tv QA Harold Holzer The Presidents vs. the Press - Part Two CSPAN September 21, 2020 6:01am-7:00am EDT
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susan: from the time you started this project, was it always it versus the press? mr. holzer: i'm glad you asked. no. originally it was the presidents and the press. in my research about president kennedy, i found that he gave a
very defensive speech in 1961 for the american publishers association in new york city. and during the speech he said, i wanted to call this speech "the president versus the press" because you are not always living up to your responsibility to protect the american interest. and i have to be talked down so i could call up the president. -- so i will call it the presidents and the press. but i like the first version better, he put it all out on the says ourkennedy interest and theirs are .ncompatible sto susan: is that why he also
earned the photo on your cover? mr. holzer: well, i went back and forth on that and did my -- andul editor in team team. there is a great shot of lyndon johnson looking sour. but the kennedy one, which had photographers and newsmen writing appealed to me. i must admit that i have a soft spot for jfk. i was 11 years old when i was elected. and his vigor, as he himself would put it, is what really interested me in politics when i was a kid. a little bit of payback time. susan: it's clear from your index and your notes that you did extensive research for this book. it was interesting to me that one name kept popping up again and again in your chapters. that is a long-term white house correspondent helen thomas. counted 34hink i citations in the book.
who is she for people that don't will the name? and why was she so important in your storytelling? mr. holzer: i picked a few people who lasted for several presidents and could look at ahead and back. and another groundbreaking woman who was known for her cute questions, that often triggered a laughter when president kennedy responded. she started out in the roosevelt era and faced pretty sexist comments and teasing. she fought for her place and helped establish the right of women to be at presidential press conferences. helen thompson was the upi correspondent who was sent to cover the birth of the kennedy's son in 1960. she covered mrs. kennedy and
earned her way into the white house beat. she lasted, as you know, until the obama administration. she was 90 years old, being helped up the stairs from the press room for press conferences and still reporting. she was feisty and she wrote some very funny and revealing books about her experiences. those of us who have been watching press conferences for a long time know her as the woman who always got the first question because she was in the front row and was the senior reporter. she always said "thank you, mr. president" during those formal structured briefings. in the book she asked very, very tough questions. she was the woman that presidents loved to hate. a cabdriver once picked her up and said, are you the woman that
presidents love to hate? but she kept asking those ferocious questions. she undid herself at 90 by giving an answer to someone on the white house lawn about the middle east. she was of arabic heritage herself. something that did not become known until later in her career. she basically said to this father who had come for jewish history day to the white house, she said, the israelis should go back where they came from, to germany or poland. by then she was not working for the upi, she was a hearst columnist. she lasted a long time. susan: we will start this conversation with fdr, about whom you write "few presidents were more gifted and better prepared in the art of pr."
how did that play out? mr. holzer: he had been a governor of new york for two two year terms. he mastered the art of the press conference and radio address as governor. he then, on election night, in the absence of a victory speech in 1932, in the absence of a concession from herbert hoover, and this was not a closed election, was wheeled into the second floor parlor of his home. where i should state very proudly that i know work. it is now the roosevelt public house policy institute at hunter college in manhattan. but in 1932, it was the roosevelt's family home. he gave an address to people in front of the fireplace. it was, in essence, the first of a series of brilliant two dozen speeches -- not speeches, but conversations he held with the american people during the depression and during world war ii.
it revolutionized presidential communications. susan: the big issue with him was the press' willingness to hide his disability. how does that look to us in the rearview mayor? mr. holzer: it looks like an abdication of responsibility. he was certainly capable of doing the job for 12 years and a month. so his inability to walk did not hamper his mind or his heart, although he did suffer from heart disease, literally, at the end. at the beginning, there was a gentlemen's agreement between photographers and the president-elect and the president. no formal rule, but they said, you know, he is a nice guy, he is trying to help us, he's trying to help the country, why should we add to his burden? there was a news blackout, or a photography blackout.
roosevelt aggressively pursued the blackout. he got a magazine to do a story about his health. it sort of reminds us of what donald trump did when he produced his dr.'s alleged record that he was the healthiest patient he had ever treated. roosevelt got doctors to go over his medical treatment and say he was healthy as a horse, with no mention of his enduring paralysis from the polio he suffered in 1921. so what began as a gentleman's agreement and a little bit of nudging from the president, continued when it became the rule of the white house and the very tough press secretary stephen early. the photographs of him in the wheelchair were not permitted. photographs of him being lifted into a car or using his braces were not permitted. by then, photographers had violated that code they could have their film ripped out of
their cameras. colleague photographers would purposely jostle a photographer who was trying to take a revealing picture. it shows that there was a connection between roosevelt and the press that's unique. susan: we learned in our first hour from you that adams, and crackdownd wilson all during war. when world war ii broke out, what was the roosevelt administration supposed to the press? mr. holzer: he enjoyed hiding a little bit. he went to a conference with winston churchill in canada, but he did not tell the press he was going. he said he was going on a vacation and his son reported that he loved the idea that he fooled them. winston churchill arrived to this conference with his own press contingents. the american press was mightily annoyed by that. he also exercised loose lips
sink ships policy once the war began. he reduced the number of press conferences he had hosted. by the way, it's worth noting that no president in american history met the press as often as fdr. he held 998 press conferences over 12 years. those who claimed that he would diminish to a point where he can no longer lead by the end of his life should look at his last press conference a day before he died and see how he manipulated the press. how he did not allow a guest, the president of the philippines, to say a word. how he reminded everybody everything is off the record and said "i will see you back in washington." we have a transcript for every one of his 998 press conferences. he was a master of that form. two days a week, tuesdays and fridays. access, plus, withholding access
was the perfect formula for control. susan: he was famous for those fireside chats. we will listen to 30 seconds of one from 1939 and then talk about how he used those. [video clip] >> will the people of this country, while receiving news through your radios and your newspapers at every hour of the day, you are the most enlightened and best informed of people in all the world at this moment. you are subjected to no censorship of news. and i want to add that the government has no information which it withholds, or which it has any thought of withholding from you. [end of video clip] susan: what is your reaction to that big statement, not withholding anything from you? mr. holzer: it was generally true up to that point. he answered questions. they were off the record, but he
would relent and put things back on the record or issue a me a mimeographed news release with a statement of the day to conform with the news he had made. the fireside chats were amazing. he assumed a confirmation of power. a new deal activist who traveled the country to officially measure the impact of recovery programs, all took note of the fact that americans throughout the rural area of the country thought of roosevelt as a friend who entered their parlors every so often, and whose voice was perfectly textured to the radio microphone. he did not break -- bray. he did not shout. he did not speeches five, he talked.
the way that geniuses of this new medium converse. they considered him a family friend. they laugh with him. they cried with him during the awful news of world war ii. they prayed with him when he wrote a prayer for the d-day invasion force and recited it. his voice was everywhere. what's remarkable is he did 998 press conferences that he only did 28 fireside chats and people could swear he was always on the radio. always a part of their lives. part of it was because he did speeches on the radio. but there is a great story -- i think my favorite story in the book is a recollection by the person working for the government in a writers project and would later go on to win the nobel prize in literature. he remembered being on a big avenue in chicago as a young man and there was a terrible traffic jam during a fireside chat. he could not stand the heat of
the summer even with the windows down, so he decided he would get walk the length of this boulevard. but every place he went, every car window was rolled down and every radio was tuned to president roosevelt. so as he was walking a mile along this promenade, he kept roosevelt with him the whole time and the voice never stopped dominating the space that he was traversing. susan: if fdr used radio to his advantage, john kennedy -- you write about television, he all but weaponize the medium that help elect him. mr. holzer: he did. the big experiments that propelled him into using television that way were the nixon/kennedy presidential debates, which from the moment they began, gave an advantage to kennedy. not just because of what he said, but the way he said it and the way he looked.
he used great makeup. nixon used that makeup. he was emaciated. those who watched on television believed kennedy had won by a wide margin. there was no polling, but that was consensus. hee he became president, used the same team of makeup artists and set designers who had collaborated on the background of the first triumphant political debate to design a place for him to hold press conferences. now, eisenhower had introduced the live press conferences, but he was clearly annoyed by doing it. he did it in the old executive office building, which was cavernous. he stood at a desk and said, "let's see if this works out." he fought with reporters. it was not successful, even though he had a brilliant press secretary.
the kennedy set was the new state department auditorium, which had theater style seating, professional lighting, they installed a blue background, built a famous podium with a presidential seal. they had a place in the back for cameras, and they had 400 people for those press conferences. they needed the space to accommodate them, and they simply darkened the lights on the outer reaches were people were not seen. the other innovations were that he was introduced "ladies and gentlemen, the president of the united states." that had never happened before. with fdr, the doors flew open and reporters filed in and stood at the desk. kennedy was brilliant. i listened to all of his press conferences again and watched them courtesy of the kennedy library archives. they were as masterful as i
remembered them from my afterschool viewing in junior high school. he was informative. he took responsibility for mistakes. success has a thousand followers he failure is an orphan famously said after the bay of pigs when they failed in cuba. he was funny. he was witty. and again, i mentioned make craig earlier. by this time she was an elderly reporter and she wore flowerpot hats to distinguish her. kennedy could always find her. when things were getting a little tedious, he would call on her and she would inevitably ask russian that was almost as funny as the answer. she had a way of doing her questions that got people giggling. maybe it was a little patronizing, but the giggles were there. and he would giggle when he answered. these became so popular in
their own right as cultural phenomenon, that they inspired a record album. if anybody remembers what a record album is. a comedian did an uncanny impression of president kennedy, or as jfk said, of teddy kennedy. it was more like teddy. it became a big bestseller. they were theatrical events. the press was dubious at first. they did not like the idea of the theatricality of it. but one reporter said it was like getting president kennedy practically do the equivalent of making love in carnegie hall. they realized they were getting called on and getting airtime and they were going famous themselves, so they signed on. they like it. susan: we are going to play a brief clip so people can get a sense of it. we don't have too much more time to talk about kennedy, but let's listen to how he sounded. [video clip]
>> the democratic platform on which you ran for election promises to work for equal rights for women, including equal pay, wipeout job opportunity discriminations. you have made efforts on behalf of others, what have you done for the women according to the promises of the platform? president kennedy: i'm sure we have not done enough. [laughter] president kennedy: i must say i am a strong believer in equal pay for equal work. i think we ought to do better than we are doing. i'm glad that you reminded me of it. [laughter] [end of video clip] susan: i will just let that stand. one aspect of the relationship with kennedy and the press is that they were willing to cover up his medical issues.
his reliance on medications to deal with some of those medical issues. and importantly, his philandering. why were they willing to do that? mr. holzer: it was the last gasp of the old boy network. kennedy had been a journalist after world war ii. he was a writer of sorts. we can debate whether he wrote the book for which he won the pulitzer prize or if he just supervised the production. he was a charmer and he has lifelong friends in journalism. ben bradlee and others, he played golf with reporters and gave them scoops. he was very clever about keeping his friends in his orbit. giving them stories, giving them exclusives, giving them tips. so they were willing to overlook
those things that the old boy network overlooked at the time. the prevailing idea that the president's private life is off-limits if it does not interfere with his public life was still prevalent. and years later, the man who had turned the other way defended that practice because they insisted it did not interfere with his conduct of the government. susan: and in the close to his chapter you recognize the fact that television also canonized john f. kennedy in his death. what were you thinking about as you wrote that? mr. holzer: i was thinking about my longtime studies of the lincoln assassination and how the images of his funeral, allssination, and deathbed contrived into a secular sink -- secular sainthood. the same could be said about kennedy's funeral. it was an elaborate affair in which his body was taken to
where abraham lincoln was buried. on live tv of his little boy saluting his coffin. of jackie kennedy and his brothers and the leaders of the world slowly walking across the bridge. no one who saw that will ever forget it. it is seared into the national memory and made people forget the successes and failures of the administration and fall in love anew and permanently with john kennedy. susan: the chapter in your book on lyndon johnson is important because of the vietnam war, that we don't have enough time to talk about it. i hope it will interest people in reading it. moving on to richard nixon. let's start with a piece of video and then we will talk about it. this is from 1962. [video clip] >> you had an opportunity to attack me and i think i have given as good as i have taken.
i leave you gentlemen now and you will now write it, you will interpret it. that is your right. but as i leave you, i want you to know, just think of how much you're going to be missing. you don't have nixon to kick around anymore. this is myntlemen, last press conference. and i hope that what i have said today will at least make television, radio, the press recognize that they have a right and responsibility if they are against the candidate to give him the shaft, but also recognize if they are giving the shaft, put one lone reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidates says now and then. [end of video clip] susan: what was the source throughout the campaign? mr. holzer: he always believed he got the shaft, as he so charmingly put it. from the day he was a crusading
congressman and senator, he felt he deserved lionization for intensive attacks. and he never got it because the press did not like his tactics and did not like his anger. it persisted into that moment when he was conceding the 1960 -- 1962 comeback bid for governor of california. but i will say that, although he did say it was his last press conference, he famously did have many, many press conferences after that. and most of them were brittle and tense affairs because he did not like press scrutiny. by the way, if there was really a shaft involved in coverage of richard nixon, he would end up giving journalists the shaft when he became president and do
more than any president to change the relationship and accepted area of coverage of a president of the united states. susan: how so? mr. holzer: i think the definitive thing was -- to definitive things was sending vice president spiro agnew to rail against the negativity with his illiterate if fuming of television criticism, talking heads, television stations. the press did not like it. they did not like agnew. they reveled in his subsequent downfall and they blamed nixon. the second thing, and i won't even deal with watergate yet, the second thing was the white house enemies list. nixon kept a list, an absurdly long list of people who he
believed should be everything from taken off social lists to being investigated, and it reporters.ny, many those familiar to the television world. about a a great story woman, somebody, and said mary, , you made the enemy list. it said you write an anti-nixon column every day. she said, that's absolutely not true. she said, i only write three days a week. so reporters took it as a badge of honor, but they never trusted richard nixon again. and what followed, nixon trying to prevent publication of the pentagon papers, losing in the supreme court, affirming the freedom of the press, really
quite consequentially. and then, of course, the watergate cover-up in which he said very few true things to the press in the final year and a half of this presidency. susan: by the time watergate broke, was the relationship with the press corps at large just so fractured that there was no reservoir of goodwill towards him? is that fair to say? mr. holzer: i would absolutely agree with that. there was no sympathy for richard nixon. he was too dark a figure. he was too calculating a figure. he was too aggressive and sicker to figure. watergate was the latest and greatest manifestation of the general hostility against societal norms. once the press smells blood, they never relented on watergate, justly so because he tried to destroy norms over the election process, clumsily, defensively, and the cover-up was worse than the crime.
by the way, nixon has -- just a pointed out, it is always good to have a press secretary. i am a former political press secretary and it's a hard job. you have to tell the truth to the press, keep the press informed, keep your loyalty to the candidate who will be the elected official, and stay informed by the candidate. so if you leak, you have to leak very, very carefully. president nixon had ron zigler as a press secretary who was not trusted by the press. and really, not even liked by the president. his spin doctors, his operatives, his communication like pat buchanan were crafting the dark strategy of his attack on the media. he was really the first president to make media attacks an integral part of his platform in his daily method of
operation. and the press were never going to be interested in finding his corner, much less being in his corner after that. susan: your book is the story not just of the presidents, but also of the changing press corps and changing technology that enabled them to do their work. what was the outcome of the nixon administration on the covered thethat president? mr. holzer: the good outcome for them is "the new york daily news" had helped fund raise for franklin roosevelt, saying that he needed it for physical therapy. which is close to saying that he needed to exercise his legs. roosevelt did not like the idea. but he built the pool and invited the reporters to use the pool. richard nixon covered up the pool. "cover-up,"rd
because that's what it was and it seemed to be his mo, covering up. what he did is he gave the press a theater style setting for daily briefings. and it really changed the operation of the white house press corps. moving out of closer proximity to the oval office. which was one of the reasons he did that, but also giving them a ande-of-the-art facility television broadcasting to allow more to be allowed in the daily coverage of the white house. it also created a briefing room. which we know too well today. think, when we see those briefings that they are standing over the old swimming poor that roosevelt used to swim in for rehabilitation and lyndon johnson used to take reporters in for nude swimming. "look" magazine reporters and others. nixon ended swimming and
replaced it with a pool with a cover. susan: i know that you spoke to president bill clinton from your notes and newt gingrich, who they famously squared after in the clinton presidency. i will ask one question to capture the flavor of the clinton years. hillary clinton famously complained regularly over vast right wing conspiracy against the president and herself. in the book you ask, was he justifiably aggrieved or it rationally self pitying? did you come to a conclusion? mr. holzer: my own conclusion is that he was unjustly covered. the residue of the aggressive coverage of nixon, the ability of the press to remove a president, the ability of two journalists to become folk hereos -- as i say in the book, journalist does not
want to be played by robert redford and dustin hoffman? i think he was a bit self pitying, but i think he was enormously aggrieved. i am on record -- the last time i visited little rock i have a little voice segment in the clinton library in the video display where i say, it really was a vast right-wing conspiracy. clinton suffered the arrows of a very aggressive right-wing radio culture. rush limbaugh and others who said vile personal things about him and his family. and also, just a culture of investigating things that should not have been investigated. i hope i make that point in the book about the tragedy of vince
foster, the folly of whitewater, and travel gate. i think there were all the degressions and enormous disservice to the americans. that was on ken starr. susan: george w. bush, to talk about him i am going to show a clip from his last press conference in 2009 where he talks about his relationship with the press. then we will add more context of the story. [video clip] president bush: i see a lot of faces that travel with me around the world. places like afghanistan, iraq two and africa. i see some new faces. which goes to show there is some turnover in this business. through it all, i have respected
you. i sometimes did not like the stories that you wrote or reported on. sometimes you miss underestimated me. but always a relationship i have felt has been professional. and i appreciate it. i appreciate -- i do appreciate working with you. my friends would say, what is it like to deal with the press corps? i said these are just people who are trying to do the best they can. [end of video clip] susan: there is the present reflecting on his eight years in office. you wrote about it. what was it like going through it for the president? mr. holzer: i think there was an ingenious structure in the communication operations of the bush white house. very much modeled after the reagan system, which is kind of a good cop/bad cop set up with
the communications aides were a great deal more negative and aggressive than the president. and in which the president was kept relentlessly on message for photo ops, for chats, and even for press conferences. and president bush was a very -- president bush is and was a friendly man and a charming man. i think he made some bad public relations mistakes. the flight over hurricane katrina where he did not land, but sort of hovered, just sends a terrible signal to americans that he was out of it. i don't think he was out of it, but at this point, television coverage was aggressively liberal or conservative and they moments at anyha
opportunity. the dramatic landing at the uss lincoln with a mission accomplished sign in the background years before the mission was accomplished. and i think that was also a mistake. some of them thought it was cute and liked it, others thought it was a subtle control mechanism. so i think he did respect the professionalism of the press. i liked his little miss underestimated joke, because he was quite famous for malaprop's, which the press but to report. susan: our conversation is how presidents become restrictive during times of war. after 9/11 and when he began the afghanistan and iraq wars, what was their stance towards the media is trying to cover the stories? mr. holzer: it was unlike
franklin roosevelt. think about fdr and his propaganda during world war ii directors, toilm go and film the war so that america had the record of the tribulations and battles. war correspondents were at the front reporting back on the blood, the gore and the agony and injuries. it was all covered from the beginning. it was reported home. lyndon johnson, for all of his insane demand to control every message did allow the press to cover vietnam. and of course walter cronkite raised questions about the war , lbj says, if i have lost cronkite, have lost middle america, and it was the beginning of the downfall.
the bush administration did not allow embedded cameras into the wars against terrorism. as they were called. we barely were able to see coffin upon coffin flag draped being brought back, almost on an assembly line. they were only occasionally glimpsed and unloaded from aircraft, because they did not want to stories like that to upset the american people or the electorate. rather they showed to play bombing, which was like watching a video game. so i think that was a major change, and i think that is the culture of work coverage right now, which is don't let them in. susan: what about the administration's pursuit of leaks. mr. holzer: the bush administration and the reagan administration were very aggressive on cracking down on
leaks using lie detectors and trying to find the source of leaks. by this time, there is a patriot act that forbids the use of information that might give comfort to terrorists and terrorist organizations. there was a new crackdown and new kind of informal censorship that prevailed through the obama years. susan: speaking of president obama, i would like to do the same thing with him, which is listen to him talking about his approach to information and then talk with you about his record. this is from 2010 and it's a youtube interview. [video clip] >> one of the top questions was warren hunter saying, i expect the country to trust you when you have broken promises on the campaign trail. most recently having a transparent health care debate? president obama: first of all, i
would say we have been certified by independent groups as the most transparent white house in history. it's important to understand. we are the first white house and -- since the founding of the republic to list every visitor that comes into the white house online so you can look it up. people know more about the inner workings of this white house, the meetings we have. we have excluded lobbyists from boards and commissions, but we report on any lobbyist to meet with anybody who is part of our administration. we have followed through on a lot of the commitments that we have made. so warren's mistaken in terms of how he characterized it. [end of video clip] susan: there is the president talking about it. but you write he finds a place among john adams, abraham lincoln, and woodrow wilson as one of the presidents in blocking press scrutiny. mr. holzer: he does make a valid point about listing appointments
, to his credit. but he also has the most the detailed information about the discussions or those records. he limited his interactions with the press, and he was the president who was there at the creation of the really phenomenon of the internet explosion of the web. he created a white house website and the information that was often put out to the press and the public was on the official white house website. i have instances of reporters asking to cover it and they were directed to the website, which is an affront to the working journalist. also from the obama administration, there was very aggressive investigations of journalists. and the two best-known ones, who are the most consequential ones,
have similar names. james rosen and james risen. one from fox and one is a print journalist. both of them were wiretapped in the case of the fox news reporter, his family phones were wiretapped all to find the sources of the material. whether you agree or not that america was in the same kind of peril for its very survival as it was during the civil war, i think you have to acknowledge that barack obama was a president who could crackdown on press accessibility and coverage. and if you look at the rankings that research organizations did at the end of his presidency, i think they come down on the side that he was not transparent, except in the sense that he argues he was. susan: as with bill clinton, you describe how the obamas went
around the press and went to communications media to tell the -- their own story. would you talk about that? mr. holzer: barack obama was the first twitter president. and to trump's chagrin, i am sure he has the most twitter followers than anyone in the world, except for one or two entertainers. enormous numbers. tens and tens and millions of followers. so the white house website, the twitter account, instagram, all of the things that the obama team originated. they had the first office of digital media of any white house, and they were masters of the craft. of course, they were invented by a who was an enormously gifted,
as a one-on-one or one , onscreen communicator. the combination of talent and technology was enormous. he is really the first internet president and took full advantage of in the best of ways, the most modern communications, technology in his disposal. susan: the press at this time was no longer about press. media spans all sorts of types of communication from talk radio to blogs to facebook and social media. how did all that change the relationship between the consuming public and the president? mr. holzer: i think it is rendered some of the press more timid and less prepared to be aggressive with presidential questioning.
i sort of bemoaned the level of questioning at presidential press conferences these days. i think they are on a simple level gotcha questions, and the follow-ups have no relations to the original questions. they are not probing. they are not deep. very modern, immediate moments. i think the competition among media is probably more important now to white house correspondents, than they healthy antipathy between the presidents and the press. they're fighting each other, they are fighting their platforms as much as they are doing just battle with the president and giving the president an opportunity to really explicate on his policies. susan: the president is a constant presence in our lives,
perhaps even if we don't wish him to be. because of the various kinds of communication. what has that done for the president's ability to govern, versus earlier presidents who could control when and how often they were seen? mr. holzer: i think president trump controls how often his messages get out. it's basically many, many times a day. here's another criticism of the press, if i may. when president trump tweets early in the morning, as he does almost daily, the news cycle immediately bends to his latest issue, idea, rant, complaint, attack. and half of the day's news cycle is devoted to rehashing his and analyzing it in the case of talking heads talking about it in some networks.
this is nothing short of genius. on the part of trump. obama may have been the first twitter president, but trump is a president of such mastery of twitter that he ranks, i think, with fdr in radio and jfk and television as the three most technologically savvy presidents. he bent the news cycle, i won't say to his will, but to his whim. susan: we have a clip of him of his first solo press conference of february 17, 2017. [video clip] president trump: i am having a good time. they will take -- don't forget, that is the way i won. i used to give you a news conference every time i made a speech, which was like every day. i won with news conference and probably speeches. i certainly did not win by listening to you people. but i am having a good time. tomorrow they will say, donald
trump rants and rates at the press. i am just telling you. the public does not believe you people anymore. maybe i had something to do with that, i don't know, but they don't believe you. if you were straight and really told it like it is, as howard cosell used to say, of course he had some questions also, but if you were straight i would be your biggest booster and your biggest fan in the world. including bad stories about me. [end of video clip] susan: criticism of the press that has continued throughout his 3.5 you're so far the white house. what do you hear in what he is saying to them? mr. holzer: it is very hard to draw -- his sentences are so incoherent sometimes, the diversion so odd that it is hard to really take anything from it and make any sense of it. i think one of the things he is saying that is sad is, if only you liked me, i would like you.
humphrey bogart says, what are you like me and i would be nicer to you. president trump, his very first press activity as president was going to the cia and attacking the press for saying that he criticized the cia, which he had done during the campaign. at that very moment, his press secretary sean spicer had been instructed not to talk about policy initiatives, but to go off on this thing that lasted a couple of weeks, insisting the inaugural crowd was bigger than barack obama's. i will not play armchair psychiatrist and try to understand what that was all about, but spicer later says he did not know why trump fixated on it. he was ordered to do it. and when he did not do it successfully enough, he was replaced by person with no experience, anthony scaramucci,
and the rest is history. just a succession of adversarial relationships with the communications director. kellyanne conway on the side attacking the press while her husband attacks trump. it's bizarre. it has never been like this. and i think while -- i do say in the book that donald trump's bark is worse than his bite. but clearly, john adams did more to injure freedom of the press. that abraham lincoln did more and wilson did more and fdr. trump has sort of crushed down the press and its credibility and the professionalism that george w. bush acknowledged. he may do long-lasting harm from
which we will never recover in terms of our fate, our dependence on, and our need for the press to ask the tough questions. susan: one of the stories that you tell about george w. bush and barack obama is how they went into every press conference having rehearsed, to stay on message, and going out there fully prepared. president trump enjoys the spontaneity. how did the two different techniques impact the public's view of the president? mr. holzer: we won't really know the public's view of president trump until november, december, or whenever we successfully count votes for the 2020 election, i suppose. according to the polls, his spontaneity leads donald trump into areas instantly polled as hurting him. whether he is talking about saying nasty things about women,
who he says are nasty, or advocating bleach as an internal medicine. he tends to get himself into trouble by not being prepared. but he is a seat-of-the-pants president. he does not read briefing books, much less rehearse for briefings. whereas reagan, for example, at his most thought moment, the iran-contra scandal, rewrote his briefing book in longhand because that is the way he used to learn scripts in hollywood. that is the way he would commit his lines to memory. george w. bush really worked on the lines that he wanted to convey. there is nothing wrong with that. there is nothing wrong with having a message to communicate to the american people. i do think the press enjoys scraping away the scabs that are barely covering the wounds that
trump thinks he has endured. so the kind of circuses we see now are probably helping neither the press nor the president. susan: we spent two hours with you and you have spent years researching the topics of the presidents versus the press. what are the most important things you would like readers to take away from what you have learned and the stories you've conveyed? mr. holzer: schematic issues that the most successful or influential presidents, like them or dislike them, are the ones that went around the press and crafted new technologies to circumvent media's coverage and speak directly to the american people. the second thing is that the media landscape is ever-changing. it is not rozen in time. it has evolved. it was more partisan and has
become more partisan than it used to be. there was a great middle period when disinterested coverage was treasured. whether we can get back to that or the news that was put to print. as donald trump might say, we will have to see. i think the major message that i hope i convey is that, this, at its best, can be a very helpful adversarial relationship. it does not have to descend into personal info, sexist info, racially insensitive insults. it doesn't have to include mockery of disabled people. and it does not have to include wholesale, personal attacks on either the president or the press. it is an adversarial relationship, but it is a healthy one at its best. we have always come back from the edge of this.
after the civil war, the supreme court said presidents could not ever have the military close down the press where the press is functioning. woodrow wilson continued the committee on public information the day after world war i ended. fdr relaxed his propaganda after world war ii ended. i think there are extraordinary moments that we need that sometimes upset us and the president, but there is a tradition of their going at it, these two great pillars of society, the press and the american presidency. that benefits us for the adversarial nature of the relationship. and that has to come back from the extreme in order for the body politic that we serve and for government to fly. susan: harold holzer a lincoln scholar and someone who has contributed many hours to c-span over the years, thank you for
two hours on your newest book, what number was it for you? mr. holzer: 54. susan: book number called "the 54 presidents vs press." thank you for your time. mr. holzer: thank you so much for having me. >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a at c-span.org. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] >> both chambers of congress are in session. the house returns today at noon eastern for legislative work but no both are scheduled. later on the week, possible spending measure when current funding expires. cleaner,energy, preventing forced labor.
the house live on c-span. the scent returns for the first session since the death of ruth bader ginsburg. work is scheduled on judicial nominations with a vote later in the afternoon to advance in on any for federal court. watch the senate live at 3:00 eastern time on c-span 2. evening, georgetown university law school holds a remembrance ceremony for the late justice rick bader ginsburg. -- ruth bader ginsburg. watch live at 7:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. online at c-span.org or listen live on the free c-span radio app. morning on today's "washington journal," mark hugo lopez from the pew research center about the latino vote and aboutcannon who will talk the importance of his