Mr. Reagan and the press

By , Godfrey Sperling Jr. is chief of the Monitor's Washington bureau.

The subject keeps recurring: The President should have more press conferences.

The old points are made. How the reporters were constantly piling into the Oval Office to be informed and regaled by FDR. How most other presidents met frequently with the press. And how President Carter kept up his regimen of two-a-month get-togethers with the news media.

Let's look at Mr. Carter's sessions with the press. He liked them. And his aides thought he was good in such forums. In one sense he was. He was well informed on almost any question that came up and could provide details on the most complex of subjects. If he had been taking a test in school, he would have made an ''A'' on most of these occasions. President Carter was bright and his intelligence always showed through.

Recommended: Presidential debate: 7 defining moments in history (+video)

President Carter did win the praise of the press for his frequent conferences and, by and large, for his performances. At least for a while, the public, too, was quite impressed with the way he handled himself.

But as time went on the public began to tire of the Georgian. The understated President, whose approach was so refreshing at first, was increasingly being perceived by those watching him on television as something other than appealingly modest - which had been the early impression.

More and more, reporters found, people were complaining that Mr. Carter just wasn't presidential enough, that increasingly he was looking like a small, inconsequential person. So, after a while, TV helped to diminish Mr. Carter's size and importance, in effect overstating his understated approach.

What does this have to do with President Reagan? Here, after all, is a veteran actor who has already shown how skilled he is in using TV to his advantage. Why shouldn't he follow the example of the president he says is one of his models - FDR - and meet frequently with the press?

Yet Reagan, at press conferences, regularly gets no better than fair marks from his questioners for his responses. After one recent appearance the media critics were uniformly negative. The verdict: he hadn't done his homework.

Mr. Reagan is basically an administrator and executive who knows how to delegate and who doesn't let himself get bogged down in details. Thus, unlike Mr. Carter, who kept his finger in a lot of pies, Mr. Reagan, unless he makes a special effort, isn't conversant with the kind of detailed information he may ne%rPz Mely on at a press conference.

To get ready for the press, President Reagan must do a lot more special preparing than did Mr. Carter. And he feels that such an effort diverts him from what he considers his job: keeping an eye on the major issues and the big decisions.

Also, Mr. Reagan is known to feel that press conferences can be to his advantage only if he doesn't overdo them. He believes that Mr. Carter suffered from TV overexposure and mainly from holding too many 'ress conferences.

Further, the President believes that he has made the press accessible to him and his views by frequently responding to questions tossed at him when he is moving from spot to spot or acting in some official capacity where there is media coverage.

So, at least for the time being, the President is not yielding to the increasing pressures on him for more press conferences.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...