How the Washington press corps has mellowed since President Nixon’s White House days. Example: President Obama’s most recent press conference (11/14/12) took place eight months since his last one from the East Room. Not once during the session was Mr. Obama asked why so few sessions have taken place with the people who make their living reporting on him. President Nixon, on the other hand, who would hold more than three times the number of White House press conferences during his first term than President Obama during his first term, nonetheless took constant heat from the press corps for not meeting with them more often back then. ABC’s Herb Kaplow raised this issue at Mr. Nixon’s White House press conference December 10, 1970, and the President responded:
“First, I believe that I have a responsibility to the members of the press. I go by that press building of yours about 11: 30 at night from the EOB [Executive Office Building], and I see most of you still working there. I, as President, have a responsibility to help you do your job. But I, as President, also have a primary responsibility to do my job.
My job is, among other things, to inform the American people. One of the ways to inform them is through a press conference like this. Another way is through making reports to the Nation, as I did on several occasions about the war in Southeast Asia. Another is an interview, an hour’s interview with the three anchormen of the three networks, which mainly dealt, as you may recall, on Southeast Asia.
I feel that all of these are useful ways to inform the American people. I think the American people are entitled to see the President and to hear his views directly and not to see him only through the press. And I think any member of the press would agree with that.
However, I would certainly be open to suggestions from members of the press as to how we could make better use of the news conferences without dominating the television too much, because I would recall to you that one network early this summer decided that it would be necessary to give opposition to the President’s policy–opponents to the President’s policy-equal time because he was on television too much.
So, consequently, the televised press conference perhaps should be limited. Perhaps we need more conferences in the office; perhaps more one-on-one; perhaps more–some have suggested a television conference in which instead of the anchormen we have three of the top columnists. But you make the vote. I won’t select them.”
The President just kept holding TV news conferences, plus several one-on-one interviews, among other media formats.
In addition to having many more TV news conferences than Mr. Obama over the same period of time, Mr. Nixon took lots more questions from the press corps during those sessions, so there was more interaction and information transmitted, than with Mr. Obama, who tends to be more verbose. For example, President Nixon’s above mentioned news conference contained 31 press questions from a variety of news organizations, compared to Mr. Obama’s most recent news conference where he took only 11 questions (including follow up). Members of the Washington press corps of yore did not realize they had it so good.
Alvin Snyder was Deputy Special Assistant to President Nixon.