April 12, 1954 – An Eisenhower Press Conference – Presidents Being Presidential
Contrary to what you may think now, Presidential News conferences were regular affairs – sometimes weekly, always at least monthly. No Press Secretary running flak – just the President and the Press. Although some press conferences were cordial affairs, some were downright contentious – but they were always given and they lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and covered a wide range of topics of the day.
Here are a few text excerpts of this particular Press Conference, given on May 12, 1954:
Q. John Cutter, United Press: Mr. President, last week Senator McCarthy testified that an Army security officer gave him classified FBI information which the Attorney General later said was done without authorization. Would you care to comment on the propriety of such actions?
PRESIDENT EISENHOWER. Well, the question is of two parts. One involved the Senator: I said last week that I was going to take a little vacation in commenting on that particular incident, and so I won’t talk about that part of it.
What I assume you are talking about is the propriety of an individual officer or civilian giving away classified information involving the security of our country, giving it away to anybody. That is so reprehensible that when we talk about security in the Federal services, what we are talking about is ways and means of keeping such things secret.
Now, in the Army or in any of the services, an enlisted man, when he takes an oath, includes in that oath to obey the orders of the superior officers set above him and the Army regulations itself.
Are we to assume that an enlisted man has one kind of loyalty to the Government and to the commanders set over him, and an officer a lesser one? It is perfectly ridiculous.
The soul of an Army, the soul of a defensive force, is the certainty that everybody responds to the laws of the land and to the orders of the superiors all the way up to the Commander in Chief. Assume otherwise, and how would you fight a battle?
I give an order to you people as division commanders or something of that nature to carry out your part of the battle, and you decide that isn’t the thing to do–well, if ever we get to adopting that theory in the military or in our civilian organization, we had better disband.
On the contrary, fortunately, their sense of loyalty all the way through-and I don’t refer merely to the fighting services–their sense of loyalty and dedication to their country and the obligations of their service is high indeed; and I am proud of them. But let us not for one second ever think of condoning insubordination, and particularly wherein, as in this case, there are special laws that apply to the release of confidential information.
Q. Edward Folliard, Washington Post and Times Herald: Mr. President, former President Truman made a speech at’ the National Press Club the other day, and the essence of it was this: that in these critical days foreign policy should be taken out of the political arena; that this is impossible so long as Republican political assassins are calling Democrats traitors, and that the only one who can put an end to these charges of treason is the President of the United States. Do you have any comments, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn’t answer anyone who finds it proper to criticize me and my actions, but I will call your attention to what I have said before: that question came up here in a press conference–whether I considered Democrats to be disloyal persons, and that sort of thing. ridiculed the idea and said not only did I have a great many personal friends among them, but they were just exactly as loyal as all other Americans. I cannot discern in my own mind any difference between the loyalty, dedication, patriotism of people depending upon a particular party to which they belong in this country. I have said that always.
Q. Charles von Fremd, CBS Television: Mr. President, should the proposed Southeast Asian Defense Alliance be created, as Secretary Dulles and others have suggested, do you think that the Associated States of Indochina, Laos, Cambodia, and Viet-Nam should be members of such organization?
THE PRESIDENT. Most certainly I would hope that they would voluntarily express such a conviction and such an intention.
In this connection, some have assumed that there has been a difference of opinion between the Secretary of State and myself as to exactly what we meant. I think I have assured this group several times that I know of no important announcement made by either one of us in this regard that isn’t the result of long and serious conferences. If there are any differences ever detectable in our utterances, it must be because of language and not because of any intent.
Now, I understand that Mr. Dulles said we will not give up; no matter what happens down there, we will never give up even if these three should fall. I think–I know he was talking about another step that could be detrimental to the interests of the free world, and what would you do then. Naturally, all of us want to save them because of their importance, but it has to be done on their invitation.
Q. Mr. von Fremd: Mr. President, I asked the question with no reference to a difference between you and Secretary Dulles.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes; I know, yes.
Q. Mr. von Fremd: The reason for it is there have been some reports that the British or the French Government might very well be against the Associated States being a member of such an alliance.
PRESIDENT EISENHOWER. Well, I must make this point which I have tried to make, again, several times: no nation can be saved to the free world unless it itself wants to be saved. Freedom, by its-very definition, cannot be possessed by someone who doesn’t want freedom; so unless those states are enthusiastic parties to such an arrangement, then it could have no immediate right interfering with their business, as I see it.
The above is a sample of the complete Press Conference you’re about to hear – it gives you some idea of the relationship between The President and The Press as it was in the 1950s. Times have changed.