The relationship between America's president and the media has never been an easy one.
Aug. 25, 1939 | President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks to reporters at a press conference in the executive office. | (AP Photo/Henry Griffin)
The press really didn't have access to the president until well into the 20th century. Before that, reporters often had to get creative to score face time. Legend has it that intrepid reporter Anne Royall once followed President John Quincy Adams to a lake where he was enjoying a nude swim; there, she sat on his clothes and refused to stand up until he gave her an interview.
During Grover Cleveland's second term, William "Fatty" Price of the Washington Evening Star loitered outside the White House gates, stopping everyone who exited to ask about the meetings they'd just left.
But when a series of presidential assassinations — Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, and William McKinley in 1901 — left a bruised nation hungry for information, presidents, starting with Theodore Roosevelt, increasingly opened themselves up.
In 1902, Washington reporters got a dedicated workspace in the West Wing, and in 1913 President Woodrow Wilson hosted the first open presidential press conference.
"I have a very friendly feeling for the newspapers and gentlemen of the press, despite what you may have heard to the contrary," Wilson told the crowd of some 125 reporters. "I realize the press is the best friend the country has."
May 8, 1945 | President Harry Truman tells newsmen details of Germany's surrender during a press conference at the White House. | (AP Photo)
Feb. 25, 1953 | President Dwight D. Eisenhower faces reporters at a news conference. | (AP Photo)
That isn't to say the nation's leaders didn't squirm under the often critical eye of news reporters. President Franklin Roosevelt's famous Fireside Chats, in which he directly addressed Americans in casual radio-broadcasted conversations twice a year, began partially as a means to circumvent the "editorial slant" that could come by letting the media disseminate his statements.
But presidential press conferences took off nonetheless, in part because they felt like an opportunity for citizens to see their chief executive face direct and challenging questions about their policies. When these sessions began being televised in 1955, the public could see firsthand how the president fielded questions — what made him uncomfortable or angry, when he laughed — providing an even wider window into his personality and beliefs.
Jan. 25, 1961 | President John F. Kennedy begins his first news conference as president in the auditorium of the new State Department building. | (AP Photo)
With such exposure, presidents began manipulating the format of the conference to best sell their message. Veteran Associated Press photographer Scott Applewhite, who has documented the White House through six presidencies from Reagan to Trump, told the AP he witnessed "the evolution of politicians and presidents staging the news, staging the visuals, and basically creating their view of perfection through props, environment, signage etc., and then by actually controlling total access of coverage."
He described the challenge of trying to "photograph reality amid all of the Hollywood touches."
"I'm not sure why, but in some of my best pictures, especially political pictures, there's often an element of larceny — stolen moments," Applewhite said. "A glimpse that they didn't want to reveal."
Oct. 20, 1965 | President Lyndon B. Johnson displays the incision from his gall bladder surgery and kidney stone removal at a news conference at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington. | (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
Jan. 27, 1969 | President Richard Nixon answers questions from reporters at his first news conference as president in the East Room of the White House. | (AP Photo)
Oct. 5, 1974 | President Gerald Ford laughs with Bob Hope as they talk with reporters outside Bethesda Naval Hospital. | (AP Photo)
July 1, 1979 | President Jimmy Carter meets with reporters aboard Air Force One. | (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)
Aug. 14, 1981 | President Ronald Reagan speaks to reporters, alongside his dog, Millie, after signing landmark legislation cutting the federal budget. | (AP Photo/Wally Fong)
"The press conferences and nearly all aspects of press/presidential relations are a reflection of the attitudes and personality of the president himself," Applewhite said.
"George H. W. Bush was comfortable around us photographers, and we all sure enjoyed his attitude toward us. Clinton, the most natural-born politician of all, had it all — his emotions, mood, and expressions seemed constructed to reinforce the story of the day."
May 5, 1991 | President George H. W. Bush talks with reporters from his window at Bethesda Naval Medical Center: "Don't worry about me!" | (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
June 15, 1993 | President Bill Clinton teases an ABC reporter during a news conference in the White House briefing room. | (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
In recent years, the dance between president and press has gotten all the more strained and superficial. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama went to great lengths to control the flow of information from the White House, creating their own news reports to bypass the press, cracking down on whistleblowers and the journalists they leaked to, and controlling which reporters can ask questions at pressers.
"The people who cover the president know him the least," Peter Baker, a White House correspondent for The New York Times, told CJR of President Obama. "People ask me all the time, 'What's he like?' As if I knew."
But perhaps no president has shifted the relationship with the media from adversarial to acrimonious more than Donald Trump. He continuously rails about "fake news," and has called the press the "enemy of the American people," regularly calling out publications and TV networks that are critical of him.
But Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace warns that the president does have a point about media bias.
"Many of our colleagues think this president has gone so far over the line bashing the media, it has given them an excuse to cross the line themselves, to push back," Wallace said while accepting the International Center for Journalists Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism in November 2017.
"As tempting as that may be, I think it's a big mistake."
August 21, 2002 | President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speak to the press outside the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, seven months before the start of the Iraq War. | (AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer)
Jan. 22, 2009 | President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the Oval Office after signing an executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. | (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Sept. 14, 2017 | President Donald Trump responds to a reporter's question as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. | (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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