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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at the Annual White House News Photographers Association Dinner

1989-05-23

Marlin says it's okay to talk; this will be a modified photo op. [Laughter] Actually, I dropped in to see if my prints were ready. [Laughter] It's no secret that I'm a great fan of the White House photographers. After all, the first 100 days were saved by those puppy pictures. [Laughter] An animal lover like me doesn't lightly bestow a fond nickname like ``photo dogs.'' I know that your space is cramped there in the West Wing. Some of the photographers, as a matter of fact, asked if they could set up a darkroom someplace where nothing much is happening. I was all for it until they suggested the Oval Office. [Laughter]

And you know, Larry asked me to help hand out the awards a little later on here. And I saw the list, and, yes, it's an impressive group, but some key categories got overlooked. And so, I talked it over with the photo general of the United States, David Valdez, and tonight I'm proud to announce the first annual Presidential Photographers Awards -- very serious business here. With Oscars, you get a gold statuette; Grammys, a record player; and Golden Globes. And here it is, this 9-inch step ladder -- [laughter] -- highly coveted. This is the highly coveted Golden Step Ladder Award. [Laughter]

We start with the photo dog fashion awards. I asked Director of the CIA Bill Webster why Air Force One never gets taken over by terrorists. And he said, ``The bad guys take one look at the way the photographers are dressed and figure that the plane's already been hijacked.'' [Laughter]

There are some exceptions. The first runner-up for this coveted award for the best dressed photographer goes to Time's Diana Walker, affectionately known as Lady Di. She has that ``12 days on safari in Botswana'' look that you're all striving for. [Laughter] She's the one that did that photo essay last week called ``Twelve Hours With George Bush.'' She claimed it felt like the first 100 days.

But anyway, the winner of this coveted award -- she only was runner-up -- goes to one of Diana's colleagues, Dirck Halstead. [Laughter] Now, Dirck has never been suspected of being a terrorist because the Secret Service says that, while terrorists do at times wear Guccis, rarely if ever are their blue jeans starched and pressed. [Laughter]

Now, there's a corollary of Murphy's Law, which White House photographers have a knack for proving: Under any conditions, anywhere, whatever you are doing, there is some ordinance under which you can be booked. And so, the 1989 First Amendment Award, coveted award for freedom of expression, goes to the CNN [Cable News Network] cameraman arrested on a pool stakeout this month outside a high security installation -- Joe   Mo's. [Laughter] And let's hear it for Albert Certo of CNN. [Applause] Can someone please remove his handcuffs, because we want him ready for the picture.

Those looking for proof of a kinder and gentler America need only look around the White House press room at the number of people napping. [Laughter] And I stopped speaking at photo ops because I was afraid I'd wake up the dozing cameramen. But we call the next award the Rip Van Winkle Award, coveted award given each year to the photographer who earns the most overtime while asleep. [Laughter] The competition in this category was tough. [Laughter] And the final rankings -- and this was scientifically done -- are John Bullard of ABC -- [laughter] -- Percy Arrington of NBC, and CNN's Hank Disselkamp. Win, place, and show -- a photo finish if there ever was one. Sleep on, out there.

Now, that's not an easy job. Two months ago, a U.S. News and World Report photographer took a fall off the East Room press platform. He said he was okay until I said, ``Scratch one newsman.'' But then he bounced back and carries more equipment than any other three photographers combined. Or from U.S. News and World Report, the winner of this year's Arnold Schwarzenegger Award -- [laughter] -- Darryl Heikes.

The competition is intense among the news magazines. It was Darryl himself who suggested that U.S. News come out with its first annual swimsuit issue. [Laughter] Can't quite see Mort Zuckerman in thongs, but -- [laughter].

And I'm constantly impressed by the ingenuity of this White House press corps. Take the runner-up for our last award, lighting man Marvin Purbaugh of NBC. Marvin recently became the first American to actually produce a Thousand Points of Light. [Laughter] He lit the Roosevelt Room by bouncing the kleigs off Marlin's head. [Laughter]

And our final award is named for the well-known Milo Minderbinder, the irrepressible entrepreneur on ``Catch-22.'' The winner -- you guessed it -- has sold keychains to tourists -- [laughter] -- luggage tags to local reporters, press passes to foreign media. [Laughter] And so, give me a hand for this unanimous winner of the 1989 Milo Award, Mr. Opportunity Society himself, the guy that's giving entrepreneurship a bad name -- [laughter] -- Newsweek's own Larry Downing, the only guy who gets his trips on Air Force One counted as frequent flyer miles. [Laughter] No, one of the things I do like about Larry, though, is his loyalty. In Beijing, the microphones picked up his patriotic challenge to some Chinese security guards: ``Stop pushing me,'' he said. ``Our President may sound like an idiot, but he's our President, and we're going to take pictures of him.'' [Laughter] Thanks a lot, Larry. [Laughter]

Marlin will see that you receive these coveted awards. But right now, I'd like all these lucky winners to stand up. Diana and Dirck, Albert, John, Percy, Hank, Darryl, Marvin, and Larry. Bad sports -- only two of them stood up.

No, but as these awards suggest, the various characters -- and I use the word advisedly -- assembled in this room probably make up about as diverse a collection of personalities as ever found in a single profession. But over the years, I've observed certain qualities that you do have in common: the determination as well as the ability to work hard; take an elbow, give one in return, Cynthia; a willingness to go the extra mile, even on the slimmest chance that it will produce a memorable shot; grace under pressure -- and I mean it -- and a total belief in your work. And more importantly, more personally, the very name that I've bestowed, ``photo dogs'' -- and you've adopted -- say a lot about the good-natured relationship that we enjoy and the good will that's shared on both sides.

And I will say this from the bottom of a grateful heart: knowing the Bush family as you do now, I have always appreciated the thoughtfulness and the consideration and the kindness that you have shown to our family and, indeed, the kindness and consideration that you have shown in our quest for privacy from time to time. And that means a great deal. So, thank you all. It's time to declare a lid. And any followup questions can go to Rich Little -- and I'm scared to death. [Laughter] Thank you all. And lights, please.

Note: The President spoke at 9:20 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Marlin Fitzwater, the President's Press Secretary; Larry A. Rubenstein, chairman of the awards dinner and assistant picture editor at Reuters; David Valdez, the President's photographer; Cynthia Johnson and Dirck Halstead, photographers for Time magazine; and entertainer Rich Little.

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