by Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor
We are fortunate to have what I believe are the smartest and most engaged viewers (and emailers) in our business, and upon seeing the reaction to yesterday's post-lunch post, I thought I should explain a few things. The ground rules on meetings between the press the president have followed the same general parameters going back to the time of FDR. Presidents customarily are not to be quoted directly in such private gatherings unless that is specifically allowed. Background sessions between presidents and the journalists who cover them are designed for journalists to get a handle on the president's thinking and beliefs. Lunches like the one we attended yesterday have actually become more and more common in this administration. I find them enormously helpful. We're all grown-ups and have been doing this many years -- meaning we know spin when we see and hear it. But often the private person can differ from the public persona, and so these sessions can provide insight. It helps us to get to know the president in office, and it helps most presidents to find out about the character (or occasionally the complete lack of it) of those in the press.
Selfishly, as my hobby is presidential history, it's wonderful to have been exposed to the last few occupants of that office -- just to observe how they work and deal with people in those surroundings. It makes me feel very fortunate. My role yesterday was as guest, questioner and note-taker. The notes I transcribed in this space were a careful recitation of what we talked about. I've since read that other participants in the lunch found it as helpful as I did. I find "off-the-record" comments made by the president to be much trickier. By nature, presidents make news (or have the capacity to) just about every time they open their mouths. Being present for extended off-the-record presidential remarks can leave journalists conflicted -- knowing more than they can report. I recall at least one instance, while covering President Clinton, when we members of the traveling press pool turned down a visit by the president to the press cabin in the rear of the aircraft during a long flight home from Europe. We were told he had a lot on his mind and wanted to come back and "visit" for a while. We protested, respectfully, that we would have to insist on retaining the right to report any real news that he uttered. President Clinton liked to talk, and still does, and he genuinely tried to find something to like about all of those who covered his administration. But in this instance -- and there were others -- we had to say no. The standoff ended with the President remaining in his quarters in the front of the plane, playing a game of hearts with his senior staff. We'll never know what we might have learned on that night flight home, but the dangers of too much coziness are clear. I think I speak for all in attendance when I say: nothing uttered at yesterday's lunch left any of the participants conflicted over having attended.
We have a great broadcast planned for tonight, including what many consider the story of the day, subtitled, "Say it ain't so, Bill!" If you're read into the story, you may enjoy reading what happened to New England Patriot's owner Bob Kraft while he was in a house of worship today. Today a close friend of mine who is a devout Patriots fan offered Bill Belichick the following advice: "Buy some clothing other than a torn sweatshirt. Put on a shirt. And for goodness' sake, try a tie. Shower, shave, comb your hair. You're on national television now, 24 hours a day. And as to WHY you're on national television non-stop? Stop the stonewalling -- it's insulting. If you really want us all to move on and pay attention to the next Patriots game, as you keep saying, cop to what you did. Your answers sound like Watergate. Speaking of which, tell us: What did you know, and when did you know it, coach?" Just passing that along.
War and Remembrance
Six years ago today, the country observed a national day of prayer and remembrance, three days after the attacks of 9/11. As it does this year, that September 14th fell on a Friday -- the end of a terrible and unforgettable week. On that day in 2001, President Bush spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, and proposed a sweeping response to the attacks: "Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: To answer these attacks and rid the world of evil. War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This Nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing."
106 Years Ago Today
The United States faced a shock it has experienced just four times in its history: the death by assassination of a sitting president. On September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died after being shot eight days earlier by a deranged anarchist. McKinley's death elevated Vice President Theodore Roosevelt to the White House, making him at age 42 the youngest person ever to become president.
Also please take time to read about a great American named Ron Ray.
We hope you will join us tonight. Have a good weekend and please come back and see us for Monday night's broadcast.