NEW YORK -- Former President Gerald Ford Wednesday said the Washington press corps has done a 'lousy job' covering the deficit and reporting on what he labeled the 'terrible' way Congress has handled the nation's $1 trillion budget.
Former President Jimmy Carter, in a joint press conference at Columbia University after a symposium on the media, nodded in agreement when Ford said:
'The press has let both the White House and Congress fuzz over the deficit. The press has done a lousy job of writing about the deficit and President Carter and I call the deficit the No. 1 priority.'
Asked how the press could do a better job, the Republican Ford replied:
'In the first place, I don't think the press had done an adequate job of reporting on the implications of the deficit. And I think Congress has done a terrible job of handling a $1.1 trillion budget. There is no system. It is a shambles.
'I do not believe the press has done an adequate job reporting on that either.This is a complex, non-sexy issue that does involve our future. The press should show the economic complexities of the deficit.
'At some point we both agree it could become a very critical issue.'
Ford and Carter met with reporters after speaking informally during the symposium, titled 'The Press, the President and the First Hundred Days.'
The sumposium focused on presidential dealings with the press and gave Carter and Ford a chance to predict how George Bush will deal with the media after his inauguration as president.
'The first days of a new presidency are pivotal in deciding the issues of national concern for the next four years,' said Everete E. Dennis, executive director of the Gannett Center for Media Studies, which sponsored the symposium.
'The scope of public discussion and debate is shaped by the symbiotic agenda-setting of the president and the press, each making its own choices in determining what is newsworthy.'
Carter and Ford said Bush shouldn't count on continuing what they called the press honeymoon enjoyed by President Reagan. Carter and Ford said they deplored media use of reports based on anonymous sources during Reagan's administration and the administrations of other presidents.
The Democrat Carter applauded the 'USA Today' newspaper for a policy that bars reports quoting unidentified sources. He recommended such a policy to all media.
'I deplore unidentified sources,' Ford said. 'People should be named.
'Leaking is bad but the press likes it. I don't think the press should let people (who leak things) get away with it.'
When a reporter brought up the possibility that an unnamed source could very well be the president, Ford said, 'Well, of course. I deplore that also.'
Ford and Carter agreed Reagan had very good relations with the media during his eight years in the Oval Office, despite his aloofness and infrequent press conferences.
'President Reagan had fewer press conferences and got away with it,' Carter said. 'He has been remarkable for not getting involved with controversy.
'I think President Reagan has been successful in itemizing the (news) agenda for the press. If something is negative, he eludes it. His aloofness from the press and his ability to orchestrate the daily news item made him successful.
'I don't think George Bush will be as lucky.'
During the symposium Columbia President Michael Sovern said Bush can show his commitment as an 'education president' if he supports equal educational opportunity and welcomes scholars and academics to the White House.
At stake is the health of the nation's colleges and universities, which Sovernportrayed as a $100 billion boon to the economy and a crucial component of national prestige.
'Our system of higher education is that sector of our economy still acknowledged to be the best on earth,' Sovern said.