• U.S.

Nation: Novice Newsman In the East Room

3 minute read

I SUPPOSE it took a fair amount of hypocrisy to ask this man’s press secretary for permission to attend a presidential press conference,” admitted Robert Gordon, who does not approve of Richard Nixon. Nevertheless, several months ago, in his capacity as a feature writer for his high school newspaper in Newton, Mass., Gordon, 16, wrote a letter to Ronald Ziegler, because “I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing else to do.” Gordon, son of a real estate executive, was surprised by the result: an invitation to join a number of other high school and college journalists at last week’s televised news conference. Their presence was announced in advance by the White House as evidence of presidential efforts to establish links with the young. Even before he left for Washington, Gordon says, “the relentless Boston press” descended on him for interviews.

Contrary to his expectations, Gordon reported that he found the proceedings a letdown. He judged the East Room of the White House “majestic beyond the realm of good taste.” He had anticipated being dazzled by the nearness to power, but when the President was introduced “I stared hard at him and was surprised at my indifference. He radiated no emotion, no character, and looked just the way I’d always imagined him.”

Gordon was scarcely impartial; at a mere 14 he had worked for Eugene McCarthy’s campaign. As a fledgling reporter, though, he came prepared with a straight question:

“Mr. President, during the campaign of ’68, you stated that you would bring the people together. In terms of American youth, do you have any specific plans for fulfilling this promise?” Gordon had been informed in advance that he was to act only as an observer, but he was determined to ask his question anyway. As it happened, it was covered by Robert Semple of the New York Times, “so I settled down to rephrase my question. Unfortunately I kept lapsing into daydreams, the East Room of the White House being very conducive to that sort of thing.” After the conference, “I was immediately rushed by a horde of reporters asking questions about my presence at the White House. Realizing that as soon as I left, they would not have old Bobby to kick around any more, I took off.”

Later, he said, “walking down the lonely streets of Washington, I felt more awe than anything else. I had viewed the struggle between President and press−the huge behind-the-scenes machine that tells the people who their President is. It is a game of psychological wit and personal charm, with stakes as high as they can be.”

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