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.
Michael D. Shear
April 25, 2010; 3:07 PM ET
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