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tv   Presidents the Press  CSPAN  August 29, 2018 1:38pm-2:52pm EDT

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app. white house correspondents join presidential spokespersons in a discussion on the relationship between the two sides. they told stories from the administrations of presidents george h.w. bush through president trump. this is from the white house historical association summit this week, with representatives of presidential historic sites across the country. it's just over an hour. to introduce our distinguished panel of presidents and the press is another very distinguished journalist and author and director of the white house transition project and also member of the board of the white house historical association, my fellow colleague and also my fellow colleague as the committee that we have worked together on to bring this summit to life, martha kumar has been incredibly instrumental, has added a lot to the planning of this, including putting together
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this next panel for which she is perfect to introduce the participants. thank you. >> thank you very much, anita. they have done a great job, stewart and anita, haven't they? yeah. it's been a super conference. well, i'm here on behalf of the association to welcome you to the presidential site summit and we're thrilled to have you join us for the unique gathering of presidential leaders, site directors, education specialists, and subject specialists. and thank you, for supporting our organization by your attendance. our first session today is presidents and the press throughout history. this will feature a moderated
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conversation with former press secretaries, white house association correspondents, former "meet the press" moderator, journalists, and other related speakers. they will discuss the role of media and the press play in documenting the presidency throughout history. following this panel, judy woodruff, the managing editor of the pbs "newshour" will interview presidential historian, jon meacham. the president -- the relationship between the president and the press is a crucial one for all of us. when you look at all of the events that a president has where he speaks, in looking from presidents reagan through trump, a third -- at least a third of the occasions where he speaks are ones where a president is answering questions from reporters. so it's an important relationship for us, simply because of what information we get from them and from the
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sessions that they have. the relationship is naturally a somewhat fraught one. leo rosten who was writing about washington correspondents during the roosevelt administration talked about the nature of the relationship and the way in which it's a contest over information. the newspaperman motivated by the ancient values of journalism is interested in precisely that type of news which the official, the president, is least eager to reveal. in the final analysis press conferences reduced itself to a contest between reporters, skilled at ferreting, and officials adept at straddling. so the ferreting and the
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straddling is something that you will always see in the relationship between the white house and the press. writing in the early 20th century in 1902 william price who was one of the first white house correspondents, talked about news and how newspapermen at the white house get their news. there's some ways in which things have not changed. as a matter of fact, the news secured at the white house is nearly always the result of the efforts of the newspapermen themselves. theres no giving out of prepared news. your acquaintances with public men all over the country, with cabinet officers, departmental officials and he could say members of the congress enables them to get the first start or tip. these same friends develop the story for them upon inquiry. sometimes it's a question of hard digging, as the minor put
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it, to unravel a story. that is still the case, you can see that in the white house press briefings that sarah sanders has or her predecessors have had, that the reporters are acting as miners, digging for information. now i have the great pleasure of introducing our first panel's moderator who is frank sesno. frank is the director of the school of media and public affairs at george washington university. joining him on stage is mike mccurry, a board member of the historical association and one of the planners of this presidential site summit. he was a press secretary for william clinton and he also was the spokesperson at the state department before coming to the white house. ron nessen who was a press
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secretary for gerald ford administration and he also was at the white house as a correspondent before that. richard benedetto who was a former white house correspondent and columnist for "usa today"," and he is now the adjunct professor of journalism at american university. ken walsh who is a correspondent and journalist and columnist for u.s. news and world report, and susan page who works as a journalist and washington bureau chief for "usa today" and she is an author of the soon to be published biography of barbara bush called "the matriarch." please enjoy in presentation, i know it's going to be a good one on the relationship between the presidency and the press and how communications between the two have evolved and how it's changed over time, and the way in which it's stayed the same. >> i will sit here and you all
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can sit wherever you like. thank you very much, martha, for that wonderful introduction. i think on behalf of all of us as we're taking our seats we want to thank you for what you do to preserve history and the connection between presidents and our current occupants of this great country. i'm really looking forward to this conversation, who knows what it's going to go, but mostly we're going to try to put in context this relationship, often adversarial, between the press and the presidency, and the president. i might start -- you know, i was listening to martha and this was, you know, on my heart when she talks about reporters at the white house as miners, digging
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for information, ferreting out information. it reminded me of a day when i was in the pool covering george h.w. bush, and he went out for a jog and the pool went to cover the jog because we did -- >> this is not a swimming pool. >> no, this is the press pool, a small group of people, and i was on this little knoll and he is jogging by. we were in the middle of a big gate in the country over a budget compromise that he and folks were negotiating at the time and there was word out there that the president was going to flip and raise taxes. remember what he said at the campaign. i said are you going to raise taxes, mr. president? as he jogged by he said read my hips, no new taxes. i thought i did my job today, don't you? yeah. what we want to talk about here is the historical and contextual sense of the relationship between the press and the
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presidency. some say that the president has moved from sort of lap dog to watchdog to attack dog. there's always been an adversarial component built in. there should be. but it has changed over time and so we're going to talk about that, with some reflection on where we are today, but not a focus. not a preoccupation of where we are today, but to try, as i say, to contextualize this. so let me, though, start by going down the line and asking each person to tell you which president they covered or presidents so we have some historical and biographical connection. ken. >> well, thanks for having us and welcome. as you can see from my beard and the gray in it, i started a long time ago. i started covering the white house in 1986 with ronald reagan during his second term and i covered then reagan, george herbert walker bush, bill clinton, george w. bush, barack obama and today donald trump and i'm sure we will get to this, but today is more of an adventure than ever.
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>> ron. >> i'm ron nessen and i covered the white house for nbc news and then i changed sides and became president ford's press secretary. >> richard. >> i'm richard benedetto, i covered the white house starting with ronald reagan through george h.w. bush, bill clinton and george w. bush. >> susan. >> so i'm susan page, my first campaign was in 1980, i covered president carter's final campaign trip and then i covered the white house and national politics since then. >> well, i have served president clinton as martha said, for two years at the state department in '93 and '94 and then went to the white house in 1995 and spent four years, which is comparatively a long time for a press secretary to be there, but i had an extra bonus year my last year because of a certain
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intern at the white house. >> i remember those days well, as much as i may try to forget them, i just started covering the white house in the reagan administration and went through george h.w. bush, had an opportunity and privilege to interview five presidents. so here we are. so, mike, let me start with you with this question and then ask all to chime in. as we've noted there is an often adversarial relationship between the press corps and the white house, and yet there's also a fundamentally shared objective of both sides, which is to inform and engage the american people and actually the world because the world tunes into this in a very profound way. why is it important -- and this is unusual in places of leadership, the press corps is there, they're present on the premises -- that the presidency is under such a constant glare? >> well, i think it goes back to something fundamental about our
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democracy which is we hold those who have power accountable. now, not every american every day can walk down and ask the president, you know, what are you up to today, so the press is there, in fact, as a surrogate for all american people to ask questions that sometimes are uncomfortable. by the way, and every president, going back to george washington, chafed at the press. they didn't feel like they were getting the flattery and the great coverage that they deserved, so that's been something that's relatively common. but i think every president, maybe until now, has understood that the press is a fundamental element of the way in which we protect our democratic process in our country, because it's a way in which we scrape out and ferret out the truth about what's happening in our nation. >> susan, from the journalist's perspective? >> so i'm going to use a lesson i learned from mike mccurry
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which is to answer the question i wish i had gotten first. and that's just to say, in work -- working on this biography of barbara bush, i have done work on four presidential libraries. i want to thank the archivist and others for the fantastic help and the -- you gave to somebody who didn't actually know what she was doing. it was really helpful and a great resource for the nation, and so thank you for that. you know, i think it's important to have people who cover the president every day who understand when what he says is a little different from what he said the day before. people who develop the deepest sourcing with the people around the president. i think it's also important to have people who do other kinds of coverage of the white house, to step back and have a broader, more historic perspective. but as part of our role as envisioned by the founders, to have reporters, to have a free press that has a -- is watching the president, holding him or
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her accountable in a way you can only do if you're really there. being there is an important part of doing good journalism. >> ron, you've been both the journalist and the press secretary. you were certainly there at a time of great tumult in america. i'm interested in how you see that relationship of presidents and accountability. >> well, it seems to me that i was president ford's press secretary, and i -- it just seems to me that the attention that we pay to -- i don't know exactly how to put this. but it seems to me that, you know, that the reporters who cover the white house, i think, they need to, i think -- when i was covering the white house,
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and the rule was -- let me put it the other way. when i was on the other side, when i was president ford's press secretary, there was a rule that said, never do anything or say anything you don't want to see on the front page of the "washington post," and you know, i think a lot of our public officials don't understand that rule today. but tell me your question again. >> just, you know, this balance between the presence, being there, physically, and that sense of accountability that mike was talking about. >> yeah. well, you know, my feeling about it, because i covered the white house, and then i was also in the white house, and i just felt like, you know, as a reporter, i needed to find out everything i could find out and pass it on to the american people. and that's the rule i tried to follow. >> can -- as a print reporter,
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with different deadlines than we are accustomed to thinking of today, right, in the world where it's social media and cable television and talk radio all on all the time, do you see that this coverage has changed dramatically as the velocity of information has increased? >> yeah, well, i think it's interesting, frank, you started off with the lap dog, watchdog, attack dog sort of division and that's a very good way to think of this, because i think we've moved from watchdog to attack dog mostly now. and part of that, frankly, is because president trump has put us in the position of being the enemy of the american public, which is what he calls us. fake media, as he says. and i know we don't want to dwell on president trump, and so actually, last night, i did a little due diligence and looked at a little bit of our history. i actually wrote a history about this called "feeding the beast."
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we're the beast in the social media. but if you look out our history, going back to john adams and lincoln and some of his prosecution of the media during the civil war, woodrow wilson talked about how shameless and colossal the errors were constantly in the media, in his time. of course, jefferson, after his initial comments supporting the newspapers then turned against the media, so anyway, there's a whole history of how this relationship has been very adversarial, but now i think it's gotten to the point of -- and i think a lot of us on both sides are uncomfortable with this, an unhealthy situation where both sides are on the attack. >> from your book and looking at that in that historical context, do you think the notion of access and accountability have changed over time? >> yeah, well, there's a long history of this. you know, teddy roosevelt took pity on the reporters of his time and allowed them space in the white house. that'ses what started the briefing room tradition, long time ago.
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but even he was critical of the media. franklin roosevelt was very much friendly with the reporters who covered him but was very much at odds with the owners of the newspapers and the editorial writers, and i'm sure ron and mike understand how -- the difference that is. but even roosevelt, who's thought of as a guy who got very great press, sometimes what he would do is if he didn't like a reporter's story, he would call the reporters into his office and berate the reporter, read from the story, and one time, he had the reporter stand in the corner with a dunce cap on it and the reporter did it. so there was a deference there. >> that would be a tough thing to go home and tell your kids. what did you do today, daddy? i stood with a dunce cap in the president's office. what about this notion of accountability? >> the accountability, you know, we -- the american public wants to know a lot of things all the
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time, we can't provide them with everything, but we try to give them a window into the thinking and the operations of the white house. the presidents want to keep as much information back as possible. we want to get as much information that we think the american public wants. one of the things that is interesting about this particular president that i haven't heard other journalists say this, but i say this. if people criticize donald trump for using twitter so much. as a journalist, you should love it because you get the president's thinking every single minute, that you never would get with any other president. >> the difference is that you can't then ask a question or challenge that in any way. >> yeah, that's where the tension comes because we get the information. he hears his position on whatever it might be at that particular moment. we can't question him directly on that, again, but nonetheless,
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we still get a chance somewhere else down the line to come back with it so that whether we like or what the president's saying or not, you're getting information. we would wait with other presidents, two, three, four, five days or more to get the president's thoughts on what was happening. >> mike, as i recall, there was a series of sort of rockwell illustrations of the press and the press secretary and the oval office and i remember one with roosevelt sitting at his desk in sort of what looked like fawning reporters gathered around. could you talk about this sort of lap dog, watchdog, attack dog thing? let's go back to, not lap dog, but there was a very deferential sense, at least that's what it appears, in certainly pre-watergate times. >> i think that's right. i think it was a collaborative effort. >> collaborative? >> yes. i think the president, you know,
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sort of co-existed with a press corps that was heavily interested and sometimes heavily invested in telling the president's story, and that then began to break apart i think partly because of television, because of the changes in technology and the media itself, and also because of what we've been tualking about, the press woke up to the fact that they had the responsibility not to be the propaganda machine for whoever happened to be president at the time. they were there to hold those accountable to -- >> weren't they a -- >> to comfort the afflicted and afflict is comfortable. >> yes, but wasn't there -- i don't want to say propaganda machine, because that's way too strong. but during times of war, there's been a fundamentally different relationship, and certainly pre-watergate and pre-internet times. >> that's the changing nature of this relationship. i think when it became much more
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of what we all now the adversarial relationship, and the adversity in the two conflicting institutions built during the latter part of the 20th century. you know, in this ironic, because in theory, both sides of this equation want the same thing. they both say, if we could just get more truth to the american people, we'd be in better shape. the presidency, the white house, the white house staff said, if they just could hear about all the great things we're doing, they would understand what a great job we're doing here and of course the press sees fundamentally its responsibility to report the truth and the problem is when they skew apart in what matters most, and what is the agenda that the press has versus the agenda where the president has and when they are in conflict, as they often are, and you get this adversarial sense in the relationship. >> there was definitely a cozy relationship with the white house press corps and presidents during fdr's time, when reporters did not tell americans
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that the president was in a wheelchair and during john kennedy's administration when reporters were aware of his personal behavior and didn't tell americans about it. and i think that ended with the -- i think the watergate scandal actually ended that period of coziness and made reporters feel their obligation was something different. >> i would actually even go back a bit. i think it was because of misleading the american people about the nature of the war in vietnam. >> i totally agree. the vietnam war, followed by the watergate scandal, led to a collapse of that feeling of cozy trust, of trust in institutions. it made reporters feel that their obligation was not to find out -- not to be friends with the president but to be a watchdog on things that the president was doing, whether it was war or something else. >> ron. >> well, i think there's been a very big change in the relationship since i was -- since i covered the white house,
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and then i was ford's press secretary, and the big change, it seems to me, is that in those days, you had morning newspapers which had a deadline of 6:30 in the evening. you had on television, you didn't have any cable television, and you didn't have any internet, and you had morning newspapers and huntly, brinkley, and cronkite on at 6:30 at night. when i was on nbc, if i covered a story at 10:00 in the morning, 11:00, whatever, the press secretary's briefing in the morning, i had until mid, late afternoon to do research, to contact other sources, and so forth. and now, i think two things as a result of cable tv and also as a result of cell phones. basically, everybody's a
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journalist, you know? i've n i've got my cell phone right here. i can type any damn thing i want to, hit the send button, and it goes out to 10 million people in the world. >> you have a very good following. congratulations. >> and i think that's a really -- >> no, that -- that has -- i mean, i say to people, i was with cnn and i think cnn revolutionized things and we knew that and the white house talked to us about that, because for the first time, if a president gave a speech from any place, if we took it live, it was going unfiltered to an je audience, not through a network, not through a newspaper. secondly, we were on all the time so we were filling the air with interviews, information,debate, other things, and that accelerated and illuminated the decision making process,the governing process in a way we never experienced before. >> susan said, if you go back to franklin roosevelt, not only is it the reporters not write about
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disability and he was paralyzed by polio when he was 39 years old, never recovered the use of his legs, but the news photographers in those days actually entered into something of a conspiracy among themselves because you don't see pictures of roosevelt with his disability and they -- when a new photographer could come on to the white house, the veterans, when they saw a reporter taking a picture of the leg braces and son, sometimes they would slap the camera away. later on some of the news photographers regretted this but that's one thing. the other quick point is that when i started covering reagan, reagan's people understood, even though he was a conservative, he could get decent coverage because they understood access works two ways. when a white house staff and a president talk to the media, they not only give information out, but they also learn what
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we're doing. you don't get much of that with the trump presidency now. they don't really care much about what we're doing. they just are constantly streaming out, as richard said, twitter and other things, always on the offensive. >> richard, we were talking about the relationship between roosevelt and the press and the pictures and illustrations of the press coming, and there's a very famous picture of lbj walking the grounds with a group of reporters, and there was a time when presidents and reporters could sit down or walk or -- and the idea was for the president to be able to speak directly and share a thought process or whatever. does that happen now, and if it doesn't, have we lost something? >> yeah, we've certainly lost that personal relationship that reporters who covered the white house -- the president knows the reporters who cover the white house. he knows who they are, not only by name, but they get to know them usually.
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i don't know what's happening now, but i know that when you covered bill clinton and when you covered george w. bush, when you covered george h.w. bush and ronald reagan, they knew who you were and they wanted to know a little bit about you, whether they did it in the background or whether they did it up front by asking questions, they knew a little bit about who you were and where you were coming from and would kind of play to that a little bit. i see this now, and it may have a lot to do with who gets into journalism today. it's an interesting question with me, because i remember the days when i was -- wanted to be a journalist. i really wanted to be a novelist. i liked to write and i was going to write this great novel but i found there was a way you could make money writing. i was always going to write the novel on the side. but you liked people. you liked being around people and you wanted to build a relationship that way and write about it, telling people the stories.
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and so we wanted to go -- when you become a political reporter and you go out there and meet these political figures, you want to write about who they are, more about their -- you want to find out something about them, personally. you want to find out about them, what they do other than just cover. so that was the attraction. i'm not sure that young people today who want to be journalists want to do that. i get the sense that what they want to do -- see, we liked politics and we liked politicians, as journalists. that was what you were attracted to, and you liked people. younger people today, i get the sense that they don't like politics or politicians and they see their only role is to be critical rather than just being given information. they lean more toward the critical side, and i think that has an effect on how the people feel about government and politics. >> it has a big effect of really
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und undermining confidence across the board. the sense of sharing the thought process of the president directly with the press so the american public gets a sense of that has been something that's been on people's minds. you tried this thing called psych backgrounds, i recall. >> i was thinking as we were talking about senator john mccain, whose memory we are -- heavy on our minds right now. he was masterful at drawing in the conversation, enjoyed the give and take. i tried some of that with president clinton and i wanted people to get a sense of his thinking, and it's hard to do that if someone's going to sit there and transcribe everything word for word, so we created some opportunities. once famously, on air force one, the president would come back and sit and gab with the reporters, and i got asked, well, what are the rules for attribution here? and i said, well, you know, why
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don't we just call it psych background. according to someone familiar with the thinking of the president, who happened to be the president, you know, that president clinton is x, y, z. well, there were strong objections to that. >> that's an understatement, as i recall. >> well, particularly from the oesht associated press, which took a very firm stance in the president cannot talk on background. >> their position was that the president of the united states was always on the record. >> so these informal occasions where you sit back and have a beer and talk about life, that's not allowed, because the president has to always be accountable. now, some, ken, i invite you to talk about that, there are some people particularly, those who worked for magazines that had more interesting color and flavor and what was really going on behind the scenes. they probably had some appreciation for opportunities like that. it was not a happy episode.
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>> that's right. but you know, the other thing to be aware of, there are different constituencies in the press corps. we in the journalists who step back a bit, you know, a lot of us think, well, if you're getting -- i don't like the idea of a president off the record but something that mike is talking about, you're getting the president's thinking, my thought was always, you want to know as much about the president as you probably can and so when the president does something, you know the president's thinking, you can put it in context, and you can say to yourself, that's the president i know or that's not the president i know, to have some context. >> we have had some sense of -- ron, i do want to turn us to the current -- i want to tie some of these past practices for a little bit of context. >> that's going to be hard to do. >> no, we can do it. i know you can do it. you're very adept at these
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things. so, in the current moment, we're in a situation where we have more antagonistic, more personal, more challenging, more, you could argue, ideologically driven, adversarial relationships than we have seen before where the president is going so far as to call the media the enemy of the people and fundamentally dishonest and representing the opposition party. is this unprecedented? richard nixon had an enemies list. is this unprecedented and what impact will it have in the larger scheme of things? >> you know, it's not unprecedented to have conflict. as reason knows very well or as mike knew during the impeachment debate in his administration, that's not new. i think the intensity of it now is different. and i think when the president calls the press the enemy of the people, as he did in a tweet about an hour ago, i think that is a different level of antagonism than we've seen from
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previous modern presidents. i think that is a new place for us to be. i do think president trump deserves credit for being pretty accessible, though. i mean, not only does he tweet, which i think is an excellent way to get -- a look into his thinking. he tend to answer questions when he walks out on the south lawn to go to the helicopter. he does a lot of interviews on fox with friendly correspondents, but nonetheless, he is doing interviews. he talks to reporters sometimes, he has some off the record conversations, so we do have a look into ha he's thinking that he didn't always have with other modern presidents and i think that's a good thing. that's something me did during most of the 2016 campaign, not right toward the end, but -- >> there's an old expression in washington, never do anything or say anything you don't want to see on the front page of the
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"washington post." and i don't think the current president understands that rule, but you know, thinking back again to my time in the -- as the press secretary to president ford, you know, he was, i think, the pardon of nixon was so unpopular, it really turned the press against him and there were -- >> turned the press against him? you felt that at the time in the briefing room, in your dealings with the media? >> yeah. yeah. and as i say, he was -- it was very, very unpopular, and ford never really recovered his reputation, i don't think, from that. but he's -- i don't know exactly how to put it but i think that he was a popular until the nixon
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stuff came along and ford was, you know, he was popular in washington, but not after this happened and after the pardon of mixe nixon, i think, was very, very unpopular and i remember one time somebody asked ford about, you know, how he felt about this and he said something about, those reporters, they get their -- he was critical of reporters, and they get their information sitting on a bar stool, i think, was one of his favorite expressions. >> yeah, the -- well, you know, the relationship changes from president to president, certainly, because every president has a different personality, and the press corps has its own personalities and personalities change. the judgment of history often
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and i think gerald ford used to say it, and winston churchill, as ron was saying earlier, when we were backstage, that history -- you can't be judged until 30 or 40 or 50 years later and you know, think of harry truman. harry truman left the presidency 1952 with a jobs approval rating of 22%, one of the lowest measures at that particular time. he's now considered one of the best five or ten presidents, depending on the list you see. so, in retrospect, looking at harry truman's presidency, he could have run for re-election in 1952, but chose not to because he was so unpopular. and so, he didn't -- he wasn't term limited out because it didn't apply to him when they changed the term limit law but he didn't run because he was so unpopular, but history looks back to see how did he do, he
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comes out pretty well. >> did you want to make a point? >> well, you know, ford, i think, was very unpopular with the press because he pardoned nixon, and there was a lot of criticism of ford, and he was probably our most athletic president, as i've said, and i remember one time there was all these stories about him tripping and falling or something like that, and ford said, those reporters, they get their exercise sitting on a bar stool. >> he liked the bar stool. that was his refrain, i guess. let me ask you this. in your experience as reporters, what was your most adversarial moment? did you have something that you thought, this is getting really hot here? >> well -- >> and no bill clinton
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impersonations. >> let me do a mike mccurry impersonation. i was working for "usa today" and in the morning, my phone would ring and it would be mike mccurry's deputy, and he would yell at me about stories i had done or other reporters, stories i had not yet read in "usa today," and like the first time i got this call i was going, make, do you think there's something inaccurate? are you asking for a correction? no, he was just yelling, and like the third time this happened, i thought, i know what's happening. so, you're talking to clinton in the morning and he's saying -- that "usa today" ran a story about this and then mike would say to joe, call susan, and then joe would come back and say, i gave her hell. is that correct? >> yeah. >> you got that 100% correct. >> i got a feeling those calls at cnn.
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i liked those calls. >> note the key element there. i always had my deputy, joe, that went on to be press secretary. i always had him make the call so i could be, oh, gee, you know, we'll be friends forever. >> i've got a similar story. one day, i get a phone call from scott mclellan, the deputy press secretary at the white house, and he says, the president didn't like that story you wrote this morning. i said, what didn't he like about it? he said, he just didn't like it. it was george w. bush and i thought back, what was the story? the story was that president bush takes big pride in the fact that he never changes his mind. well, here are three places that he changes his mind, and it was on the front page of "usa today." i said, what's wrong with the story in anything inaccurate there? well, no. i said, what does he want?
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he says, nothing, i guess. well, 3:00 afternoon in the afternoon comes. and he calls again and says, the president's still mad about that story. so i knew what was goingen on. the president was saying, you tell benedetto he's a big blank. i said, what do you want? he says, can i tell him you've been admonished? well, i said, you can go back and tell him whatever you want. >> well, not to just talk about the clinton administration, but why not. we'd have these fusses going on. i remember one time having an interview with a senior political adviser, and sat down with him and he paused and he said, am i supposed to be mad at you about something? and i said, well -- and he wouldn't remember what the issue was, but he knew something.
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>> did you remind him? >> i don't know. what could it possibly be. but i mean, we've all had these fusses. i think john is the chief of staff for the president, bush the father, was a very difficult guy to get along with sometimes and ed rogers, who would do the calling and explaining. so there's always that kind of an adversarial relationship. i think what bothers us now is whether we're at a point now where an administration is undermining the institution of the media but undermining our credibility. >> do you think that's the case, and do you think there would be lasting change? we' we've talked about this sort of dynamic process in the changing relationship to the press. >> i think the current administration is definitely intent on undermining the credibility of the fourth estate, of the mainstream media. what president trump wants to get to is where his base will only believe him and not believe
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anything else. >> let me ask a question of mike and ron here, which is central tension to the jobs that you have held as press secretary. how does a presidential press success balance the commitment to both serving the president and serving the public through the relationship with the press? i mean, yeah, you're the spokesperson for the president of the united states, but you're being paid by american taxpayers, and you have relationships with the media, with the press in that room, that depend on a degree of trust and credibility on both sides. >> i like to think of that balance, thinking of the geography of the white house and all of you have been in that office that the press secretary has in the west wing. it's a wonderful piece of real estate. has a working fireplace, by the way, which the park service will light up for you when things are not hot enough already.
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but anyhow, there's a front door where the press will sometimes gather but it has a back door, which is convenient when you're trying to escape the ones who are at the front door, but if you go out that back door and turn right, 50 feet away is the oval office, and turn left 50 feet away is the briefing room where you conduct the briefing every day, and i -- that geographic metaphor is exactly, for me, the nature of the job. it is this balance between keeping satisfied those who are seeking information, who have legitimate questions, who expect the white house to be accountable and produce information that ought to be the public's right to now, and then also serving the president who signs your paycheck, representing the president's thinking, the president's point of view, what the administration is trying to accomplish, and that balance is the nature of the job every day, and if you --
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you're never going to keep either side of that equation happy. you get the president saying, you and your friends in the press are trying to destroy everything good about this country, and then you -- >> you had the president say that to you? >> oh, yeah. >> you and your friends in the press. >> well, he -- yes. pretty close to it. >> i hope he's watching. >> pretty close. but the difference and the important difference, as much as he would fuss and fume about it, then he would go back to reality, and he would stop meeting sometimes and say, get mccurry in here because he's the -- the press is going to be all over him on this. i want him to hear what we're talking about. and it was not because he wanted me to go and give my opinion on what ought to happen, but he wanted me to have the understanding and the context of what decision were being made so that i could report on it accurately and truthfully. i don't think we have that circumstance.
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>> ron, i know that when you started working for gerald ford, you had a conversation with him about the need for you to be near him, your proximity to the president. >> well, what i told him when he offered me the job was that i needed to meet with him every day before my press briefing because because my job was to answer the questions from the press as the president would answer them if he were there, which means two things. one, i had to find out how he would answer them from him and also i said i wanted to attend all his meetings are cabinet members and so forth, and kissinger didn't like that too much, but basically, that's what i did. i had a daily meeting with the president, and i could attend any of these cabinet meetings and other meetings, and so i'd come in in the morning and my staff would put together a list of the questions they thought i
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would be asked at the briefing and then some of the questions, you know, kissinger could answer, secretary of treasury could, but most of them needed -- i need to be able to reflect the president's views, so i had my daily meeting with the president, and i don't know whether the press secretaries nowadays still have that or not. but i thought that was very important and ford agreed to it. >> to all of you for a minute and then a couple more and then i'd like to open it up to questions from the floor because i think it's a fascinating conversation. one of the other things that we talk about is the notion of credibility, both the press' credibility from the white house and the white house's credibility from the white house. both are under siege today. there's very little trust in the press, and there's very little trust, among some anyway, in the information that's coming from the white house and i remember when i was bureau chief at cnn,
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if the president said something or the press secretary would say something that was mistaken or a misstatement, there was an effort to quickly correct the record. i remember marlon fitz water would walk around with his big cigar that he wouldn't light and actually walk through the press office and say, what i said or what the president said, let me tweak that and there was a very good relationship there and he got a lot of credit for that. but we're not at that place now. and now there is a very particular and personal and some would say grandstanding environment around this. where do you see this question of credibility now in terms of, again, plug this into all the technology that we've got and the cameras and the social media and how we regain a sense of trust in the information that is emanating from the white house. >> so i think the credibility is the number one most important,
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like, asset that journalists need, and it is under fire. we have all these new ways of delivering information that are faster and go farther and are more transparent, and that's been to our peril in some ways. >> to our peril. >> to our peril, because tweets go out instantaneously without a chance to check with a second source or to double check the information against -- in other ways, and so it's actually, i think, increased what is our fundamental obligation, which is to be careful, to -- we want to be first, but we want to be right. we need to always remember that. we need to be more transparent with readers and viewers and where we get information and that is especially true in an era where there are so many stories that rely on anonymous sources. the president this morning sent out a tweet saying, if you see the word anonymous sources in a
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story, stop reading, it's a lie. reporters make up snoanonymous sources. for legitimate news organizations, that's not true. we try very hard to limit the number of anonymous sources we use. we try to identify them as much as we can. you see that now where articles will say, according to five sources, three of whom were in the room, you know, you try to build -- it's all an effort to build credibility in what you read and when we make mistakes, and we will, we need to correct them in a way that is fast and that is honest, that doesn't try to weasel out of a correction. but says, we made a mistake an this, we apologize. we're going to make it right, we're going to try not to make the same mistake again. i think the only way we rebuild the credibility we lost is to do our job every single day as well as we can and hold on tight because these were turbulent times. >> couple points. one is just to show you the kinds of things we're up against. so many people can get their
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information from sources that are completely unfiltered, completely uncorroborated, and so in other words, we in the mainstream media are sort of taking a secondary role because people can get any view reinforced on the internet, whatever they want to do, and as an example, i give a lot of speeches these days. there was an occasion where i gave four speeches over a few weeks and i got the same question after each speech, privately asked, the person came up, asked in the same way. why don't you people in the white house press corps do the biggest story in washington? now, this was a couple years ago, and i said, what would that be? well, the reply was the same in each case. we all know that michelle obama is a man. now, how do you deal with that? i mean, i would say, well, where did you hear that? and the people said, in exactly the same way, i don't know, but i know it's true. now, that's what we're dealing with. >> where were you giving your speeches?
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>> all over the place. >> he was on the bar stool. >> yeah, i was getting my exercise. that's right. but the interesting thing that was the same question asked in the same way. so it's -- that's part of it, but the other thing is, i think, from one side to the other side, we have to have the same sort of suggestion. the politicians in the white house need to understand that we're not monolithic in the press corps. there are some good reporters and some bad reporters and they need to know us well enough to know the difference, and we need to understand that they're not monolithic either. that there are people we can trust in government and people -- good sources, people who know what they're talking about, and people don't, and we have to make the distinction too and it works both ways. >> before i open it up to questions, i'd be interested in your thoughts on that. i mean, i think several of us have had time to look at presidential libraries. you mentioned that in your opening comments and i did as well when i was working on the documentary for the history
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channel and for cnn, i spent a lot of time at the reagan library. and in the context of this conversation, the context of the fraught relationship between the press and the adversarial relationship, the healthy adversarial relationship, if it's good, between the press and the presidents at our current moment, and the larger trend that we've got about people not understanding, people not being historical in nature. we are a rather ahistorical culture, which is not a good thing. what do you think that presidential libraries, boyhood childhood homes can do through their work to help people see, understand, bring to life the weird relationship that the press and presidency have. >> well, one suggestion i have to all of you who are here and get those kind of responsibilities is to highlight the importance of this relationship between the president and the presidency and
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the fourth estate, the media. there are wonderful photos. there are probably archival materials that would really lift this up, so that those who visit your sites see how important and how fundamentally important this relationship is in the way in which we function as a democracy, so lift up and pick out those things that really, at this moment, which the press is being called the enemy of the people, we need to understand how important this equation is and the way in which presidents have functioned and the way in which we've come to understand them throughout history. >> there is criticism, and presidents have -- all presidents, really, have had their criticisms. so, how should they be represented as well? >> fully and fairly. i mean, i think some of the great letters, you know, the truman letter to who's it that he said -- >> the critic. >> i would otherwise deliver my response on the bridge of your
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nose if i could. that's -- that letter, bill clinton had that hanging in the oval office at one point, so there are things like that that kind of highlight some of the tension and the adversarialism in the relationship but i think putting it in the right context is what's important. >> i think a sense of history makes a big difference. we worry so much about the tumult of today. i was thinking about the events i've seen marking the 50th anniversary of 1968, which, by the way, was a pretty tumultuous year so i think it's helpful in terms of trying to understand today to have a sense of what happened yesterday. i've also been struck by how helpful some of the programs the presidential libraries do can be because presidential libraries have and former presidents, when they're still alive, have a kind of credibility. i think presidents gain credibility once they leave office sometimes. they're seen as a little less political. presidential libraries have a
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way to pull together officials from past administrations to talk in a way that sometimes officials who might be reluctant to do some other form, and i think that has been a real asset. >> well, i've had the privilege of doing research at presidential libraries for years for a number of the books i've written, and they are fabulous resources, and i just am so pleased to be able to do the research there. a lot of things you can get from the presidential library online now. a fabulous resource. i think one thing in the context of frank's question is maybe posting the first amendment might be a good idea, and just leave that up there somewhere. and as an exhibit, i think that also programs are helpful and i think that -- and the presidential libraries do a good job with this already. i have to be about to go to the bush library in college station to do a program on white house photographers who, as one was
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saying about president ford wanting to deal with the media, dealing with the photographers, including president ford's own photographer, extraordinary access that he allowed the pictures out there so people could see what he was like as a person, and i think that actually helped him and helped the country understand him, but i think for the presidential libraries to continue the great programs they do, maybe permanent exhibits on the presidents and the media, show them with all the blemishes shown but nevertheless illustrating the importance of the relationship. >> ron, what do you think? >> i've been to the ford library, of course, in grand rapids, and i think one of the effects that presidential libraries have is that you can step back from the kind of day-to-day political coverage and so forth and, you know, with the passage of time, you can get, like a broader view of what was going on, who was saying what, and in the -- and with the passage of time, you will know,
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oh, well, he was right about that, wasn't he? and i think that's one of the great things. >> context. donald rumsfeld famously talked about the snapshot through the straw. that's what the media does on a daily, now minute by minute basis. >> i think presidential lieshz and presidential sites too could do with more programs or exhibits about the relationship between the press and the presidency because it's an important one. i mean, the public is aware of it. they don't think about it in too many terms of how it's supposed to operate. we -- maybe we don't get enough of it in the schools of that kind of discussion and that kind of examination that need to be done, because it is the -- it is sort of like the foundation of our democracy, that the relationship between the public and the public officials is
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conducted through the press and the media. and so that -- it's fundamental to just, for people -- i don't know what they're doing in the high schools these days. i don't know, they could be doing a lot more, i think that all educational institutions can be doing a lot more in talking about the relationship, especially in these times when the relationship has become so controversial. >> one of the interesting dynamics here, and i would invite anyone with a question, please make your way to the mike. just how technology has changed and there would be those who say, we don't need you anymore. the president can communicate directly. >> they would be wrong. >> they would be wrong. because we need independent, trained eyes, ears, and brains on this. >> we also need to teach media literacy in our schools. we have to, you know, get, beginning at an early age with kids, get them to understand where reliable sources of
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information are and what's not reliable. >> that's right. >> and what the important role of the press is. and there are some great programs. most of you know allen miller, who used to be "l.a. times." he runs a program in news literacy now and that is fundamentally important. >> go ahead. >> great. thank you, frank, and everybody for a wonderful panel session. i'm reflecting on comparison between yesterday morning's panel on presidential memory and history and what both richard and frank talked about today, and that is how the perception of a president changes over the decades after they leave office, and my question is, if that's true, that means that the perception of the president that's presented by the media currently is not accurate, and whether that's fake news or it's not fake news, i wonder if -- since i don't hear it very often, if there's any reflection that you hear among journalists and people who study this issue
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as to whether there could be a better job done by journalists instead of just always apologizing for how good journalism is and how the president is the one, like you were saying, that's always just angry over being covered in that way. if history changes the view, then maybe journalism's not doipg i doing its job today. >> good question. and we only have about seven minutes left so we'll try to do this quickly. >> i would disagree by saying that what we cover today is not accurate. it's not complete. it doesn't have the benefit of history. we don't know what the consequences of what a president does until we see those consequences unfold and sometimes they unfold in ways that are more positive than we think, and sometimes they unfold in ways that are more negative. i think it is important that we keep a sense of history's skepticisms. we shouldn't declare a
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president's presidency offensive or -- over or a presidency a success. we should keep in mind that we're a snapshot in time and that may change over time. >> i think there should be some -- i think there needs to be, if i can, much more humility in the media about what is done and how it's done and there's too much back patting and too much, let's dress up and take our awards. we have to recognize that the media is a very big, very plural word so the "wall street journal" is media, so is breitbart, so is fox, nbc, drudge, all those are media. this is the need for media litter easy that you're talking about. especially in the talk radio, cable news, and online world where everything is streaming instantly and all at once, more context is needed. but also back to your thing about news consumers. you're going to hear from judy shortly. the news hour gives people context every day. news consumers are going to need to be much smarter about where
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they go and how they consume and their going to -- and we're going to need to help them and news organizations should help them too but i think your question is -- if an airline company had the level of public trust that the media have right now, they'd be flying empty airplanes and that needs to be address aed. >> paul with the george w. bush childhood home. all of you mentioned the impact of the immediacy of social media on the way in which people perceive your stories to be real and fake, whatever. there was a time in this country when major events would bring the country together. most recently, of course, 9/11, the death of presidents first ladies, those types of things, hurricane harvey, ka treetrina. what responsibility do you feel the press should have in allowing the country to use
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these events to allow themselves to come together, at least for a brief period of time and what period of time do you think that should be? >> well, i think one way of looking at this from a journalist's point of view is that i was always brought up in the idea -- in the field that you have an else functiducation function, that we're public educators in some ways, and we have an entertainment function. too much of what we do now is the entertainment fupgnction. the lines are blurred. look at these panels on television, who's the journalist, who's the commentator, who's the strategist. it's all blended together so i can understand the public not understanding the distinctions as to what a journalist is anymore, but as far as consensus moments, they're very difficult to even encourage from a media perspective because they're so polarized. people, even the death of john mccain is an occasion for people to beat on each other. i mean, this is the nature of
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the country, of where we are now, and i hope we come to the point where we can be more unified. it's a limit to what the media can do. we can try to do this sort of thing and have rallying consensus moments, even political conventions used to be unifying for least the parties. that's hard to see anymore. sure. yeah. >> quickly and then what we'll try to do is take as many more questions as we can with quick answers from the panel. >> just very quickly, i think one of the things that's happened to journalist that has affected the coverage and what people are getting to know is that back a couple of decades ago, the networks and the major newspapers had full-time reporters assigned to the state department, and the pentagon, and five reporters on the house side, five reporters on the senate side. and so forth. you became an expert on your beat. you got to know all the players, all the sources, and so poforth. and now for economic reasons,
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there's been a cutback, everybody's a general assignment reporter, and you don't have this expertise of covering a beat. >> that's good. >> there'sless le less of that. >> i have a question for m mr. nessen. talking about the relationship between the presidency and the press, when president ford pardoned president nixon, what caused you to resign, and how did president ford react to that, and how did that affect your future relationship with him? >> well, i agree with you that that was the really big turning point in ford's relationship with the press, and there was -- and i think there was -- there was a feeling among the press that when the vice president, spiro agnew resigned, ford was appointed vice president by nixon, and there was a theory that nixon knew he was in trouble and that he thought he
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would appoint ford, who would, you know, be more protective of him. so i think that's one of the things that happened. and then about a month after ford became president, nixon resigned, ford became president, and then ford pardoned nixon, and what he said was he was spending 25% of his time, the staff was spending 25% of its time on leftover nixon matters, and he needed to spend 100% of his time because the vietnam war was still going on, big depression in the country, and so forth. but i think that there has always been this view that there was a deal, that if nixon would appoint ford his vice president to replace the retired -- the resigned vice president, then ford would promise to not -- to save nixon. >> and the question about your residen resignation and how that affected -- >> the way it affected me was --
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>> you didn't resign? >> no, it was the other way around. ford's -- >> jerry resigned. >> he resigned because he disagreed with the pardon. i was covering the white house for nbc, and i had covered ford as vice president. i was wuone of the ford five, traveled all over the country with him and his little two-engine airplane and so he asked me, and i wrote a book later called "it sure looks different from the inside" because i wanted to -- and the reason i took the job is that i had covered the white house from the outside as a reporter. impa i wanted to see what it look like on the inside. >> we haven't touched upon editorial cartoons and how much they act as a synthesis of these journalistic assessments. can you touch a little bit upon that and how much you think these cartoons -- >> mike and susan, very quickly and that's going to have to be
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the last question because you've got another terrific discussion. >> it is great. humor is what we need more of in the white house, and more context. we actually invited a bunch of editorial cartoonists to travel with president clinton from time to time and some of the wonderful images that came out of that are, one of them hanging in my obserwn house as a matter fact. but they capture sometimes the essence of what is so improbably insane about some of the things that happen at the white house. >> susan, quick last word. >> cartoonists are amazing and since i've been looking at barbara bush, i don't know if you saw the cartoon that showed barbara bush going to heaven and robin greeting her there, her daughter who died when she was 3. cartoonists can hit a chord, can make a point. sharp or soft like that one that is beyond words. >> i would like to thank all of you on behalf of all of us for
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what you do. i would like to thank this terrific panel for their conversation. i think that we'll leave you with this thought, which is that accountability is the keyword, but it should also and must also and must continue to work both ways, accountability both for the white house and for those who are covering it. thank you all very, vur much. our coverage of the white house historical association summit will continue in a moment with historian jon meacham. he talks about relationships with the presidents since the country began. that's followed by historians discussing how they choose which stories are told. and later, historians from various presidential sites talk about presidential legacies and how they try to create inclusive history about this president. tonight, american history tv
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is in primetime. we'll show you our coverage of the second day of the white house historical association's presidential site summit with a panel discussion on presidents and the press, featuring former presidential press secretaries and white house correspondents. that's tonight at 8:00 eastern here on c-span3. if you miss any of this week's american history tv programs, you can find them any time online at c-span's video library at c-span.org. american history tv, weekdays, continues until labor day. on thursday, we turn to our oral history series and conversations with women who were members of congress. then on friday, we'll show you discussions on word w-- world wr i, known as the great war, and how the u.s. dealt with shell shock. this weekend, c-span's city store takes you to flagstaff, arizona, with the help of our cable partners, we'll explore
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the literary life and history of fl flagstaff, located 80 miles south of the grand canyon, author don lego grand connon. a hit of a national wond r and national park. >> quarter of the way into the grand canyon it starts about 70 miles east of here. from here it's another 200 miles to run to the west. right here is when the canyon starts to widen and deepen and turn into the classic views that you see if most photographs or calendars. >> on sunday at 2:00 p.m. eastern, a visit to the lowell observatory to hear about discoveries including the discovery of pluto and moon mapping for the apollo program.
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>> some people think of this as abandoned but it is still a popular site. they believe their ancestors is still here. this is still an important site for many people in the southwest. >> watch c-span cities tour of flagstaff, arizona. historian john me chum sat down and looks at how the u.s. has changed and the impact of the relationship has had throughout american history. this isb

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