When Presidents Get Mad at the Press: Bill Moyers told LBJ that he’d “tighten things up.”

From Connecting, a daily newsletter edited by Paul Stevens and sent to current and former AP staffers:

AP general manager Wes Gallagher was aware that the Johnson Administration was hostile to critical news coverage, as the commitment of large numbers of American combat troops to Vietnam focused public attention on the war. The depth of that animosity was revealed much later. White House press secretary Bill Moyers observed in a 1965 memo that the coverage of “CBS reporter Morley Safer and Peter Arnett was irresponsible and prejudiced.”

Moyers promised to “tighten things up” and Johnson scrawled “good” on the memo. Presidential assistant Jack Valenti wrote a memo to Johnson prior to a planned meeting with Gallagher and other AP officials, “You may want to bring up the problem of Peter Arnett, who has been more damaging to the U.S. than a whole battalion of Vietcong: His stories on defective equipment, antiquated aircraft and the use of poison gas.”

Gallagher went prepared to the White House meeting┬áto dispute the President’s criticisms, carrying a briefcase filled with photos and facts supporting the disputed stories. But Johnson made no mention of the war or AP coverage. Finally, Gallagher decided to raise the issue himself.

“Mr President, I understand you have been critical of some of AP’s stories from Vietnam?” Oh no,” Johnson relied as he patted Gallagher on the back. “I think the AP is doing a great job.” The AP executive did not challenge him, instead saying “Well I just wanted you to know, Mr. President, the AP is not against you or for you.” to which Johnson responded, “That’s not quite the way I like it.”

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