolidated press room so that when a reporter is interested in something particularly concerning the Air Force he goes to that sector. The press set up over their fees
interested in an army matter he goes to that sector Navy mattered to the third. Lot to sensually the job of helping the reporter in every way that he can be helped. It's the same throughout one wing of Drew Peterson's home in Washington D.C.. Serves him office and library. It has several secretaries and research assistants busy among boating file cabinets and bookcases. A few steps away in his living room. Mr. Pearson gave us his views on the role of the press secretary in Washington. Well the role of the press secretary is a very important one. You can't get away from it. If his chief did not have a press secretary he would be simply deluged with all sorts of cories. And most of these press secretaries are pretty efficient. Take the Lincoln white in the State Department a very efficient very honest very capable spokesman. And he saves
Dulles all sorts of work. And he saves the newspaper man a lot of work. Now some press secretaries their role is chiefly to protect. And that is more the role of the White House press secretary. But by and large these press secretaries are pretty good. There's one man down at the Labor Department George lauds who is the son of Buster Henry Cabot Lodge she's just celebrated day before yesterday to become assistant secretary of labor. Very good man. You can't complain about them on five fact I would say on the whole that you can praise them for further light on the purpose served by press secretaries. We went to David Brinkley Washington reporter for The National Broadcasting Company. Well they serve a good purpose and a bad purpose. If for example you want some figures on say unemployment in some segment of the American industry then you go to the commerce
department of the Labor Department. You need somebody there to get them for you because you can't personally go into the files and dig through the folders and find the papers you want to have the figures you want. So you need a press secretary either a to tell you. Where to go to get them for you so that I think is a good function. The bad one is when they act not as press secretaries but as press agents. Who try to promote their bosses trying to promote their department's programs by getting it. Getting complicit in not putting out news but getting complicity. There's a great deal of both. The first function I think quite helpful. It's even essential because the government is so big you just cannot dig out physically personally dig out the information you need so you need some help. The second one just simple press agent 3 or C is made of
a superfluous an unnecessary and even bothersome. And what did Doris Friesen outspoken WASHINGTON COLUMNIST have to say on the subject. The press secretary should be a technician who acts as a conduit of the news and not a maker of the news. I'm not criticizing Mr James C. Haggerty who I know is in your mind because so often he has seemed to make policy and make news on his own. I don't like it but I realize that Mr. Haggerty has been placed in a certain position because the president has been ill because the president uses the staff system because the president delegate so much authority. Mr. Haggerty has done in large part what he has done because the circumstances pushed him into that role. I think it's a bad role for him. I personally feel as I say that a press secretary should not make news he should merely channel it. He should be sure that we have greater access to the lives of Mr. Haggard he can't
change the nature and character of this administration because someone has a has someone outside like myself believes that a certain way of handling it is Barrett sure Mr. Haggerty has done the best he could and he has had a very difficult task. Wedged into a small office adjacent to the main newsroom of The Washington Post and Times-Herald we questioned award winning journalist Chalmers Roberts on the merits and drawbacks of the press secretaries do they help newsman or do they hinder them. Well it's something that in our system today is indispensable. But the problem is to go beyond that. The president has to have a press secretary such as a secretary of state or any other cabinet member.
There's a certain routine of all these offices which covers the bulk of the occupation of thousands of people who work in these various agencies. That has to be ground out in the form of press releases or statements or information verbal or one way or another through press officers. You have to have people that you can call up at all hours of the day and night to check on this or that story. Much of this material is it is factual and I deal with how much wheat was produced in Kansas last year. My deal with foreign aid appropriation we spend in Patagonia. This is the basis of what you do. The problem is is to keep from stopping the problem is to keep from being swamped with so much of the stuff that the newspaper doesn't print anything else and we get a mass of this stuff every day from every agency in town all our
reporters do. We try to find clues in these things to other stories or stories that we can develop. Frequently the press agent is very useful in developing the story. Problem comes when the story is one that's unpleasant to the agency or the cabinet member involved then you're And then you have to really dig to get it out. Is the press secretary primarily a press agent Robert serving of United Press International think so. Well let me put it this way as far as a wire service is concerned or as far as I'm concerned personally I consider the phrase as press secretary a public relations man press relations man. Or information officer as synonymous. And I don't care whether he's at the White House or for the silver X board. Same to me. Well I'm going to give you. One example.
I don't think it's. Editorializing to point it out because I understand the situation but I went over to interview the head of a government agency. I won't mention the agency's name. At a local radio station. I brought along some questions. Pertaining to current issues and controversies affecting his department. Issues that were in the news at that time. And which I thought very pertinent to ask him. He showed up at the interview with two of his public relations assistants and a list of his own questions. That I think. Very simply and perhaps over simplified sums up the dangers of covering Washington news. The fact that you. Really have to dig. Too. You gotta remember government agencies or government public relations people are human just like anybody else they like to present their agency in as good a
light as say a General Motors press agent would like to present his company in a favorable light. But I think what too many government public relations men don't realize is that it isn't quite like. Representing General Motors you are representing a government agency which is really the people. And the guys asking you questions are also representing the people. And it I don't think it's the job of the government public relations man merely to cover up news or to try to manipulate the distribution or dissemination of that news to fit the agency's. Own reputation. Fulton Lewis Jr. columnist and mutual network commentator like so many of his colleagues had high praise for Mr. Haggard. As for the numerous other press secretaries in Washington. But here is Mr. Lewis. I think the role of the presidential press secretary is vitally important.
Yet he after all is the mouthpiece for the president. He is probably as close to if not close to the president than any other man and the White House. He knows how to deal with the press and the president doesn't have a chance in the world of knowing how to deal with the press on and inform on an hour and two hour water out of water are minute to minute basis. One of the toughest jobs on the face of the earth. And. It is in the very best tradition of what public relations man for government should be about the last of the real traditions the essential job of Gen. Haggerty or his predecessors has been to receive questions from the press that this is important to receive inquiries from the press and give accurate and truthful answers to those inquiries and believe it or not most of the time except in very extreme cases the answers to the inquiries are
truthful. I have over 35 years found one of two cases strategically one with Jim. One was was a Steve Early in the case of the president's illness when he gave a tactical categorical denial to me of left which I knew the president and he said they didn't. But this is the only time that I have ever found this to be true. The rest of government. Sadly enough. The public relations departments are not that they will function is that if you come to them with questions very feeble even very weakly they will function whether you get truthful answers or accurate answers is highly dubious in every case. For the most part however these press actions and the and the outside of the White House and their proxy propaganda agencies to promote the budgets and the activities of the various departments.
And so in that regard I feel that the office of press secretary or the president is a highly important and very well having job whereas the rest of the government if you take all of the press actions and not men don't rever just peek day and we'd be far better off. It's 99 percent press agent 3 and perhaps 1 percent highly diluted service. Let me give you specific example we have here in the office right at this minute a story. About a an advertisement of beds force and Jet Allison airplane engines. Jet engines built by Allison and which two hundred forty four of them have just been put up for beds and the advertisement for bed said specifically that none of these purchases had to guarantee that none of these would be used for any form of combat or sub combat purposes. The advertisement for beds says that these are new and jeans in their original crates in perfect condition.
When the beds were awarded when they sailed when the engines were awarded to the bettors 100 of these were awarded to the Yugoslav government to practicing mission here in the city of Washington. Now we began going into the matter and we call the press section of the airforce and we got the press section of the Air Force and gave them hours in our days indeed. To trace this down and they came back to us with a report that these two hundred forty four engines were worn out and really were not able to function at all. That's not what the invitation forbid said and that's not the fact. But this shows you the feebleness. In advocacy with the unification press section of the Air Force insofar as giving legitimate answers is illegitimate questions. The thing that Jim Haggerty is doing day after day after day in action. Having heard some of these criticisms we asked Lincoln White use officer for the State
Department for his reaction. Did he consider a press agent an aspect of his job. And would comment upon that by saying that I've been in this chair here and now for some 15 to 18 years and never have I considered myself to be a propagandist. My job is to give the reporters the facts as I know them not to argue with the reporter that he likes what we are doing or not. It's simply to provide him with the facts and leave it to his good judgment as to whether what we are doing is advisable or inadvisable. And he therefore carries that message on to the public and as I prefaced my remarks if these policies are not acceptable to the American people you might as well tear them up and start on something
else now. By that. I do not for an instant mean to suggest that we should have followed a ship rather than leadership. Obviously you have to take decisions which sometimes are not popular. So information officer Lincoln white at the White House Mr. Haggerty was asked if he thought press agent Dre was a part of his job. I do not look upon it that way. I know there are some that do. I know there are some that look upon me as a presentation for the government and particularly President Eisenhower. And let me get this straight one on the record. I do not wait for the newspapers or the radio stations or the television stations. I wait for one man. President Eisenhower he's my boss and quite naturally I would be. I try to present the actions and the philosophies and the thoughts of the president in the best possible way.
Of course I would not be doing my job if I did not. But there again the image of a docile press blindly taking what I say and putting in the papers exactly as I say is not true. And as long as we have a free government. Oh I don't mean to say as long as we are fake government a free government. When free government exists I hope that is always the case. I hope that the men of the nation will look at things analytically form their judgments and then print what they think is the correct interpretation of any action by any government. That's my beliefs and that's what I try to do. Whether Washington correspondents deal with government officials directly or through press secretaries and information officers one of their greatest concerns today is that of
government secrecy restrictions and access to the news. The next program in this series will concentrate on that topic. You have been listening to the role of the press secretary in Washington another in the series of programs news in 20th century America. In this series we explore all facets of the gathering writing and dissemination of news in this country today by means of recorded interviews with leading news men and women interviewers for the series are Glenn Phillips and Ed Burroughs consultant on today's program was Professor Kenneth Stewart of the University of Michigan Department of journalism news in 20th century America is produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant in aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Larry Jones speaking. This is the B Radio Network.
- News in 20th Century America
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- Press Secretary
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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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Identifier: 59-48-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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