Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a White House Briefing for Members of the Association of Independent Television Stations

January 27, 1982

The President. Mr. Cooper, I thank you, and I thank all of you very much. I'm very proud to have that, and now that I've gotten back on prime-time television- [laughter] —not just the late, late show. Somebody asked me once what it was like seeing myself on the late, late show, and I said it was like looking at a son I never knew I had. [Laughter] I appreciate that award and for what it says about communication. I'd say I'm at a loss for words, but then you'd take the award back. [Laughter]

I've been kidded a few times because I now and then praise silent Cal Coolidge. He was a real communicator. He was having his hair cut once in a one-chair barbershop up in Vermont, and the town doctor came in, sat down, and said, "Cal, did you take the pills that I gave you?" And Coolidge said nothing for a minute or two, and then in his usual, articulate style, he said, "Nope." And a little later the doctor asked, "Well, are you feeling any better?" Another long silence and then he said, "Yup." Well, his haircut was finished, and he started to leave. And the barber hesitantly said, "Well, aren't you forgetting something?" And an embarrassed Coolidge replied, "Oh, yeah. I'm sorry, I forgot to pay you. I was so busy gossiping with the doctor, it slipped my mind." [Laughter]

You probably haven't heard, but I tried some communicating just last night, and I hope the message finally got across. The message was that I want to reduce taxes, not raise them. You know, I sometimes think that government is like that definition-an old definition of a baby. It's an alimentary canal with an appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. [Laughter] The government is currently experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and we mustn't feed the habit by injecting more tax dollars into it—dollars that should be creating new jobs and opportunity in the private sector.

I also hope that last night I conveyed our enthusiasm and determination to undertake programs in our second year that are just as bold as those in our first. The Federal Government has tried to run the States as clones of itself, or at least, mere administrative districts of the Federal Government. By returning certain Federal programs and the means to finance them to the States, these programs can be made less costly and more responsive to the people's needs.

Those who still advocate far-removed Federal solutions are dinosaurs, mindlessly carrying on as they always have, unaware that times have changed. We're attempting to improve the Federal system so that government can meet the needs of today instead of deepening the mistakes of the past.

The Members of Congress, I must say, were so friendly and warm last night that I almost said, "Why don't you just pass everything now, and I'll sign it before I leave." [Laughter] But I don't think it's going to be that easy now that daylight has hit. But even if the road is rough, we know it's the right one, and I think we're further down it than we were a year ago.

And now to undo all the good work that's been done, I understand that I have a little time left here and that I can take some questions, which I delight in doing.


Legal System

Q. Mr. President, many of us in the private sector—I'm Dick Dean from Allentown, Pennsylvania—many of us are extremely proud of the initiatives you've taken last night. I for one questioned whether I'd live long enough to see a transformation like this at least attempted. And I thank you very much.

I have a question for you with regard to the question on our legal system, which overly protects the rights of the—as you said—the criminals and doesn't necessarily protect the innocent people with the same vigor. How can you practically transform this? Can we actually anticipate a change in this? I think the American people have had it up to here with this problem.

The President. Granted that most law enforcement is, of course, at the local and State level. The laws, when a person commits a felony, he's violated State laws, and he's tried at that level. I do think there is something the Federal Government can do. There are areas in which we can work.

For example, the case law now with regard to evidence that might have been gained at the expense of violating some constitutional rights—this is not a law of the land. This is a case law based on judicial decisions. And what it really means is that suppose someone—well, it can be as bald as this, that someone, a policeman stops a car for a traffic violation and finds a sack of dope on the seat of the car. Under the present case law, they can't introduce that—he can't arrest that man for a dope violation and use that dope as evidence, because he stopped the man for a traffic violation. Well, we think that there are ways to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens and yet at the same time allow evidence to be introduced into court.

The classic case of all time took place in California several years ago. Two of the narcotics squad had a warrant, based on enough evidence to get a warrant, to search a home where men and women were believed to be peddling heroin. And they searched the home, and they couldn't find the heroin. And on the way out, just on a hunch, one of them turned back, the baby was there in the crib, and took down the baby's diapers. And there, stashed in the diapers, was the heroin. The case was thrown out of court, because the baby hadn't given its permission to be searched.

So, this is the type of thing that I believe at the Federal level by legislation we can change some things and make it better.


Views on the Presidency

Q. Mr. President, Herb Victor, Field Communications, San Francisco, California. First, thank you for calling Coach Walsh last Sunday. [Laughter]

A question, sir. Birthday for you and for me—we share the same birthday—is coming up shortly for you. How do you feel? And are you thinking about your second term? [Laughter]

The President. Well, the answer to the first question is I've never felt better in my life. And I just recently had my annual physical checkup—having a father-in-law for a doctor, that's been a habit of mine ever since marriage—and they confirmed that. We have a little gym over there in the White House, and I finish every day with a daily workout there—make up for sitting in that Oval Office all day.

Now, the second-term thing, that is something that I have always said the people tell you, whether it's the first or the second term, whether you should run or not. So, I'll let you know more when I see how the people feel about it at the end of 4 years. If I don't, I feel so good that. I may apply for a scholarship, a football scholarship at Notre Dame. [Laughter]

Labor-Management Relations

Q. Mr. President, Arch Chapman, WDRB-TV in Louisville.

Recently, everybody has admired the way the administration handled the PATCO situation. Now we are seeing unions that are being asked to go into negotiations with companies to reverse some of the gains they have made over the past number of years. Do you see an encouragement towards bringing unions down within this country, and is your administration backing a lowering of the union standards?

The President. And I think this is—and I told Mr. Fraser1 and I told the heads of the automobile companies when I met with them that I think this is an evidence that we've seen now of real statesmanship in labor-management relations.

1 Douglas A. Fraser, president of the United Auto Workers.

Samuel Gompers, who started the whole thing and founded the American Federation of Labor, always insisted that management and labor Were partners in the same system. He was utterly opposed to government intervention and so forth. He was also opposed to compulsory unionism, incidentally. But he said that the greatest sin that management can commit on the worker is to not make a profit. And this effort now to

make us competitive once again and the fact that our foreign competitors can deliver a car and put it here in a salesroom in America for $1600 less than we can make them indicates that we've got to do something to get back competitive. And the fact that labor now is willing to come in and say, "Let's find a meeting ground here," I think is a most encouraging sign.

And I was a president of my own union six times in Hollywood, and I still believe that we did drift and have drifted—and maybe we're now getting over it—drifted too far with labor forgetting that it has a responsibility to keep the industry in which they're employed healthy.

Television and Motion Pictures

Q. President Reagan, Steven Newton from the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach.

Looking at our industry for a moment, the television industry which you're so aware of, what is your opinion of the types of programing that are being broadcast today in comparison to, say, the day when you were making films? And would you like to see a return to a more wholesome type programing?

The President. I think you all heard that. [Laughter]

Well, let me say this. This is just my own personal opinion of what is happening. First of all, I'm not very happy about the industry that I used to be in before television, motion pictures, and the type of pictures today. I liked it better when the actors kept their clothes on. And I think, frankly, that some of what we're doing—it isn't just morals; I think it's lousy theater.

The oldest rule of theater is that nothing you can do on the stage or screen is as good and effective as the audience's imagination. And we have taken that away from the audience. We just don't leave anything undone or unshown anymore. No one has to imagine—just sit and look and let it flow in.

What I fear about television is that-knowing as you all do that dependency for a lot of filler time is based on the resale of motion pictures to television—and it seems to me that there's been a tendency to begin to condition the people in the home for the kind of movies that are going to be the only thing available as we get through the backlog of old ones. And I wish that the industry would stand up and fight back.

The motion picture industry most people—I'm probably the only one here that can remember this—but back at the turn of silent and sound, but while we were still looking at silent pictures, motion pictures had gotten just about to the state they are now, and there was no imposed censorship. What happened was the people who paid to see them—and it was a family entertainment; Morn and Pop took the kids to the movies—and they just stood up and said, not only to theater owners but to the motion picture industry, "We're not going to come see your pictures anymore."

And the industry hired Will Hays away from baseball. He had been hired by baseball after the scandal in the World Series, where the gamblers had influenced the outcome, and he cleaned up baseball. Well, they hired him away. And Will Hays took the job of dictating a voluntary code for the motion picture industry, and he said, "There must be no questioning. I will be final arbiter." And for years and years the motion pictures were released with a little line on them at the bottom that said, "With the Motion Picture Producers' Seal of Approval."

And the rules were laid down and many times making them—we thought they were kind of restrictive, and sometimes we would grumble, but they kept pictures—we told adult stories. You look at older pictures today—the adult can understand them, but you wouldn't be embarrassed if a child were with you in seeing that picture. And yet, there was never so much as a "hell" or a "damn" used in those. And I think that motion pictures are what made single beds popular because— [laughter] —one of the rules that most people didn't realize was you could not show two people, even married, in a bed together.

I played a picture in which Doris Day was my wife. I played Grover Cleveland Alexander, and there was a picture in which we were supposed to be in bed together in our little farmhouse. And the audience will never know that they never saw us together. They saw me looking out the window awake in the night, saw the Moon—I'd had double vision and realized that suddenly I was only seeing one Moon. So, I looked over my shoulder and then very quietly got out of bed, put on a robe, and started around the foot of the bed. And then you saw Doris lying there asleep in the other side of the bed. But you never saw the two of us in bed together. [Laughter]

And just one last incident. How many of us remember that in that great picture "Gone With the Wind" that Clark Gable's famous line in which he said, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a . . ."? He fought and finally the industry—he said there is no other way that you can have this character say a line and not use that word. And finally the motion picture industry gave a special waiver and allowed him to use that one word.

Well, I'd like to see those days back, and I think that all of you'd be better off also, because the entertainment you deliver is in people's living rooms where the family is gathered together. And I think that must always be kept in mind.

I know that Karna's going to tell me, "One more." Yes, there was a hand.

Federal Communications Commission

Q. Kevin O'Brien, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Mr. President, we heard from Mark Fowler at lunch yesterday, and I'd like to congratulate you for such an intelligent, astute job of picking him as your Commissioner. I thing he's outstanding. And I just hope that you will continue to support him to unburden broadcasters from the very restrictive governmental policies of the past. I hope you'd do that in the future.

The President. I can guarantee you I'll tell him, because if there's one thing that this administration is dedicated to doing—and we've been pretty successful as far as we've gone—and that is we want to take the unnecessary rules, regulations, and restrictions off the backs of the people in the private sector and local government. And I think it's time to free the Americans again.

Thank you all very much. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:08 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Prior to his remarks, Sheldon Cooper, chairman of the board of the association, presented the President with a glass statuette of a transmitter tower for "excellence in communication."

Karna Small Stringer is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Media Relations and Planning.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a White House Briefing for Members of the Association of Independent Television Stations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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