Friday, February 6, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Katherine Paterson

NCBLA Vice President answers questions on "The Eyes and Ears of the Public."

Welcome the NCBLA blog's new weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit

This week we feature NCBLA Vice President Katherine Paterson (
Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved, The Great Gilly Hopkins). For her piece in Our White House, entitled "The Eyes and Ears of the Public," Ms. Paterson wrote about the White House press corps, the group of journalists who cover the goings-on in the president's home.
Here's an excerpt:

In the beginning, reporters stood outside the gates in all weather, trying to buttonhole people going in and out to get news of what was happening inside. By 1900, President McKinley realized that there were so many reporters hanging around the gates that he sent an aide out to give them a daily briefing. When Theodore Roosevelt became president, after McKinley's assassination, he liked to talk to reporters himself, chatting with those he liked and snubbing those he thought had written or might write an unfavorable story.
We asked Ms. Paterson some questions about her piece:

NCBLA: What influenced you to write about the White House press corps? Did you read or see something that sparked your interest in this group of people, especially reporter Helen Thomas?
KP: I believe the press corps are the eyes and ears of us all in the White House. It seems to me that when the press corps fail to ask the hard questions and keep the President and his press secretary on their toes, the whole world suffers. We could always count on Helen Thomas to ask the hard questions on our behalf. She epitomizes the best in the press corps tradition. Unfortunately, her questions were too uncomfortable during the previous administration so she was sent to the back row and seldom called upon.

NCBLA: Who is your favorite president and why?
KP: Right now, Barack Obama is my favorite president. I like and/or dislike his forty-three predecessors in varying degrees and for different qualities.

NCBLA: Would you prefer to be Press Secretary or a member of the press corps? Which end of the president-press relationship would you rather be on?
KP: I think I'd rather be a member of the press. It's easier to ask hard, uncomfortable questions than to answer them.

NCBLA: How do you think President Obama will change the story of the presidency? What do you think or hope people will write about him in the future?
KP: Everyone mentions the fact that America has finally grown to the point that we can elect an African-American as president. I think it's even more significant that America seems glad to elect and support a person of obvious intelligence, self-control, and emotional maturity. No one knows what the future will bring, but it is reassuring to watch this calm, thoughtful man facing the enormous challenges of the present. He seems truly to want what is best for the people as a whole without having to kowtow to any sector of the population.

NCBLA: President Obama enters office at a time of great technological innovation; he is famously attached to his Blackberry PDA. How do you think the use of technologies like cell phones and the internet has changed public and press opinion on the presidency?
KP: I'm from Vermont and know personally folks who were involved in Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. I knew during that campaign that politics was going to be a different ballgame from then on. No longer would only the very rich or huge corporations or lobbying blocs be able to control what comes out of the White House. Since I was very involved in the Obama campaign, I have truly enjoyed and am still enjoying frequent updates on what's going on via my computer. I'm too old to learn text messaging, but, that too, will mean that the President can keep in touch with ordinary people and not be sealed off by security and insiders.

You can also read "The Eloquence of Silent Cal," Ms. Paterson's piece about Calvin Coolidge, on click here.

For more information on this author, please see her NCBLA bio or visit her website.

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