tv A Conversation on Presidents the Press CSPAN August 29, 2018 9:15pm-9:59pm EDT
to hear about discoveries including pluto and moon mapping. and a tour of the national monument. >> some may think of this as abandoned and empty but it is still a very important and living site for a lot of the descendants of people that live in the area. so hope people will come here to do ceremonies and pay homage to their ancestors. they believe they are still here. this is an important site for on many people in the southwest. >> watch c span tour of flagstaff, arizona, saturday at 7:00 p.m. eastern on c span 2 book tv and sunday at 2:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c span 3 working with our cable affiliate as we explore
america. historian jon meacham sat down with judy wood ruth -- woodruff to talk about the relationship with the president and the impact on friends and devices have had on american history. this is about 40 minutes. all right. the second portion of our presidents and the press presentation, really delighted to have a previous panel, was terrific. want to thank them all very much for their years of experience and expertise and we are also so proud and privileged that we are able to have judy woodruff and jon meacham here to join us for the second part of the discussion of a critical element in the relationship, of course, that the country has with the press and with the president. we turn it over to judy
woodruff and jon meacham. thank you. [ applause ] >> what a great panel that was. i was thinking and listening and learning a lot from the conversation. full disclosure i'm sitting here with an amazing historian and i'm the true antique. hearing some of these stories was terrific. i have covered 7 presidents. i have the great fortune to have this conversation with one of america's extraordinary presidential -- american's historian and someone that has written about a number of american presidents over our history, thomas jefferson, andrew jackson, franklin roosevelt and his relationship with winston churchill and most
recently george h w. bush and you wrote a book about the civil war and you written about the presidents of that era. >> it is extraordinarily on historians and the best restaurant or hospital. you want to win but it is not that hard. thank you. >> so the last panel, oh, my gosh. you are going to do this? >> that was for benjamin harris, i love those guys. >> the last topic touched upon wonderful history and i want to look at the history, jon meacham, is this country, relationship between the president and the press and what this country was founded on, what the press was supposed to mean? talk a little bit about the first amendment, what the founding fathers had in mind when they envisioned the role of the press? >> they weren't thinking about the new york times.
the press and the late 18th century both in england and the united states and it was an angled american's conversation was this partisan. it was as if every party had its own cable network. not unlike the internet. there were unsigned webs and attacks that would be picked up and republished around the country. let's not let the narcissism of the present align this that we have been this before. part of the wil part -- way we came out of it and part of the oxygen of the republic as opposed to a stifling voice there were so many. we lament that we had a common culture and common understanding and some sort of
era around about 1965 with all respects to people that were at work then, all of the beat reporters, the common culture, vietnam, right, it calls for david haberson to write a book about how everybody got it so wrong. i would urge a sense of proportion about this. everybody gets up every day, whether you are the president or a citizen or member of the media and tries to get it right. sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. and we hope with winston churchill -- is duncan here? yes the great grandson of the beloved prime minister. only half of you should be here because your half american. step outside the door. we are going to build a wall for you. [ laughter ] anita just got
nervous. i don't know what i was saying. we always get everything wrong until we get it right basically. you can count on us to do the right thing after we exhausted every possibility and i think that is true. basically i think of the press as sort of three geological era. the founding era where everybody was partisan. >> is that what the founding fathers -- >> it is what they knew. they didn't have a vision of the news hours. we will have a publication or a broad sheet that is going to say these are the facts you have to know to become an informed citizen. that wasn't part of their ambient reality. >> they did have a sense because they put it in the first amendment any way. they did have a sense it was important to have a free press. that was part of having envisioned this system. >> and for them the press and
freedom of expression and speech were all of it and jefferson did say i would rather live in a world with newspapers and no government than government and no newspapers. what he was really saying was he wanted to live in a culture where we had a clamor of ideas and voices that would come to the right decision. >> that was before he was president and then afterwards? >> oh, yes. president kennedy canceled the tribune subscription and i know we are all supposed to think that presidents love the press but they tend to do so before they are president and after. tim mcbride is here and he was senior president bush's close personal aide and george hw bush's diary that is a tape
recorded diary like listening to dana carvy. mcbride screwed it up -- no. dana wants says the key to doing george on hw bush's voice was mr. rogers trying to be john wayne. but when i was listening to the diary, he would be belly aching about the press in specific terms. woodruff did that. sam donaldson did this. i began to worry that the man that won the cold war had washed tv all day and when i realized in consultation with him that part of what happened was that he had everything in his briefcase. so he had the white house news summary and the tape recorder. and so he would be on marine one or air force one and pull everything out and start looking at this and be reading this great transcript of
everyone that was attacking him and he would react to it that way. that's reality. how many of you love criticized? you all humanize people that on are monumental and less accessible. characters is what it is. you are custodians of the means that we can access a usable path. >> and picking up on that, john, there was one vision of this early on. thomas jefferson's perception but i want to ask you about some of the people you have spent time studying. andrew jackson. where did his idea of how to relate to the press come from?
because he ended up inviting reporters to be advisers? >> his basic idea of how to deal with the press came from the nra. oh, wait, that is actually good. so he did whatever president wants to do. he did not like the democratic paper that was at work when he came to washington in 1829. and so he founded a new one. the washington globe was his newspaper. and so imagine if every president could just start their own -- we may be getting there. he was actually ahead of his time but he would -- people would bring him editorials and it was how he communicate downtown and beyond our kin now and as one of the great architects of popular culture,
lower case c, that understanding that you had to be in constant communication with a democratic populace or foreshadow the modern world. i think he would have used twitter. use the means of your day and now mistake that our greatest president, our most effective presidents are those that those that understood on the means of communication. jackson and lincoln understood the importance of the printed word. jackson understood images, the most painted. he kept the painter, a guy named ralph earl. he lived in the white house to keep painting him. like the photo office and president roosevelt and winston church hill understood radio
and president kennedy and president reagan understood television. the incumbents understood tv and social media. we know the president has not change the incumbent but we don't know whether the incumbent has changed the presidency. one thing he has changed, it is hard for me to imagine a successor not having social media communication with the country. >> you think that is permanent? >> i do. i do. i think it is. >> twitter, the whole thing? >> if you look going forward if you look at something that comes out from a candidate or an incumbent and it looks as though it went through four layers of people, i think that is going to have an effect. i could be wrong but we are all the media. >> so if your thinking -- i don't want -- i was trying to
focus on the path focus on the let's bring it -- >> sorry. >> let's bring it up to now. are you saying jon meacham, that in order to be successful in electoral politics in this country, you've got to be able to master whatever the current means of communication is? in a way it's stating the obvious, but it's staying on top of whatever it is. whether it's combination of public speaking and having great relationships with the newspapers and now mastering whatever the social media is? >> absolutely. i'd be stating the obvi it. i don't see how is-- i don't se how that part goes back, right? and remember those stories of your colleague, leslie stall, 1984, you got to remember the story about cbs evening news had a particularly long report
about the '84 campaign and how ronald reagan was a master of ' style but not substance and they showed five or six minute report that in those days was like the ice age, right? and rolled it on and showed all of these pictures of president g reagan in front of flags with children and mary lou retton si and everything you could think of. all of leslie's track on it wasi how empty this was, these were empty calories. this was s not what the country wanted and the phone rang at 6:42 and it was mike beaver and he said thank you so much. and leslie was expecting one of those calls we just heard about and said mike, didn't you watch the piece? yes. i watched it, e you just gave m six minutes d.of an ad. i think nthat history tells us
that leadership in a popular government requires people that can speak in a popular vernacular. people that give an era may not appreciate ulit with harry trum building the postwar order and george h.w. bush that governed with consensus. there is any number of examples where history has become a kind of corrective through the presence of the president. without an ability to speak both through and above the press, no president can be successful. >> what about in connection with that, what about relationship with reporters and the last channel they were talking about, sometimes they y got too cozy, it may be stepped over the line, much of the time, what we focus on as the
adversarial relationship, what presidents always are almost ri always perceives as hostile treatment that they are getting while they are in office. >> you know there is the wonderful examples on both sides, right? bottom line on this or history tells us that everybody is human that we get this right sometimes and wrong other otimes. franklin roosevelt basically was the founder of the modern press conference. the daily briefing. e they couldn't quote him directly. he was ncthe most highly paid background briefer in american history. he would come in. if you read the new york times clips. they are almost impenetratable. they are d trying to quote the s president without quoting the president. the sad thing about that fdr had this marvelous trelationsh with the working reporter or because they were working class
guys. people were but basically they were like the front paid, the play. the publishers hated roosevelt because they were the guys with money paying hethe taxes that f was imposing axand the reporter were benefiting and so there was this inherent tension and fdr understood it and loved it.r he understood the power of imagery. he was .like watching a newsree of himself saying that was the e garbo in me. orson wells came to see him and said you and i are the two best actors in america. he understood this in a way that -- he was elected four times. >> i hear you ttalking about this and i'm reflecting on what you said about when the countrya started for decades. the press was all about
opinion. >> yes. >> es the press was opinions, a driving force of the media. we didn't call it the media then. we went through this period of where we tried to be fair and objective. that was a time i came into the press and it was what i was told, nobody cares what you think. judy woodruff says to gather the facts and report them. so we now -- we are going back to what we were for the longest time in the early part of our history. is the right relationship? what does that mean? >> it is the old way which is now the new way so you have, as judy says, the opinion driven to end in the 20th century. a couple esof reasons. one was progressive era. the rides of political science and data could actually drive
the visions and it was affecting journalism to some extent. when the new york times was bought in 1946 there was 47 es newspapers in new york. he took the position that we should do this without fear or favor because that was the only open marketplace. a pro-life person you had your own newspaper in manhattan so he needed something to say. and ythen the titanic went down and oxen nalways said he understood big stories and he always wanted a newsroom to cover a story of that scope. so oothe times wins out. and then of course 1921, radio comes along, television and the late '40s, there's something called the fairness doctrine which was not repealed until d '86 or '87 because we all owned the public airways so the idea was you could d not express an
opinion unless you gave equal time to both sides. most people decided to stay oute of that business all together. and as fpart of a generalized deregulation move president reagan repealed that and rush limbaugh goes onational in 1998 and hbrings george w. bush dow in the eprimary and 96 you have fox, cnbc and csn was found in the c80s. you had this period where we , did have more or less -- part of dit, that's the media world h where most of us grew up. we are accustomed to this air of walter cronkite.
>> and that's the american way of journalism. it? uestion, is >> it wasn't that great. joe mccarthy knew how to control it. he would call it and said i am seeking a communist in des moines and the papers would flash senator seeks red in des moines and wait until 11:30 p.m. because the morning papers midnight and said he is alluding me but i am redoubling my efforts adand headlines on senator redoubles effort. he rose to power and television helped rto undue it because whe people could watch him on the mccarthy hearings they didn't want that and so his fall, he rose because of intense coverage and fell because of intense coverage and that's the mysterious cycle here. and so i think that if
anything, the world is going to get more atomized and more voices and what we have to hope is that in the ca cav fany there is a chorus that checks and balances. >> i am asking to you look at presidents tover time to find examples that support or don't the idea that we need a fair press in this country because today there is the sense that the president that succeeds is the press, not all of it but press driven by an agenda and got an enormous enthusiastic fiercely loyal following especially on the right and to a degree on the left as well. >> how many viewers do you hav in the evening? >> 2 --million give or take. >> okay. so that's more -- that's about
where the big primetime came people eoare. the big opinion. a little bit more. >> a little bit more. >> so you got the news hour that i think all of opt us beli and i would say this behind judy's back is one ofof the gre models and one of the great islands of sanity in the storm of insanity. >> credit gomes to jim lair and robin mcmare. >> they are slike the guys in ys philadelphia with the wigs. not going to like that. he said what? [ laughter ] >> west virginia, you know. this is the exception. they wouldn't, the importance o of the free press isn't really
a dispute. what we are facing now is an interestingly, not i unprecedented because we barely begun when we had someone screaming fake news and that was john adams. sorry. the brain tree people are probably upset. but this act in 1978 were about closing down presses that they believe were dell la tearous to the e country in the opinion of the federal gogovernment. so there is a tradition of people wanting to suppress the press. in 19 -- from 1918 to 1920, the postmaster general, burleson was his name closed down 400 publications in this country because they cdisagreed with president wilson's views on the
war. so within dthe last hundred years, 400 newspapers were closed down. eugene debbs went to jail. and there was the espionage act in 1917. within the last one hundred years, we have had the power of the efederal government be marshalled to suppress and curb american dissent in the press and public arena. part of a tradition of reaction that acquires, if i may, people like e you and me, people that t believe that america is right. who understand that having this amount of voices is good and to
attack the institutions in fact america in the sense of following our least good instinct, our worse instinct in instead of our best. >> and only jon meacham would know the name of the post general. >> henry burleson. >> i am good on jeopardy if you need me. [ laughter ] >> so i think some of us, one of the many reasons i was delighted to have a chance to talk to you this morning, we are all at this morning lookingi back at history, looking for ways to put, not only llput wha is bagoing on today in context but to understand it and to speak, haif there are ways thate what is happening today with this happening and the president today, wwhat is happening with recent presidents does have historical precedent. that to figure out what is the strain in american life.
what are the values in american life enthat have brought us to where we reare today and will carry atus through it. >> it is hope versus fear. and they are -- my y argument about this is that the country does have a soul greek and hebrew, breath and life. i don't like people that say the party i disagree have captured the soul country. that's not right because if we are honest about our history we have to realize that we are capable of great good and great evil often in the same afternoon. so every generation is defined by the struggle between light and eadark in that battle for o better angel. it is build lena country that f whatever all of our problems ways our immigration issue. our immigration issue is that people want to come here. that's pretty good. we want to preserve that. we want that to happen.
but a country founded on the sentence, the most important sentence arguably ever written in the uenglish language that w are all created equal and endowed by our r creator with certain inalienable rights. that is something in the english language because the old story about the texas school board candidate against teaching spanish and donald trump said if english fis good enough for our lord jesus christ it is good enough for texas. if it weren't for us, they would still be part of spain. to george w. bush and he said that is really funny [ laughter ] >> i am also big in hostages if you need me. we are founded on that premise and you should see david bush in front of a cake, we do this
together sometimes. m with the premise we are all created equal and the man that wrote that was a slave holder ed and it took us 90 years to adjudicate that and in my native region in the last half century we have lived under legalized aparte. women have not yet voted for one hundred years. 2020 will be the centennial. 50 unyears ago african-american could not vote in my native region. three years ago gay americans could not marry. three years ago. people say the issue on gay rights is moving so fast. i have never heard a gay person say the story of their human rights is moving fast. it is a boring heterosexual
says that. i think that ultimately you have to have intellectually honest parties that are willing to call them as they seen them as opposed to reflectively taking a position one way tor the other. you have to have a free press, free opinion but also people that actually give us some fact. facts are stubborn things as adams said. you have to have engaged citizens that are willing to create that part of the democratic conversation lower case d where all too often, you know this as well as i do if not better politicians are mirrors of who we are as opposed to molders. and so if we want this city to change, we have to change. >> all right. and our citizens engaged now because the polls show a big
chunk of the american public today doesn't trust the press. just thinks the press makes it up. >> yeah. ushe i mean we are ahead of dick cheney but that's about it, right? the press and the polls. i mean g-- >> we may not be. >> dick is winning now? okay. now se is worse. so i think people also have -- i distrust those polls a little bit because i don't know what the press means anymore. if i don't, i suspect a lot of people don't because my mississippi in-laws sure believe what is on fox. particularly when they attack me, they love that. and they don't believe what is
on other networks. to them the press which is it? can i ask you a question? you covered governor carter. >> i did. >> the relationship between the carter white house and the washington press core was not new. there was a lot of class issues, right? there was a lot of resentment there. but do you think comparing the late '70s to now, so a 40 year cycle, biblical cycle, were we better governed in 1978 than 2018? >> i don't know if i am equipped to answer that. i will say that carter team that came to washington felt that they had won this election against the overwhelming
opposition of the democratic party hierarchy and determined to come to washington and do it their way. they felt the party was against them and washington was against them. and the new york times and washington post was against them. so they spent the first couple of years trying hard to do it their way. >> right. >> and not bringing in people in washington. you know the story, they eventually did but by then it was late and impressions set in and so forth. are we governed -- that's a tough question, are we governed better? can you say that about anytime in our history? are we governed better? are the presidents in touch with the american people and that comes back to your point that the presidents that do the best, who are the most successful are the ones that communicate what they believe, what they want, what their
hopes and aspirations are to the american people. i don't think jimmy carter did as good a job as he wanted to. he did during the campaign. >> sure. >> but as he became president it was tougher. today we can debate all day and night what donald trump said during the campaign. >> yes. >> and whether what he is saying as president fulfills that or doesn't and a lot more to the story than that. >> yeah. i keep thinking that the presidents that we remember fondly and the ones that tend to trip off the tongue and sort of a popular way are the ones who reach beyond the base that elected them. right? so let's just do the 20th century. you have fdr who leads very the
30s and 40s this toned world that we go from soup lines to d day and everything worked out great. well, that was a fundamental question in the early 1930s as churchill -- roosevelt represented the light of socialism and the lights of self assertion. would have known the post master name's to. he wrote a letter in 1935, we have this vision of fdr being in the living room. he different think he should be in there too much. he wrote there is something in the human psychology that resists hearing the highest
note played in the scale repetitively. he only wanted to go on the radio when he sad to say. in 1941, the white house asked everybody to get a map and rand mcnally ran out of maps because roosevelt was going to talk through the different theaters. immense popular leadership. immense achievement. president truman and lindon johnson did things that one would not expect on the front end. the senator from missouri and texas become the advocates for civil rights and they surprised us as pointing forward as opposed to pointing at each
other. i think the presidents that stand largest in memory are those that actually challenged the assumptions of the people who already support them. >> and that was going to be my last question is what, as we look ahead, what kind of person is it who, if no president that i can think of, maybe you disagree, ever has left the presidency thinking he was treated fairly by the press, democrat, republican, it doesn't matter what party. for all of the criticism, the president is being left, no president feels like he was treated fairly. what is that thing that mysterious quality out in the open quality that a person need to have in order to be able to tell his or her story, the
american people? >> well, it was a certain level of a nim maty that is vanishing and particularly so with the politicians. it is affection and respect and it is a vote. and so every encounter to some extent is a transaction in that fundamental economy. personal economy of wanting to impress and loving that person enough to entrust them with your vote. the idea would you have this bank of critics who are trying to complicate and stop that sale to torture this metaphor in this virtual transaction i think is inherently
frustrating. the one person that i can think of who i know belly ached but not a lot was president reagan. now part of the reason is that he could outsource it to mrs. reagan. >> she didn't think he had a fair shake. >> that is the case of outsourcing. one last story. i was at a funeral and reminded as they were reading the sermon on the mound, so we all know president reagan's praise is we are a -- >> shining city on a hill. okay. >> that is from the sermon on the mound you should be a city on a hill. i have actually been in churches where ministers have said as our lord said we are a shining city on a hill.
our lord didn't. president reagan did and so i swear to god. so i never met president reagan but i did get to know mrs. reagan, the only woman at lunch would eat a third of a cobb salad. you felt huge next to her. and i said you know it was always terrible because knew more gossip about the obamas than i did. i don't know, ma'am. it was terrible. whatever. so we are talking once and i said you know what i just noticed president reagan had such an effect on our language and national identity. people think that jesus said shining on the hill and she looked at me with those big eyes and said without affect, well that's the kind of thing
ronnie would do, isn't it? may we all beloved as nancy davis loved ronald reagan. >> a great note to end on. thank you jon meacham. [ applause ] you are watching our coverage about presidential historic sites across the country. in a moment historians will discuss how they choose which stories are told when they prepare biographies of u.s. presidents and historians from various presidential sites talk about presidential legacies and how they try to create inclusive history about those presidents. if you missed any of this week's programs you can find them online at c span's video library at c span dot org. american history tv continues until labor day. on labor day we have conversations with women members of congress. on friday we have discussions on world war i known as the
great war including a look at soldiers on the western front and how the u.s. dealt with shell shock. this labor day weekend there is three days of featured programs saturday at 8:00 p.m. as professor matt harris discusses the anti slavery movement before the civil war. sunday at 10:00 a.m. women in congress series continues with barbara canele and at 8:00 p.m. on the presidency, a look at the relationship between george washington and alexander hamilton and the accuracy of hamilton's the musical. on monday 8:00 p.m. the presidential site summit. watch this labor day on c span 3.
associations from across the country talk about how they decide which stories are included and why some are disregarded and discuss the impact of first laids and outside relationships to a president's decision and developments. this is about an hour. and pre truman on a post-presidential visit was surprised to find his old piano back in the white house. hello. i'm gale berry west. and i am on the board of the white house historical association. on behalf of the association, th e board is peased that you have chosen i know you will agree that we have had a unique