Remarks at the Annual Awards Dinner of the White House News Photographers Association

May 16, 1984

Thank you, Bob Hope -- I think. [Laughter] Well, a special thanks to Bernie Boston, Ken Blaylock, Paul Lyons, and the dinner committee for doing such a fine job of putting all this together. And greetings to Buck May, the dean of White House photographers.

And now, I already know what's on your minds. [Laughter] You're all wondering whether I'm going to put my thumbs in my ears and waggle my fingers the way I did last year. [Laughter] Well, the answer is yes. But since, last time, Rich Lipski was quick enough with the camera to catch it, this year I'm going to make my moves a little bit faster, and I'm only going to do it once, so -- what's going on back there? [Laughter] Well, you see, you missed it. [Laughter] Want to see it again? [Laughter]

Well, seriously, it's a pleasure to be here. You know, in Washington, there are a lot of big dinners like this, but tonight is special. I've been around photographers all my adult life, or most of it, and I think that I can say that I've developed an appreciation for your craft. So, it's as an old pro that I admire the work of each of you and that each of you performs. You demonstrate true professionalism and artistry. And time and again, I find myself pausing to admire a wonderful picture that one of you has produced.

As you record history in the making, you, yourselves, are a part of historic tradition. Ever since Mathew Brady took his stirring pictures of Abe Lincoln and the Civil War, photographs have been imparting immediacy to American news. And it isn't true that I carried Brady's camera. [Laughter] News photographs show us what's specific and vivid. A story might explain what happened during World War II, but it was a photo that gave us that unforgettable image of four marines struggling to hoist the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima.

And although news analysts might discuss the Presidency, it's your photos that show J.F.K. working in the Oval Office with John-John playing under the desk or me giving a briefing with Nancy waiting in the wings to surprise me with a birthday cake. And pictures like that remind us the Presidency isn't an abstraction, but an office held by just ordinary men who do their job the best they can.

Often, news photos remind us of the first things, the fundamentals of human experience that make us do what we do. Living in the United States, for example, we might begin to take democracy for granted. And then we see a news photo of people lined up at ballot boxes in El Salvador -- simple men and women who've braved death threats to travel into town and cast their votes. We see the care in their faces and the life of hard work in their shoulders and hands, and we remember once again why we strive for democracy and peace.

My admiration for news photographers goes to the root of my political philosophy. In too many countries, photographs of top officials are only released once in a while to show that the leaders are still healthy. But in our country, your right to snap anything you want is protected by the Constitution. And each of you represents a vital part of the great and lively American system of freedom.

Earlier this year, one event said it all -- took place at an air base in South Carolina shortly after a plane had returned from Grenada carrying the medical students who'd been trapped at St. George's Medical School. As one student got off the plane, we all know he dropped to his knees and kissed the good earth of the United States, and nearby there was a news photographer, clicked his camera and caught that moment for all Americans to share. Although there will always be some hurly-burly and tugging between the White House and the press, I know that photo captured the way that all of us feel about this great land.

So, we just came by -- they won't let us stay; we didn't dress. [Laughter] Anyway, I just want to thank you all for allowing us to share even for a few minutes in this particular event.

God bless you, and keep up the good work.

Note: The President spoke at 7:54 p.m. in the main ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.