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Radio-Television News Directors Association Question-and-Answer Session by Telephone With Members Attending the Association's Annual Convention.

September 15, 1977

MR. VRIESMAN. Good day, Mr. President. I am Wayne Vriesman, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association and news director at WGN in Chicago.

Welcome to our RTNDA San Francisco convention. We thank you for taking time from your busy day to speak with us.

THE PRESIDENT`. President Vriesman, it's a great honor for me to speak to the members of the Radio and Television News Directors Association. There have been so many developments recently that relate to the jobs of all of you that I'm very thankful for a chance to make a brief opening statement and then to answer your questions on matters that you consider to be important enough for emphasis.


I've just finished the morning meeting with the Prime Minister of France, Mr. Barre. This is the first time a French Prime Minister has been to our country in more than 20 years. Then from now on in the coming months, I'll be meeting, beginning next week, with Foreign Minister Dayan from Israel and then with all the foreign ministers of the Arabian countries around Israel, searching for a settlement in the Middle East.

I've spent last week, as you know, with the Panama Canal Treaty, which I consider to be crucial to our country's future, unimpeded use of the Panama Canal and a very important aspect in the mutual friendship and support that we can expect from Latin America.

We have constant negotiations going on with the Soviet Union on things concerning demilitarization of the Indian Ocean. The SALT negotiations are presently underway.

We have meetings with the Soviets and also with the British on the comprehensive test ban to do away with the testing of nuclear explosives.

I've met with several national leaders on reducing the opportunity for countries to go into the nuclear explosive field.

One of the recent concerns, of course, was South Africa's prospective test.

We are dealing with the United Nations and specific countries involved in trying to resolve the Namibian question down near South Africa and also the Rhodesian question.

We're working closely with the British, the French, the Germans, and the Canadians on these questions.

Of course, here in the Congress many of these matters spill over into joint decisions by me and the leaders in Congress.

In addition, the social security program is in danger of going bankrupt. We have guaranteed, of course, that this will not happen, but the Congress will have to take action on this matter this year. I've presented a comprehensive welfare reform proposal this week. We are dealing with the most important group of bills of all on energy this year, trying to come forward with a comprehensive energy package. We're proceeding now with the reorganization of the executive branch of Government, and I'll present tax reform proposals to the Congress before they go home this October.

So, I could go on and on listing important measures that come before me here in the Oval Office, where I'm sitting. But perhaps now it would be best to take your questions on these or any other items. I'll try to keep my answers brief so that we can get in as many questions as possible.



Q. Mr. President, I'm John Salisbury, news director for radio station KXL in Portland, Oregon. Last week, Senator Mark Hatfield--last weekend--defended Bert Lance as the best Director of the Office of Management and Budget in some time. And at the same time Hatfield blasted the media, particularly the Washington press, for overkill in the Lance case. Do you believe the press has been unfair and overzealous in this reporting of the Lance situation?

THE PRESIDENT. I had breakfast this morning with Senator Hatfield and a group of Republican Members of the Senate. I think, in general, the press has been fair. There have been some instances when, within the realm of my own specific knowledge, distortions have been put to the American people through the press, through the news media. Also, there have been overemphasis placed on minor items.

And it's very difficult in the past to ensure that Mr. Lance has a chance to answer allegations, some of which had no foundation in fact. Today and tomorrow, as you know, Bert Lance is being given a chance to respond to the charges and allegations against him. And I think, as has been the case in the past, the press will go into as much detail as they can to give him an opportunity to present his views.

So, in general, I think the press has been fair. They've been very committed to digging up every possible fact about Bert Lance's past, also to publicize allegations. And now he's being given a chance to answer those allegations. So, I think Bert, at the end of this week, will have had a chance to pretty well balance the picture as far as his case is concerned.


Q. Mr. President, I am Curtis Beckman of WCCO-Radio in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Something very important to this crew happened in the last couple of days in the White House, and it involves Jody Powell, your Press Secretary, and his comment and tip to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The question is, were you aware of that comment before it was made? What is your response to what has happened since?

THE PRESIDENT. When Jody Powell found out about the revelation of his disclosure to the press, he came and told me it was inappropriate, inexcusable, and dumb. And I told him that I agreed with all three characterizations of his statement. He has not denied that he made that statement to the press.

I was certainly not informed about the fact that he was going to call the Sun-Times, the New York Times, or anyone else. I think it was a regrettable incident, and I believe that Jody has recognized the inadvisability of his action and has not only apologized publicly but has called Senator Percy and apologized to Senator Percy, as well.

This is one of those embarrassing things that, of course, has been difficult to explain once it was revealed. But I think that this has been an additional element or reason for caution on the part of Jody in the future. This was unfortunate. Jody has apologized, and I agree that there was grounds for his apology.


Q. Mr. President, Ernie Schultz, KTVY, Oklahoma City. Because Bert Lance was a personal friend, do you think the checks on his background before his appointment were as thorough as they should have been?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, they were. I have not read the complete FBI file on Bert Lance. But members of my staff have reviewed it in the last few weeks, and I can state to you categorically that the assessment from 85 to 100 different people who were interviewed privately by the FBI, including three representatives from the Department of Justice and three additional people from the Comptroller's Office, all gave Bert Lance an overwhelming endorsement as the future Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Of course, there were some elements of Bert Lance's past that we didn't have to investigate because I've known Bert for many years. He has built up a reputation in Georgia that is superb as a businessman and as a governmental leader. I worked with him intimately for 4 years when he was the Director of our Transportation Department in Georgia and knew at firsthand his competence and his general attitude toward public service.

So, I don't think that there is any indication that a more thorough scrutiny of Bert Lance's past record or his reputation among those who knew him would have changed my opinion that he was well qualified to be the OMB Director.

Q. Mr. President, Bill Wippel, news director of KIRO News Radio, Seattle. Chris Clark, at WTVF in Nashville, kind of put a question that is the same as mine. You have set the moral standards for your administration. Even though Bert Lance may have done nothing illegal, does his ethical conduct measure up to the standards that you've set for your administration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, there's. no way for me to excuse my own or anyone else's overdrafts. This is something that was obviously a mistake. I believe that rather than my trying to judge at this point the accuracy of the charges that have been made against Bert Lance, it would be better to wait for his completion of testimony under cross-examination before the Senate committee, which is being carried out right now.

If I believed all of the charges or allegations against Bert Lance that I have read or heard through the news media, I would have discharged him immediately. Some of those allegations I know to be incorrect, and the ones that prove to be correct, of course, I'll have to make a judgment on them.

But I have no reason to feel that Bert Lance is dishonest or incompetent nor that he has acted unethically. The propriety of Bert's loans, overdrafts, and so forth, obviously, will be assessed by me. And I think I can assess the entire series of charges made against Mr. Lance much more accurately and effectively at the conclusion of this week's hearings.

So, I'm keeping an open mind about the subject, eager to hear all the responses that are being made. I'm not familiar with them yet. I haven't had time nor the inclination to go into them in detail. But I'm sure that the decision that I make along with Bert Lance at the conclusion of the hearings will be satisfactory to the American people.


Q. Mr. President, this is Bob Grip of WKRG-TV in Mobile, Alabama. Should Federal Judge Frank Johnson be confirmed as the new FBI Director, would you, or have you given any consideration to nominating Governor George Wallace to that Federal judgeship?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't given any consideration to who might fill that post. We are trying to select Federal judges on the basis of recommendations by merit screening committees.

My understanding is that Governor Wallace has other plans for his own future. And to repeat my answer, I have not given that appointment any consideration.


MR. VRIESMAN. Mr. President, this next question comes from Lewis Brooks of WSOC-Television in Charlotte, North Carolina. Are you satisfied with the testimony of Bert Lance thus far this morning?

THE PRESIDENT. I did not have a chance to watch Bert Lance as he testified this morning. I was in meetings throughout the morning with the Prime Minister of France. I'll have to depend upon the news media reports for my assessment. I have not even seen a copy of Bert Lance's testimony, which I do intend to read. So, I'm not prepared at this point to assess the effectiveness of his testimony.


MR. VRIESMAN. Mr. President, this question is from Michael Collins, WNOV in South Bend, Indiana. If the Panama Canal Treaty is not ratified in the Senate, what effect will this have on our relations with OAS countries?

THE PRESIDENT. Even before I was inaugurated, I had messages from eight different heads of state in Latin America urging me to put as our number one foreign policy matter the completion of a new Panama Canal treaty. For years, when the Organization of American States have met together, one of the prime items on the agenda has been to encourage our country and Panama to ratify a new treaty.

This past week we had a demonstration of support for the treaty terms from 27 different countries in this hemisphere. And as you probably have noticed in the news, last week we had 19 heads of state who took the time to leave their own jobs and to come to Washington to express publicly their support for the treaty terms. I met with all those heads of state and they considered this to be a crucial demonstration of our willingness to be fair.

I think there's a new sense of mutual purpose. There's also a new sense that we look upon our Latin American neighbors as equals. I think there's a new sense that there is a vista of improved friendship and common purpose between us and our Latin American friends in the years to come, not based on grants or loans or financial aid from us to them but based on the fact that this treaty corrects a longstanding defect in our relationship with countries to the south.

If the treaty should not be ratified, I think there would be very serious international consequences, not just with Panama but with all the nations in this hemisphere.

We have enjoyed the benefits of the presently existing treaty for a long time. No person from Panama ever saw that treaty before it was signed. No Panamanian, of course, was involved in the signing of that treaty.

In my opinion it's very beneficial to our Nation, to our security, and to our diplomatic relationships, to our business trade, and health to have this treaty ratified.

Every President since President Johnson has been involved in trying to get such a treaty ratified. Past Secretaries of State Kissinger, Rogers, Rusk have confirmed their support for the treaty. President Ford is strongly in favor of the treaty. And, of course, our Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously, representing the Armed Forces, feel that this treaty is in our Nation's interests.

I think if we should fail to ratify the treaty that there would be a threat, at least, of disruption of the peaceful operation of the canal. I believe that we could defend the canal against such threatened disruptions. But it would be very difficult for us to do it.

It's not so important who actually owns the canal; Panama has always had sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone. But what's important is whether or not the canal is open. And I believe that we can keep it open much more surely if we work in partnership with Panama rather than if we fail to ratify the canal and make an enemy, not only of Panama but betray the confidence that now exists in us by the other countries in our hemisphere.

So, you can tell from what I say that I consider it to be very important. And I'm very grateful that the American people's opinion is changing toward favoring the Panama Canal Treaty as they become familiar with the elements of it.

MR. VRIESMAN. Mr. President, what's your current assessment of the chances for the treaty in the Senate?

THE PRESIDENT. That's hard to say. As you know, a little more than a year ago, 40 Senators signed the resolution against the ratification of any treaty. Now many of those Senators have told me both privately and publicly that they favor the treaty itself. It's too early to say. Also, 6 months ago, according to some very responsible polls among the American people, only about 8 percent of our people favored the treaty. A more recent poll by Gallup, confirmed by some private polls that I have seen on a nationwide basis, show that about 40 percent now favor ratification of the treaty. There are about 45 to 50 percent still remaining who don't favor the ratification of the treaty. So, I would say that the trend is in the right direction, but we certainly don't have any assurance that we have a two-thirds majority yet.


MR. VRIESMAN. Mr. President, this next question is of special significance to us as news directors. It comes from Peter Herford of CBS News. He would like to know why, in view of your promise of an open administration, coverage of this news conference at the Washington end was limited to a single pool camera for only the first few moments of the news conference?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any idea. I walked into the Oval Office and found the office just about filled with electronics equipment and noticed that there was a television crew included. But the arrangements for who should come in is something that I was not involved in.

As you know, we've tried to have my administration as open as possible. I have had, and will have, two open press conferences every week (month) and frequent press exchanges in between. But I can't answer that question. I thought that we had accommodated your own association completely in this interview.


MR. VRIESMAN. Mr. President, the next question comes from Phil Mueller, KSL-AM, Salt Lake City. With interest rates going up and the Fed's discount rate moving up, are we on the brink of a recession?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think not. As you know, I've met with probably 25 or 30 leaders of foreign nations. And the economic problems worldwide--France has a growth rate less than 3 percent per year, their inflation rate is about 9 or 10 percent, and their unemployment rate is, I think, the highest it has been in 25 or 30 years. They are a strong nation compared to many others in Europe.

We are not facing a recession. Our own growth rate this year has been extraordinarily high. There's no way that we can maintain the growth rate that we experienced the first 6 months. But I would say that, even in the last 6 months of this year, our growth rate would be averaging out for the entire year 5 or 6 percent, lowest in the last 6 months than in the first. This is in accordance with the projections that we made earlier. Our unemployment rate since last November, during the time I've been in office, has dropped about a full 1 percent. And, of course, the inflation rate is down as well.

We've got problems in the economy. There are some particular weak points among minority citizens and also, particularly, among young people, both white young people and otherwise. But every indication is that we'll have about the same rate of economic growth in 1978 as we will have the last half of 1977.

We anticipate that the unemployment rate will continue to decrease slowly, but steadily. And, of course, a big threat to us is to make sure that in the process we don't let inflation get out of hand. But I would say now the prospects are very good that we'll have a sustained growth in the economy that's adequate.

We've just got projections of business investment plans, and including inflation, they run about 13 1/2 percent, which is very high. And even discounting maximum inflation rates, we think that business investments will be about 8 1/2 percent higher than they were a year ago.

So, things look pretty good from my perspective.


MR. VRIESMAN. Mr. President, this will be your final question. The question, Mr. President, comes from Fred Blackman of WGHP-Television, High Point, North Carolina. Recent reports indicate there will be an oil surplus this winter, that the oil companies' estimates for consumer needs is too high. How can your administration justify calls for stringent conservation measures in the light of such reports?

THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't vouch for the accuracy of that report. We've had in the first half of this year a rate of importing oil--it's higher than any we've ever experienced in the history of our country. We anticipate a trade imbalance, a negative trade balance this year of $25 to $30 billion primarily because of excessive oil imports.

Our consumption of gasoline this summer in automobile driving was up in a disturbing degree. We've just simply not conserved the consumption of energy in our own country. For the same standard of living, compared to countries like Sweden or Germany or Japan and so forth, we consume about twice as much energy per person as citizens in those other nations.

So, we have a very serious problem that's going to get worse in the future if we don't conserve energy. Of course, we're trying to the best of my own ability to induce the Congress to pass a comprehensive energy package which balances, on the one hand, adequate incentives for the increased production in our own country of oil and gas and coal and, on the other hand, a decrease in consumption just to eliminate waste.

We've done analyses that show if we could just eliminate the waste that can be prevented, then we can reduce our imports almost to zero. In other words, we are importing just about enough oil to meet our waste of oil.

So, it's a serious problem. It's going to get worse in the future. My guess is that we will not have as serious a natural gas shortage next winter as we had this past winter. I think those were extraordinary circumstances, particularly because of the prevailing low temperatures that lasted so long. But I think we'll go into this winter with a higher reserve supply of energy, just because we learned from sad experience last winter about the need for a kind of a buffer of supplies.

I'd like to say one other thing about this whole matter. It's difficult to convince the American people about the seriousness of the energy crisis. We've had two or three serious warning signs already, a quadrupling of the price of oil by the OPEC nations, extreme shortage of natural gas this past winter that disrupted schools and hospitals and private homes, and also rapidly escalating imports. These warning signs are not going to go away. And if we ignore them, they're going to get worse.

So, if we have made an error in the energy field, it's not because we have overemphasized our problems. It's because we've not acted forcefully enough to prevent increasing problems in the future.

MR.VRIESMAN. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. I'd like to say in closing, Mr. President, that I've enjoyed this chance to answer your questions. The multiplicity of responsibilities that I have sometimes prevent my giving an adequate accounting to the American people.

I'm very grateful that you've given me this chance, through what I understand is a live broadcast, to cover some of the important issues. It's always a matter that I am concerned about--is how to communicate accurately with the American people. And I think even in the most controversial matters, I feel better about making the right decision to know that the subjects have been debated openly by the people of this country.

So, thank you again for letting me be with you in this means, and I hope that my answers have been adequate in the limited time available to me.

Thank you again very much.

MR. VRIESMAN. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. from the Oval Office by telephone hookup to members of the association meeting in San Francisco, Calif. The question-and-answer session was broadcast live on radio.

Jimmy Carter, Radio-Television News Directors Association Question-and-Answer Session by Telephone With Members Attending the Association's Annual Convention. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/241990

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