BROOKE GLADSTONE: And did you hear about the G-8 Summit? Leaders of the world's richest nations got together on an island off of Georgia, and nobody but the protesters seemed to care. And then there was the largely unreported first contact between earthlings and extra-terrestrial life. [CLIP PLAYS]
ELMER DAVIS: This is Elmer Davis again. We still don't know what it is or where it comes from, but there's something there. This is not another flying saucer scare. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Michael Deaver, welcome to On the Media.
MIKE DEAVER: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: You were regarded as a master of handling the press. You limited, or at least tried to limit, President Reagan's exposure to a series of photo opportunities for The Evening News. You didn't seem to care much what or how much was written about the President in the newspapers, or at least that's your reputation.
MIKE DEAVER: It's fair to say that I always believed that most people got all their information from television. And so television was the most important part of my job. Yes, the dailies, particularly The New York Times, Wall Street Post, Washington Post, so forth, were critical because whatever was above the fold was usually the top of the evening news story. So that was important. But I really felt myself more like a producer for television than anything else.
BOB GARFIELD: You could actually set the network's agenda for covering the President by engineering press events, couldn't you?
MIKE DEAVER: You could. One of the things that we did that made that easier was that we worked on a 60-90 day strategy, so that I knew pretty well for the next three or four weeks what the news story was going to be 80 percent of the time. But the people at CBS and NBC and NPR didn't know that.
BOB GARFIELD: And you knew which days you wanted to deflect attention from the true story of the day and which day you wanted to invite in attention.
MIKE DEAVER: Of course.
BOB GARFIELD: What was your best trick for manipulating the likes of us?
MIKE DEAVER: Well, I never thought of myself as manipulating. I just thought of myself-- [OVERTALK]
BOB GARFIELD: Oh, you did so!
MIKE DEAVER: No, no, honestly I didn't. I just thought--look it, I remember being back here about three weeks and walking out and picking up the Washington Post one day on the lawn at 6 o'clock in the morning, and opening it and looking above the fold and saying this is my day, this is what I got to do today. And then I scratched my head and I said wait a minute, The Washington Post didn't get elected anything. Why is this entire town running around what's above the fold in The Washington Post today? Shouldn't the White House, shouldn't the Congress be setting the agenda instead of The Washington Post?
BOB GARFIELD: Now, the Clinton Administration came to town with a sort of similar notion of how to set the agenda for the press, and they just ran into all sorts of resistance and eventually had to completely back off. What did the Clinton Administration do wrong?
MIKE DEAVER: Well, the Clinton Administration didn't have the benefit of Jim Baker and Dave Gergen and some of the people early on who'd been here before in previous administrations and knew how the press corps worked. They--they made mistakes in sort of tactics with the press that were totally unnecessary. They didn't understand that you couldn't say something once. You had to repeat it over and over again. So they used to say, you know, poor old Bill Clinton, he had a great day but he never had a good week--
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS]
MIKE DEAVER: --because he couldn't ever stretch the story out to make it continue to pound and pound and pound.
BOB GARFIELD: We have a new President in the White House. What's one thing that you would advice him to do?
MIKE DEAVER: You know, when the President of the United States gets there, we know everything about him. Within a matter of months we're going to see the dilation of his eyes, the sweat of his brow, whatever. But we're going to know pretty much the way he react to everything before long. So just be yourself. It's a real pain in the rear to have those guys right next door in the West Wing. Every time the President of the United States walks to his house, he has to walk by those people. And so, you know, it really is grating, and you say oh, you can't even--you know, take a phone call without one of those guys knowing about it. Well, the truth of the matter is, you either fight that and you end up like Richard Nixon, or you understand that they have a role to play in this, and you work out a way to live together.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael Deaver, thank you for joining us.
MIKE DEAVER: It's been a pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Public relations consultant Mike Deaver is a former aide to President Ronald Reagan.