Nessen, Ford Press Secretary, Chats Online

By: E&P Staff

Ron Nessen, White House press secretary under the late President Gerald R. Ford, took questions about media coverage, then and now, this morning at washingtonpost.com.

Here are a few highlights.
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Columbia, S.C.: Two questions, same subject. Chevy Chase has often said in the past that he suspected his weekly “Saturday Night Live” imitation of Gerald Ford as a bumbling goof were ultimately damaging to Ford’s re-election. Agree or disagree? Also, you and Ford both appeared on the program in its heyday — what was the fall-out from that episode among conservatives?

Ron Nessen: Chevy Chase is perhaps displaying a bit too much self-importance. The assessment in the White House was that Ford’s agreement to record several bits for the show, and his self-deprecating put-down of Chevy Chase at a White House Correspondents Association dinner, probably helped him with voters because it showed he had a good sense of humor and didn’t take himself too seriously.

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Loudoun County, Va.: Ron: What exactly were the circumstances of the departure of your predecessor, Jerry terHorst? I thought he left because Ford would not pardon draft dodgers, but in fact Ford began that process for the country, and went a long way to making that happen.

Ron Nessen: Jerry ter Horst disagreed with President Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon, and he resigned in protest. I respect his views. But my view of the Press Secretary’s job was that it was immaterial whether I agreed or disagreed with presidential decisions…my job was to announce and explain the President’s actions.

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Metropolis, Ill.: Ron, given current White House Press Corps coverage, what do you think is different about coverage of the President now compared to President Ford’s tenure.

Thanks.

Ron Nessen: The press coverage of the White House is marked now, as it was when I was press secretary, by a great deal of suspicion and skepticism and downright disbelief. The major difference is that there were no 24-hour a day cable TV news networks in those days. With so much airtime to fill up, cable news channels often fill the time with speculation, predictions, and guesses.

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New York, N.Y.: Re. Woodward’s article today with Ford’s embargoed viewpoint on the war.

When a reporter discovers information that might change whether we go to war or who is elected president, doesn’t s/he owe it to the nation to make every effort to get this information out? I don’t understand journalists or journalism as practiced anymore … I thought it was the duty of the 4th Estate to enlighten the public about such things. Am I wrong?

Ron Nessen: I’m sure there will be a great deal of second gussing about Woodward’s decision to keep President Ford’s views of the Iraq invasion a secret until after Ford’s death. Woodward is not a daily reporter and has an agreement with the Post to allow him this lee-way.

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