About WHYY

Presidential Conversations on the Constitution

Click on an image to download a JPEG file.

Presidential Conversations

Program logo

Presidential Conversations

NPR Senior News Analyst Cokie Roberts is the host of PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION

Presidential Conversations

Cokie Roberts interviews George H.W. Bush in PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION: GEORGE H.W. BUSH

Presidential Conversations

Cokie Roberts interviews Jimmy Carter in PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION: JIMMY CARTER

Presidential Conversations

Cokie Roberts interviews Gerald Ford in PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION: GERALD FORD

 

More photos

WHYY Press Room

Presidential Conversations on the Constitution

Below are press materials for the national broadcast of the series. Click here for information about WHYY's broadcast.

Download this press release (MS Word document)

FORMER PRESIDENTS FORD, CARTER AND BUSH DISCUSS THE CONSTITUTION’S ROLE IN THEIR PRESIDENCIES IN PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION , TO AIR ON PUBLIC TELEVISION

Former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush discuss the historic events that defined their terms in office in PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION, a new series to be broadcast nationally on public television stations throughout October 2004.* Produced by WHYY-TV in Philadelphia in cooperation with the National Constitution Center, the series features one-hour interviews conducted by NPR Senior News Analyst Cokie Roberts. The production will also be broadcast nationally on NPR stations.

PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION marks the first time Americans will see and hear former presidents speaking candidly about how the Constitution affects presidential power. They also talk about their successes and failures, as well as family life, including the role of the first lady.

“We believed that we could offer a unique vantage point on the United States Constitution by examining this extraordinary document through the eyes of those who have served as president,” stated Paul Gluck, WHYY’s VP and Station Manager.

After the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford became the first person ever to become president without being elected either vice president or president. Prior to assuming office as vice president, he faced scrutiny by the FBI and committee hearings before the House of Representatives and the Senate. “Everything that happened to me was appropriate under the Constitution, so I had no reluctance to assume my office and do my duties,” states Ford in PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION: GERALD FORD.

Ford discusses his controversial decision to pardon Richard Nixon, a power granted to him by the Constitution. “As a new president under very difficult circumstances, I had an obligation to spend all of my time on the problems of 200 million Americans, and the only way to clear the deck to get to the substantive problems that I faced was to pardon Mr. Nixon and get his problems off my desk in the oval office. It was purely practical.” Ford criticizes the pardons given by former President Clinton.

In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress passed, and President Ford signed, a campaign- finance bill that set spending limits for campaigns, however, the bill was later deemed unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court. Ford states that it is “fundamentally wrong” for candidates to have to raise the thousands of dollars necessary today to participate in the political process.

Jimmy Carter, often remembered for his roles in the Iranian hostage situation, a national energy crisis and the Camp David Accords, invoked a constitutional issue on his first day in office when he made the controversial decision to pardon Vietnam draft evaders. “I thought the best thing to do was to pardon them and get the Vietnam War behind us,” says Carter in PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION: JIMMY CARTER.

He believes the greatest tragedy of his term was the Iranian hostage crisis. Immediately after the hostages were taken, Carter threatened to take military action against Iran and terminate all trade between Iran and the outside world if any of the hostages were injured. “I had no doubt that my constitutional right as the president would have resulted in the complete carrying out of that threat, and I could launch a military attack instantly if I chose.”

During his term, Carter was faced with an energy crisis that developed in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. He was forced to decide whether or not the federal government had the authority to mandate a nationwide policy on deregulating the price of oil or controlling the price of natural gas, or to let the states decide for themselves. “That issue about federal authority to mandate matters over which the states had previously had control was constitutional in nature. The Supreme Court and others have upheld that right of the federal government to have uniformity of oil and natural gas policy.”

George H.W. Bush served two terms as a representative to Congress from Texas and was later appointed to a series of high-level positions including chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate scandal. “They should have given me combat pay. It was the worst job in the world, ” jokes Bush in PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION: GEORGE H.W. BUSH.

Bush talks about the president’s power to pardon, which he exercised when he pardoned people involved in the Iran-Contra Affair. “It was controversial, but I was happy to do it. I was very proud of the fact that I pardoned those people and the Congress couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I loved that. Some will say it was political, but too bad.”

After hundreds of civilians were shot dead by the Chinese army in Tiananmen Square, Congress pressured Bush to cut off relations with China and issue additional sanctions. Bush did not comply. “It’s an example of how the Constitution gives the president the authority to make a very controversial decision and not be called on the carpet by 45 senators. I think I made the right decision,” says Bush.

Each of the former presidents discusses the role of the first lady. “Mrs. Ford was a very ardent supporter of equal rights for women and I used to get a lecture quite frequently. I got pushed to act on the floor of the House in favor of it, and I did,” remembers Ford. Rosalyn Carter often represented her husband at events he was unable to attend. “She was very helpful to me and I think played a role of activity that certainly at that time was unprecedented,” states Carter. Bush comments on the “love and devotion” existing first lady Laura Bush has for his son, the current U.S. president.

Gerald Ford graduated from Yale Law School in 1941 and served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1973. Since leaving office, he has continued to actively participate in the political process and speak out on important political issues. He takes part in many of the activities of the Gerald R. Foundation and his Presidential Library and Museum, located in Michigan.

Jimmy Carter, who was elected governor of Georgia in 1971, served as president from 1977 to 1981. In 1982, he became university distinguished professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and founded The Carter Center. The nonpartisan and not-for-profit organization addresses national and international issues of public policy. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 and is the author of 18 books.

On his 18th birthday, George H.W. Bush enlisted in the armed forces and was the youngest pilot in the Navy when he received his wings. After graduating from Yale with a degree in economics, he embarked on a career in the oil industry. The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is located in Texas.

Education material based on PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION will be available to schools online at www.whyy.org. Teachers will be able to download lesson plans and teacher’s guides to use in conjunction with each episode.

Executive Producers for the series are Ken Finkel and Paul Gluck. Cokie Roberts and Mary Martin are producers and writers. Editing is by Patrick Warner. Music by Bill Jolly. The series will be available on DVD.   

PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION was made possible by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and JP Morgan Chase . It will be made available to public television stations nationwide by American Public Television.

*Please check local listings for broadcast date and time in your area.

# # #

Press release for PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION: GERALD FORD

Press release for PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION: JIMMY CARTER

Press release for PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION: GEORGE H.W. BUSH press release

Fact sheet for PRESIDENTIAL CONVERSATION ON THE CONSTITUTION

Pledge | TV12 | 91FM | Education | Community | Underwriting | Fresh Air | Membership
Listen Live!
| WHYY Store | About WHYY | Contact Us | WHYY Home