Imagine the year is 1969 and it’s your lucky day when the telephone rings with a pollster from Gallup or Harris calling to get your opinion on just one critical question: How well informed on current events should the U.S. president be? Please choose one of the following:
(1) Well informed.
(2) As informed as the average American.
(3) No opinion.
It’s reasonable to speculate that nearly 100% of those surveyed would choose a “well informed” president. Surely an “average” level of awareness would not be good enough for the presidency, and having no opinion defies credulity – if not outright scary.
To be well informed, would they have had Richard Nixon to set aside 90 minutes every night to watch three networks’ news broadcasts? Or would just one network be enough? Which networks would be excluded? What about the weekly commentary on PBS?
To be well informed, would the public have wanted RN read just one or two newspapers? If just two, which major American cities would not be represented in the president’s newspaper stack? Would it be okay to exclude the newspapers from every city except, say, New York and Washington, D.C.? Which editorial perspective would be unnecessary? On the other hand, if the public deemed all of them “important,” how would the public react to a photo in their local newspaper of their president trying to work his way through a stack of 50-plus newspapers next to a bank of three television sets running the news broadcasts of Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor and Howard K. Smith?
The problem crystallizes quickly: the need to be well informed every day clashes with not having the time necessary to tackle the problem – one newspaper, one television news broadcast at time. And so the Daily News Summary was created to solve that dilemma for RN. It originated as a one-page look at the news just in time for the snowy New Hampshire primary of 1968. Former aide Patrick J. Buchanan edited the news summaries, which continued in the White House years under the editorship of the late Lyndon K. Allin. The Daily News Summary expanded well beyond the original brief document, with a resource of approximately 70 daily newspapers, 35 magazines and periodicals, plus each day’s network television news broadcasts. All of that was supplemented by special editions for major reviews of newspaper editorials.
Balancing our respect for the President’s time with his need to be well informed was a constant struggle.
Editor’s Note: On Presidents’ day, February 15, from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm, the Nixon Library will hold its second Nixon Legacy Forum, “The Effective Use of the President’s Time.” Watch on Youtube starting February 16 as the Nixon Oval Office Team discusses how President Nixon was briefed, scheduled and moved through events and around the world.