Presidential Accessibility


On that, Franklin Roosevelt was the champion. In a little over twelve years he held 998 press conferences, for a time averaging two a week. He gathered perhaps a dozen reporters at a time in his office, and he answered questions for periods of up to two hours. Truman averaged a conference a week. Eisenhower, who allowed his conferences to be filmed and shown on television after they had been edited, logged a hundred conferences in his first term but, because of illness, less than half that number in his second. Kennedy, whose conferences were presented live on television and averaged a half hour in length, managed sixtyfour in nearly three years, roughly one every fifteen days. President Nixon, through December, 1973, had held twenty-six (roughly one every two months on average, though he had gone as long as five months without one).

Such are some of the statistics that measure the accessibility of one of the three most powerful rulers on earth, a subject scarcely even brought up in Moscow or Peking. Whether indeed accessibility is a help or a hindrance in getting things done at the modern White House may be argued, but it remains the basis of the American social contract entered into nearly two centuries ago.