(Note: Publisher Brian Howey asked us to publish this article written in December of 1973 by his father, veteran journalist Jack Howey, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 93.)

A helicopter dipped and hovered alongside the monorail tracks at Disney World at Orlando, Fla., when my wife and children, Brian and Sara, arrived there two weeks ago yesterday for a convention of the Associated Press Managing Editors Assn. (APME).

It was about 4 in the afternoon and the chopper had been there most of the day. It was part of the security for the press conference scheduled by President Nixon the next evening and it patrolled the area during daylight hours all the following day, too.

Most of the editors attending the convention were busy all-day Saturday attending meetings, and it wasn‘t until the last one ended that we saw the unusual activity taking place in the hotel. The big ballroom at the opposite end of the second floor of the Contemporary Resort Hotel from where our meetings had taken place was obviously off limits to the public. Secret Service agents and television network cameramen scurried in and out of the ballroom setting up equipment for the press conference.

All doorways to the ballroom were roped off and an expressionless Secret Service man was near each of the doors, watching carefully those who went in and out. We were told that the ballroom would be opened to APME members at 6:10 and closed at 6:50. No one would be allowed in after that until the press conference ended.

The president arrived at the hotel about 5:30, having traveled the 27 miles from McCoy AFB by car at a speed of 50 m.p.h. Several hundred hotel guests and employees greeted him as he entered the hotel and went up to the presidential suite on the 14th floor. He stayed there until leaving for the press conference a few minutes before 7 and went back to the suite for about an hour after the conference.

When we arrived on the ballroom floor at about 6, we found that the escalators between the first and third floors had been stopped and people already were lining the stairs beside them, hoping for a glimpse of the president.

I was lucky enough to be one of the first APME members in the ballroom and took a seat in the third row from the front to the president’s left. One of the floor mics was directly in line between me and a television camera. Mary Lou and the children entered the ballroom through another door and were seated toward the rear of the room at the president’s right.

There were television cameras to the right and left of the president and another directly in front of him but in back of the seats for the 400 editors present. Fanning out on each side of the center camera were the press photographers. All were on a platform raised above floor level so they could see and shoot over the heads of the audience.

The Washington press corps was present, but the ground rules restricted questioning to APME members, so the Washington group was positioned to the rear of the ballroom to the president’s left. Their seats were worse than those of the APME member families.

Just a few minutes before 7, APME president John Quinn of Rochester, N.Y., gave the editors a quick briefing of the procedure to be followed and when the hands of the clock marked 7 he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.”

Mr. Nixon entered through a door just to the right of the speaker’s stand as the audience faced it and walked directly to the podium. He announced he would have no opening remarks and the questioning began.

The APME executive board had solicited questions from some of the membership and determined which questions would be used and in what order. I’m not sure how the solicitation for questions was made because I wasn’t given the opportunity to submit one, and I am of the opinion that among a group of editors the questioning should have been thrown open to all members as it is during other convention sessions.

Watching the conference unfold live before my eyes, it was much more obvious than ever before that televised press conferences are completely under the control of the president. He can take as many or as few words to answer as he chooses, bringing in extraneous information and ignoring parts of the question. Because the next questioner ordinarily will ask the question he has been waiting to ask, there is little follow-up questioning when the president’s answer falls short of its mark. This is not to imply that all questions are evaded, but as any good politician would, the president says only as much as he cares to say. Other presidents before Mr. Nixon have used the same technique.

Televised press conferences are more theater than anything else and it would be to the advantage of newspapers and the public if a different format were devised to allow newsmen to follow up on unsatisfactory answers. Unfortunately, some newsmen seem to worry more about the impact they make on TV audiences than the effectiveness of their questions.

Mr. Nixon, from my seat about 25 feet from him, seemed poised, confident and at ease. He obviously was well-prepared with information and replied to each question smoothly. The consensus of editors I talked with after the press conference was that he had scored well.

During the questioning, Mr. Nixon, having said he had never profited from public service or obstructed justice, added that he welcomed the examination being pursued by the Watergate investigation. “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook,” he said. “Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got.”

There was a rumor among the Washington press corps that the president’s staff had spent the afternoon calling APME members and planting questions. That is absurd. It seems that Washington reporters have become actors in the drama unfolding in the capital rather than reporters of it.

Another illustration of their participatory role took place at McCoy AFB when the president landed. He was shaking hands with well-wishers there and, apparently blinded by the sun, mistook a master sergeant for a child’s mother. Realizing his mistake, the president patted the sergeant on the cheek as a friendly gesture of chagrin. Yet some reporters insisted on turning the incident into a full-blown repetition of the Gen. Patton slapping incident and implying that the president had lost control of himself. That’s the kind of reporting that gives every element of the press a black eye.

We can do without that.