Getting the Shot

Author: Gary Hart

Some years ago as a national candidate I had the benefit of protection by the U.S. Secret Service.  To a person they were as professional and effective as the best uniformed Special Forces and I was, and am, completely convinced any one of them would have jumped between me and a shooter.

But, like all other national candidates, I also had virtual round-the-clock companionship (“coverage”) by the political press corps.  Contemplating the possibility I might actually be elected President, if not then possibly later, I once asked the head of the Secret Service detail, a great public servant Steve Ramsey, whether, once in the White House, I could periodically leave by a side door, take a three car motorcade to Andrews Airforce Base, and fly unscheduled to any one of hundreds of small or medium-sized American towns.  We would then drive unannounced to that town’s Main Street and I could walk up and down a few blocks shaking hands and dropping into shops to say hello along the way.

“Can’t be done,” Steve said.  “Won’t work.”

“What do you mean,” I responded with some heat.  “I’d be President of the United States.  Why couldn’t I do that as a way of listening to what everyday Americans were saying and thinking.”

“The press won’t let you,” Steve said.  “They’d raise hell.”

My response: “They can’t tell me what to do and what not to do.  Why do they care if I take an hour or two out here and there to meet informally with real people and without the cameras and flashbulbs.”

“They don’t want to miss the shot,” Steve said.

At first I thought he meant getting pictures of relaxed events like this.  That is not what he meant.  He meant the assassin’s shot.

This all came to mind with the recent hub-bub days ago surrounding the President-elect’s dinner at a famous New York restaurant a few blocks from his tower without notifying the media.

Since then columnists and commentators have uniformly responded with outrage.  How dare he, they fomented.  Doesn’t he recognize the right of the people to know what the President is doing?  Isn’t he aware of the public interest in everything he does?  Implicitly: Hasn’t anyone told him he now has no privacy?

In none of this cacophony has even one journalist, to my knowledge, stated the blunt truth: We want to be there if someone tries to kill you..

Journalists are in the story business, and that’s a big story.

But the First Amendment guarantee of a free press is not also a guarantee of an omnipresent press.  The peoples’ right to know, found only implicitly in the Constitution, relates to the peoples’ business, the public business of our Government.  Jefferson, among others, linked a free press to the public’s knowledge of public business.  It is a journalistic construct to extend that implicit right into an intrusive insistence on being nearby every private minute of a President’s day.

James Madison, it may be safely assumed, did not believe the public had a legitimate reason to know where a President was dining, with whom he was dining, and what he dined on.

Former President Clinton called the White House the pinnacle of the U.S. prison system. Either a President himself or herself has some right of privacy or he or she does not.  I believe a President does have and should have that right.

It comes down to this: the value of occasional presidential privacy versus a handful of journalists (the “pool”) getting the shot—being there when a President is killed or an attempt is made.

No attempt to kill the President, successful or unsuccessful, will go unnoticed.  The details of such an attempt will be available in minutes if not seconds in an age when everyone is a journalist.

If the cost of a rare evening of privacy for a President is a Pulitzer prize, it is a small price to pay.

11 Responses to “Getting the Shot”

  1. Chris R. Says:

    So when was the last time a major national leader was assassinated by gunshot? The last that I can remember was Anwar Sadat. Assassination by gunshot has become too difficult and embarrassing for those affecting regime change. Airplane crashes are easier to control. All one need do is control the subsequent investigation of the mechanical problem/accident and autopsies to whitewash a political killing. By determining where the plane crashes, that can be selected.

    As we chat, the Polish government has reopened the investigation into the 2010 death of President Kaczynski in Smolensk, Russia, which resulted in changing the President’s party affiliation. The government controlled by that party had accepted without criticism the results of a Russian investigation. Presently, bodies have been exhumed to reexamine those reports. Critics have cried “conspiracy theory”, but over 6 and half years later, Polish Air Force One, a military aircraft, has not been returned by the Russians, and nor were the black boxes. A reasonable person might conclude that there is something fishy there from that.

    Prominent political Americans who died in plane crashes include Rep. Hale Boggs, who served on the Warren Commission, (and who also was the father of Cokie Roberts), Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, and JFK, Jr., whose friends reported was interested in running for the New York Senate seat later won by Hillary Clinton. In the event that a travelling press pool were to be on an aircraft that crashed, they would not likely be able to cover that story. They would become the story in the worst possible way possible.

  2. Chris R. Says:

    Upon further consideration, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. Also, Bill Clinton’s commerce secretary, Ron Brown, also died in an unusual plane crash.


    Senator Hart,

    Today if my information is correct , may the only shot you have be of a favourite drink, in celebration of your eightieth birthday , Happy Birthday , many happy returns of the day ! For those of us a generation or so younger than you , what an inspirational thing such a birthday is when of one so active and involved !

    Thank you for your interest and concern on so many issues to this day and beyond, not least, saying this as a British citizen , your envoy activities in Northern Ireland in more recent years.

    Eighty is itself an achievement when reached, one of many landmarks in a life well lived. May there be many more for one and all and all good men and women and true !

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Happy Birthday, Senator Hart!

    Okole maluna … 🙂

  5. Brian C McCarthy Says:


    Your blog reminds me of a scene in the movie “Dave” in which Kevin Kline, playing a lookalike who has been substituted for the incapacitated US President, discovers a secret tunnel leading out of the White House that presidents had used to get outside on their own without a Secret Service or press entourage. I also recall hearing that, in the non-fiction world, President U.S. Grant used to leave the White House on his own after his work day was ended, walk over to the Willard Hotel, and sit in the lobby smoking cigars and chatting with regular citizens. Today the idea of the president walking around in public without both security and press in tow seems quaint, though I agree the public is entitled to know the nation’s business, but not all the personal details and comings and goings of the president. I suspect that the president elect may end up fighting this privacy battle with the press as he doesn’t seem inclined to accept the physical boundaries placed on presidents (for instance, he seems to be seriously considering conducting his business as president from Trump Tower in New York rather than being a prisoner in the White House.

    I join with Lorenzo in wishing you a happy 80th birthday and many years of good health!


  6. Chris R. Says:

    Happy Birthday to our host!

    May he live to be 100!

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    Many thanks for the birthday wishes, but I have mixed feelings about posting them. As I explained to Ms. Miller, as usual the press reports of my age are wildly inaccurate. I am actually 49. GH

  8. Brian C McCarthy Says:

    Senator, who cares what the press says? Hope you had a good hike in Troublesome Gulch, a nice dinner with your family, and you’re up to another thoughtful blog post soon.
    – BCM

  9. Paul G Says:

    Greetings Senator Hart!

    I dreamt a long-forgotten headline,HART CAMPAIGNS SECRETLY SUBSIDIZED HIS AGE, as the towering story that trumped all others – false, but effective. 30 years later I awoke to the nightmare headline, PRESIDENT TRUMP!!!

    Happy anniversary of your 49th. birthday, sir.

  10. Michael Says:

    Way back in 1980, I was doing campaign advance for President Carter and asked a TV cameraman why it was so important that they be standing outside the venue at every fundraiser, despite the fact that all they did was photograph the president walking in and out of buildings. He told be the answer was rather “macabre”; that they only did it in the case of an assassination attempt. On one hand I find that outrageous; on the other, the more eyes that are around the better the chances of finding out exactly what happened, if anything does happen. I still think what the Senator Hart had in mind would be useful for any president, and they should try it once in a while, regardless of any media outcry. (A belated happy birthday, Senator! I remember the “smoking peashooter” controversy was whether it was 46 or 47. seems quaint to everyone now.)

  11. T. Bird Says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY SENATOR HART! May God bless you and your family. I wish things had been different like this country allowing those ‘THINGS’ to represent our nation for the next 4 years. I don’t care what happened when you were running for president in the 80’s, all I know is a lot of things would have been different in a good way. The News Media is the reason for ALL OF THIS! I just hope one day that they ALL get what they deserve. I believe it when the BIBLE states, ‘What you Sow, You Shall Reap.’

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