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Two presidents' differing views of media guests at Biltmore

By Michael D. Shear

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- On a cold, rainy Saturday night, a small group of reporters and photographers huddled outside the gates of the famed Biltmore Estate, home of the late George Vanderbilt, while President Obama and his wife toured the majestic home.

More than 100 years ago, a headline in the New York Times told a very different story.

"MCKINLEY VISITS BILTMORE. Refuses to Enter George Vanderbilt's House Unless His Newspaper Guests Can Go Along."

The 1897 article, which documents a similar presidential visit in a very different era, suggests that relations between presidents and the media have taken a bit of a turn for the worse in the last century.

President William McKinley, like Obama so many years later, had arrived in Asheville with the streets lined with well-wishers. (Though, McKinley arrived on a train; Obama flew in on Air Force One.)

Ahead of his arrival, however, his aides were told by house manager E.J. Harding -- "Said to be an Englishman by birth," according to the Times -- that the "newspapermen" would not be allowed in.

"Mr. Vanderbilt spits on newspaper notoriety, and so do I," the Times quotes Harding as saying.

McKinley's aides did not relent, however, telling Harding that the president considered the news media "his guests" and saying that if they could not enter, the president would not either.

"This brought things to a crisis," the Times reported, "and Mr. Harding capitulated with the best grace possible, and the newspaper men were admitted to the mansion on the same footing as the president and his cabinet."

Much has changed since those days. Upon his arrival in Asheville, the Times reported that McKinley "called for air, and seven colored men fanned him while the handshaking went on."

One hundred and thirteen years later, an African American president was the one doing the handshaking.

As for the reporters covering Obama, they waited under a canopy during a steady rain for 50 minutes while the First Family and their guests -- the Whittakers and the Nesbitts -- received a private tour of the mansion.

Just before the Obamas departed, the small band of reporters and photographers piled into the back of a small bus and joined the tail end of a long motorcade as they headed toward their next duty: waiting in the bus while the president and his party ate dinner.

By Michael D. Shear  |  April 25, 2010; 3:07 PM ET
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That dig at McKinley is completely unfair. White and black, people fanned people back then -- he was at a BLACK SCHOOL. It had nothing to do with race. After McKinley was shot, while people fanned him including his wife. That's so snide and smarmy, but you're just ignorant.

McKinley appointed a couple thousand blacks to federal positions, more than all his predecessors combined. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat just like Obama and a virulent racist, fired them all when he won the presidency.

Posted by: chicoandtheman2001 | April 27, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

URGENT TO POTUS -- We interrupt your getaway to call your attention to human rights atrocities being committed on your watch:


• Extrajudicial shadow government run out of America's 70-some multi-agency "fusion centers" decimates democracy, human and constitutional rights, personal liberty -- and attacks unjustly "targeted" Americans with a silent microwave weapon system camouflaged among the nation's cell towers.

Rogues and scoundrels appear to be running a multi-agency Homeland Security- administered fusion center cabal, in partnership with corporate and municipal officials across America.

These agencies, commands and corporations have constructed an extrajudicial, unconstitutional and morally bankrupt shadow government, run out of the nation's 70-some fusion centers, that pulls the power strings in this nation in a breathtakingly arrogant grassroots bypass of the civilian chain of command, the judicial system, and Congress.


Posted by: scrivener50 | April 25, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

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