April 22, 2002

NBC News' Palmer Talks on White House

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Former long-time NBC News correspondent John Palmer gave a lecture entitled “The Press and the Presidency: The Real West Wing.” last Thursday afternoon at 7:30 PM in Park Hall Auditorium in Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. As the invited lecturer, Palmer continued an Ithaca College tradition known as Jessica Savitch Distinguished Lecture series.

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At 7:15 PM, the lecture room was filled with commotion and at 7:25 PM nearly every seat in the lecture room was occupied.

President of Ithaca College, Peggy R. Williams welcomed the attendees, “We’re looking forward to this evening’s remarks by longtime NBC news correspondent John Palmer. The Savitch distinguished lecture series, now in its 10th year, is one of the highlights of the academic year for our campus community. This lecture honors the legacy and memory of one very special Ithaca college alumnus, Jessica Savitch.”


Savitch was a former NBC news anchor from 1977 until her death in 1983. At NBC, Savitch anchored the Saturday edition of NBC Nightly News and delivered one-minute prime-time news updates during the week, among other duties. She also hosted the PBS documentary series Frontline. Later, she won many honors, including an Emmy and was elected to the Ithaca College Board of Trustees in 1980. The program bulletin stated that “the Jessica Savitch Distinguished Journalism Lecture Series was established by the Savitch family as a continuing recognition of Savitch’s pioneering spirit, professional dedication and overall influence on broadcast journalism.”

Palmer began his lecture with a description of his professional relationship to Jessica Savitch.

“I was a colleague of [Savitch] in Washington and New York City,” Palmer said. He then described many experiences he had with Savitch, which concluded with the public announcement of her death. “I had the painful task of announcing to the United States, to the viewers that Jessica had died,” Palmer said. “This annual lecture series I think is a very, very fitting tribute to Savitch, not only to her professional qualities but her personal ones as well.”

Palmer then introduced the topic of the presidency and the West Wing. “I learned early on in my career the danger of getting things a little mixed up,” Palmer said. He then spoke of his involvement with the Presidents of the United States. “I spent 13 years at the White House, the last two years of the Carter administration, the first two years of Ronald Reagan’s administration, all of Clinton’s eight years in the White House and that was an interesting time and the last year with George W. Bush,” Palmer said.

Afterwards, Palmer continued his presidential discussion by describing his impressions of Ronald Reagan.

“Ronald Reagan, I think is an absolutely charming man who made very important decisions that evidence and history show never quite reached the presidents desk,” Palmer said.

“Iran Contra, that whole situation. I’m convinced that Ronald Reagan was not part of this conspiracy. I don’t think they told him. I think if they did perhaps he didn’t really listen that hard but he was not part of this inner circle. He was not directly involved. I think fault therein lies that he just delegated a little too much of his time,” Palmer noted.

He then explained the varying work habits of each of the presidents he worked with. “Carter felt that if you just ordered in enough pizza, sat around long enough, you could solve all the problems of the world if you just stayed up late enough at night. Reagan was very much a nine to five fellow. He was known at meetings to say, well I see its five o clock, time to quit,” Palmer said, “Clinton would work to midnight and beyond. He was very much a work-a-holic. George W. Bush walks in just like clockwork at 7 o’clock in the morning into the Oval office. Friday afternoons he’s usually gone at 3 o’clock or so off to Camp David with his wife, which he enjoys very much as a chance to get away. And I think that’s good,” Palmer stated.

Archived article by David Andrade