Opinion: A president finds uneasy peace with the press

  • Mary McGrory
12:00 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017 Opinion

This column appeared on the combined 1967 Thanksgiving Day Editorial page of The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution:

WASHINGTON — Who says Lyndon Johnson doesn’t like press conferences? He had one Friday and nobody in the East Room enjoyed it more. It has suddenly dawned on the President that the institution has its uses, and he employed every last one of them.

It is, for one thing, a chance to talk to the public without danger of pickets. It gives a man an opportunity to make punchy little speeches without being heckled. It gives a man a chance to show he doesn’t hate his critics, that he is not heavy-handed.

Up until Friday the President gave everybody the impression that the wide open, no-holds-barred press conference was the most confounded imposition ever visited on a busy executive. He has tried all sorts of ruses to eliminate them. He has held them on the White House lawn and in his private parlor, meeting with only a handful of reporters.

But something happened last week, and the President suddenly saw the press conference was the easiest way possible for him to get his side of the story to the public. Why it never occurred to him before is one of those mysteries locked in the heart of the mysterious President.

Recent experiences may have persuaded him. When he made a string of speeches at military establishments, his critics began to say he was a President who did not dare address the country except under armed guard.

He went to church and got preached at.

He has also begun to realize that the demonstrations at the Pentagon had done for him what he had been unable to do for himself, that is to say, win him sympathy and support.

His principal advisers from Vietnam had been called back, and his detractors had braced themselves for another great spate of victory claims and flamboyant progress reports.

it was the perfect moment to confound his critics, and the president seized it joyfully, demonstrating that the heavy-handed ogre pictured by his enemies is actually a leader with a light touch.

Expansive, confident, tolerant, gesticulating in his old campaign style, laughing at himself, jollying his critics, the President was delighted with his discovery that the press conference is not, after all, a fiendish device invented solely for the torment of men in high places.