At one point in an old Bob Newhart comedy bit on “Abraham Lincoln and his Press Agent,” the publicist, upon learning that Lincoln had conducted a press conference without consulting him, groaned “Abe, how many times must I remind you, don’t talk to those newspaper guys when I’m not along.”
Sometimes it does not matter even if the PR consultant is in attendance.
After finishing my Air Force navigator missions in World War II, I was assigned as public relations officer at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida, then an Air Force rehabilitation hospital. When I learned that the renowned Gen. Curtis LeMay, a major player in both European and Pacific theater victories, was on site for R&R, I asked, and received, his approval to hold a press conference.
When one reporter asked his views on the U.S. Navy’s role in the Pacific victory over Japan, LeMay roared, “The Navy didn’t do a fxxxing thing!”
When the reportorial clamor subsided, I tried to perform damage control by explaining, “What the general means is the Navy’s role has been greatly amplified.”
The crusty general glared and me and exclaimed, “Lieutenant Newman, I mean exactly what I said,” repeating the explictive.
Unsurprisingly, the resulting headline “LeMay Raps Navy Role in Pacific” generated turmoil in Washington and I was the recipient of a tongue lashing by a desk-bound PR colonel.
Thinking quickly, I suggested patching him through on the telephone to LeMay to voice his views. The colonel swiftly hung up and I heard nothing further from headquarters.