A century ago this month, President Woodrow Wilson started a White House ritual that has since become a trademark of national politics. Marking its 100th anniversary is the White House press conference, where the commander-in-chief answers questions from journalists, reports Politico.
"All 16 of his successors have followed the tradition Wilson established, though the frequency and content of presidential press conferences have varied over the 100-year span. But for each of those presidents, press conferences have been an important instrument of leadership," the story reports.
The piece continues: "Rather than small-talk sessions as some presidents prior to Wilson occasionally held with selected journalists, Wilson began the tradition of equal-access sessions in which reporters in Washington could come to pose questions. Eleven days after his March 4 Inauguration and at the suggestion of his senior staff member, Joseph Tumulty, Wilson met with reporters in his West Wing office. Wilson greeted them warmly but was not prepared to answer questions. A week later on March 22 in an East Room session, Wilson began the equal-access sessions we know today as presidential press conferences. During his first two years alone, he held 132 of them before he seemed to lose interest."
Wilson realized that he needed to get information to the public to gain support for his goals, the story says.
Wilson commented on the practice, saying: "I feel that a large part of the success of public affairs depends on the newspapermen — not so much on the editorial writers, because we can live down what they say, as upon the news writers, because the news is the atmosphere of public affairs. Unless you get the right setting to affairs — disperse the right impression — things go wrong.”