Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A vicious media sours on the governor-elect

During his gubernatorial campaign, Holshouser benefitted from a sympathetic press corps, he believes. He describes how once he was elected, the press soured on him, attacking him for mistakes they previously would not have covered. Holshouser sees a decline in the wisdom of the press corps over the years, exemplified by rabid coverage of the Clinton sex scandal.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-0328-1. 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

I found that during the campaign, both in the primary and in the general, I was the underdog all the way and I think we got every benefit of the doubt in the press all the way through.
JACK FLEER:
Every bit of the doubt?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Every benefit of the doubt. I think they went out of their way to give us as much coverage as they could probably because they thought that we were trying hard and had some good ideas but didn't have any money. But they did what they have quit doing now which is to have one reporter assigned to you for the pool. He would file and the wire service and everybody else would get the story of what you did that day. They quit doing that and I think that is not good. As soon as I was elected I think the whole, their view of me changed in that all of a sudden I was the guy in charge and I had to be scrutinized to see if I was honest or intelligent or doing right. Even before the inauguration I had already made several mistakes as far as they were concerned which would never have been noticed before the campaign was over. I found that frustrating. But I also sort of recognized that is just how it is once you are in office. There is an arms' length relationship even with friends that has to be there. They have their job to do and if you believe in the first amendment for the most part at least you recognize that. I still do in spite of everything. I think it is abused at times pretty seriously. I found that if you are screwing up the press isn't going to be long letting you know that they think you have. If you will let yourself not be too defensive and be willing to admit you might have made a mistake, somewhere along the line they can be helpful.
JACK FLEER:
Did you hold regular press conferences or regular opportunities for assess?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Not on a regular bases but pretty often. Now Bob Ray in Iowa told me that when he was governor he had a hour every morning where he sat down with any of the reporters that wanted to come in and just talk. So whatever was on the front bumper right then he was there. I thought that was too frequent. Jack Childs always had access to me even if it was by phone to get answers if reporters called in with questions and they usually did for whatever was on their mind the day. So it was indirect access but not direct. I found though that as the administration was in the last two years that it may have been because I hadn't faced the situation before or it may have been because they hadn't faced the situation before. It seemed like to me that it became increasingly a feeling with some of the press corp at least you had to prove daily that you were innocent. Watergate was so impacting. I had a friend tell me that one Charlotte Observer reporter had been quoted to him to say that, "I know there is a Watergate in Raleigh if I can just find it." And that tends to get you a little paranoid on your side to know that that's the view that reporters are taking.
JACK FLEER:
What an environment to have to contend with on a daily basis?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That's right. And it also reached the point where for instance the commander of the highway patrol got a speeding ticket, got stopped on the way back from Asheville. Everybody immediately wanted to know if I was going to fire him. And I will admit the highways are his responsibility and that was something that he shouldn't have done. At the same time I couldn't in my own mind see that anybody should even think that that should be grounds for firing.
JACK FLEER:
Now as far as the ability of a governor to communicate to the public on whatever concerns like the energy crisis during your particular administration, as I recall you did go on state television to talk about the energy crisis. But more often than not, at least increasingly, governors have difficulty gaining assess to the media for those purposes.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I think that is true and I think the economic demands of operating television stations these days probably have just changed, or greed. I don't know enough about the profits in it, but for one reason or another the state broadcasters haven't been nearly as willing to give the governor public service time to talk on a statewide network of late. We had fair amount of an occasion to do that I think.
JACK FLEER:
If you couldn't address the public directly, you obviously had to address them through the press. How about your assessment of how well the press communicated your ideas for you so to speak if you had a particular policy concern that you wanted to get out.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
On the things that really mattered I thought they did okay, I thought they did pretty well. It wasn't nearly as bad then as it is now. But if you took these six things and said they were the major issues, I thought they did fine. If you took these four things that were the hot button Clinton sex scandal kind of things of the day, they didn't do too well but they did well compared to what is happening today. And I am just sort of appalled over what has happen in the last ten days with the President and with this thing with the intern. I am appalled that he got himself in that situation, but I am also appalled with how the press just has its, and everybody call it, feeding frenzy and just goes crazy. They are reporting things that aren't backed up by facts and two days later prove there were no basis at all.
JACK FLEER:
But you felt by and large that you could use the press and I don't mean in any nefarious way. I just mean it was available to be used for you to get out ideas adequately to the public and so the absence of your ability to go on statewide television for example was not a serious problem as it could have been.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I don't believe I ever felt a problem with being able to get out to the people what I wanted to say. The only time I had a mechanical problem was when I wanted to do sort of a summation of the administration and I wanted to do it before the election of 1976. Everybody said if you would wait until after the election, we will give you the time and if you are going to do it before the election we can't. So I borrowed the money and paid for it myself and just did it.
JACK FLEER:
I have read about that and it is actually a fairly unique experience among governors I believe, I mean in this state.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
It was just mountaineer stubbornness.