Vail CO, Colorado
Just after the news that Gerald Ford had died at 93, the floodgates opened.
Having been hidden from the public by either current political scandals, wars or any number of other things that keep history away from the public’s eye, Ford’s legacy was revealed.
It’s sad that it takes the death of a president for all the details of a presidency to come to light. This fact was glaringly apparent in the days after Ford’s death.
Panel discussions, old press conferences and interviews with folks who had served with Ford suddenly became viable news stories. And thank goodness, it should serve as a reminder to a time that used to be.
What struck me about how Ford handled himself during the time Nixon stepped down is how informed he was. There was Ford, standing at the podium of his first press conference as president handling detailed questions from a jam-packed room of reporters. He was smiling, at ease. Amazing. There must have been 75 reporters there, all wearing jackets and ties, all jumping up at the end of his answers to ask another question. Bang, bang, bang … one question answered right after another. No problem.
Quite different from today. Now, there are but a handful of hand-picked reporters at press conferences asking what seem to be pre-registered questions.
Has the age of the information superhighway made our presidents soft? By this I mean that press conferences today, the ones asking the tough questions, are handled very differently than in times past. Has the proliferation of the information age (i.e. the Internet) made the questions harder, more diverse or more divisive? Perhaps.
I witnessed Ford make answering the tough questions look easy. He knew all about the issues, knew the individuals associated with each bill or measure he was referring to and offered cogent answers to a gaggle of reporters.
This certainly isn’t the way it happens now. Back then, press secretaries had a much different job. These days, the press secretaries actually hold the press conference and the president merely delivers a speech. Ford may have been one of the last presidents who was an actual orator and not merely a talking head.
Without cue cards, “W” fails miserably. Maybe the job description of the president has changed. The only president that might have been able to think of his feet with any alacrity may have been G.H.W. Bush (Bush I). Carter was an intellectual with control issues, Reagan was an actor who could read cue cards, Clinton was a good listener with an incredible memory and “W” is … well, “W”.
Gosh, do you remember the “good old days” back when politicians had to actually care enough to remember the issues without having handlers?
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