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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A politician navigates a relationship with the media

White remembers that he quickly learned not to trust reporters after one published a particularly vicious story about him. He antagonized the media, however, by condemning them in statements on the floor of the legislature. Despite this contentious history, White mended fences with at least one of his opponents in the press.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAMELA DEAN:
I think you mentioned to me once that your wife had commented on that in reference to your ongoing battles with the press. What was that she said?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Poor little darling, I'll tell you about her. When we went to the General Assembly, of course it was a strange world for both of us. The News and Observer and one of its reporters came with an article, intellectually dishonest in design and calculated to be extremely critical of me as a legislator. Without any investigation of the facts, several other newspapers chipped in like howling dogs chasing a rabbit. They said the same thing in different ways over and over. My wife is a lady of fine sensibilities and that "publicity" just seared her soul. Of course, it made me mad as hell. Besides that, it had a completely false base. I wasn't as wary of newspaper story hunters then as I am now. I'd even try to be helpful to them. I even talked to some of them, and they'd usually "cut my throat" for my trouble. I learned quickly that I could not trust most of them but I do have some friends among them. Most of the newspapers in Raleigh plus some in Charlotte and Greensboro were my enemies so far as I was concerned. Finally, I got to the point where I'd take the offensive. I would write out, usually in longhand, a castigation of some editor or reporter, rise to a point of personal privilege on the floor of the senate, and read what I had written. Then some friend of mine would say, "Mr. President I think what Senator White has said should go into the journal of this senate and I move that it be placed in the journal." That usually annoyed the press very much. I never took anything off of them.
PAMELA DEAN:
So you took them on, gave as good as you got.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
My wife finally said to me, "I believe that if they didn't get on you at least every other week that you go spitting out at them, make them mad enough to do it." [Laughter] But I didn't have to do that. Almost everything I did they criticized. There is a record of where the reporter who told me it was none of my business about something finally wrote something in the Raleigh Times which was in his poor way something in the nature of an apology, an admission that I was right and the press was wrong about locating the museum where it is.
PAMELA DEAN:
Really! Who was that?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Who was it? The only thing I remember is his name was Paul.
PAMELA DEAN:
Well, it's not crucial; I was just curious who it was.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
I can find out for you if you want. I think I've got a copy of the thing. Incidentally, I saw him one day. He was down at the legislative building, and this was a year or so after the museum had been occupied, and we were having all the visitors we could accomodate. He stopped me to say this: he said, "Senator White, I took my family out to the museum." He said, "I want to tell you it is really great!" And I took his hand and pushed back his sleeve so that I could see his watch.
PAMELA DEAN:
Checked his pulse!
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
I said, "Paul, are you alright?" [Laughter]