Remarks at a White House Meeting With Members of the National Newspaper Association

March 7, 1985

Well, I want you all to know how delighted I am that you're here with us again. This is the fifth year now that we've had the privilege of having you as our guests, and I feel as though we've sort of grown up together. [Laughter] I hope that doesn't offend anyone. Actually, as far as I'm concerned, none of us is really any older. We're just better. [Laughter] You know, as Cardinal Spellman used to say: There are three ages in life -- there's youth, middle age, and ``Hey, you're looking great.'' [Laughter] Always spoken with a little surprise.

Well, that brings up the story about a cub reporter who went out to interview a 65-year-old man who'd just won the local marathon. And the fast-paced gentleman explained that vitality was a part of his family heritage. ``After all,'' he boasted, ``my father's 90 years old and he's still swimming a mile every day.'' He said, ``and my grandfather is 110, just got married for the third time.'' And the young reporter asked why he would want to do that. And the runner said, ``Who said he wanted to?'' [Laughter]

All this talk about age is not really accidental; I'm aware that you're celebrating your 100th anniversary. And here at the White House we do issue our share of messages and congratulations, yet yours was and is very special. As the message of congratulations suggests, community newspapers had their origins in the early days of our nation in the struggle for independence and liberty. As our political parties grew and democracy flourished, the newspaper business also came of age. And today, with enormous advances made in technology, you're even more capable than in the past of bringing to your hometowns timely, provocative, and comprehensive coverage of what concerns and affects your readers.

I know that local news -- what's happening in your communities -- is one of the real important focuses for your newspapers. I think it's interesting that the new technology, leading to such mass developments as newspaper chains and television networks, is now being put to use by many of you to strengthen the very thing that so many people said the modern age would help to eliminate, and that is the sense of community -- the rich diversity and the difference that exists in America's towns and cities.

I think you also know that at the Federal level we're trying to do the same thing. The administration has always believed that the real source of America's economic and social progress is not national edicts and mandates that are issued from Washington, but the toil and creativity of her people working at the local level through their own private institutions and associations.

And that's why we are trying to shrink the cost and the size of the Federal Government, bring its expenditures under control, transfer as much of its power as we can back to the States and localities, where it will be subject to more control by the people themselves and, I might add, to more scrutiny by their watchdogs, those of you of the local press.

It hasn't been all that easy. Federal expenditures during the 15 years before we took office went up 400 percent, and the number of Federal programs escalated beyond belief, so much so -- and I think this is interesting -- no one's been able to come up with a way of counting exactly how many such programs currently exist in our government. Government and regulations were America's biggest growth industry.

And now, at last, we're putting a stop to that. I won't go through all the statistics about how we're cutting the number of programs and regulations, the rate of growth in spending, or elaborate on the amount of power that we're returning to the people in the local communities. I think the best measure of our success is the change in the climate here in Washington.

All of you can remember that a few years ago the surest way to headlines and success for Washington politicians was to propose another Federal initiative in spending extravaganza, to laugh at the deficit and claim that we could spend our way to prosperity. Well, now, at least, our elected officials publicly acknowledge that deficit spending is a serious problem and that spending yourself rich is a little bit like drinking yourself sober. But they still have a ways to go from talking about bringing deficits down to bringing deficits down.

And you know one additional point here is important. Perhaps you've noticed that when some newspapers start to lose their impact, they do it by trying to cover everything on the international and national scale but lose their real focus -- what's important to the people in their local community. Well, it's always fascinated me that as government grows larger and larger and started to do more and more things it was neither intended to do or competent enough to handle, it grew less capable of carrying out its traditional and far more important functions: maintaining civil order and protecting our national security.

Even as we fought to get the Federal behemoth under control during these past few years, we were emphasizing these traditional and most important duties of government. I think many of you have been reading and writing about our success against crime, much of it the result of a sweeping organized crime initiative that we announced a few years ago.

So far, we've also been moving against the dangers to our national security. We've come a long way from the days when the growth of totalitarianism was unchecked and America was routinely held up to world humiliation.

But all the work of the past few years -- the rebuilding of our military strength and our international stature -- depends on the continued support of the American people and the Congress. And very shortly, one critical vote will be held on the Hill on one of the mainstays of our strategic defenses: the MX missile. And, oh, how I wish they had listened to Barry Goldwater when that thing started a few years ago, because he said, ``Why don't we just call it Minute Man IV and no one will raise a fuss of any kind.'' [Laughter] Because in reality, it is a modernization of what we have in the silos now -- the II and the III are out-dated and way behind the state of the art.

And I'm very grateful for the editorial support that all of you've given us in the past on so many issues, but let me emphasize this morning that MX is one of the most critical items on the national agenda. I know I don't have to tell you it just isn't those of us at home who will be watching the vote -- the world is watching too, and especially those with whom we're now trying to negotiate arms control and reduction measures in Geneva. A vote now against the MX would be interpreted as a sign of weakness, a symbol of disunity; and it could be interpreted by some as a signal to exploit rather than seriously negotiate the arms reduction process.

We need passage of the MX program; we need it now. We need it for the success of our arms reduction efforts, and we need it for the sake of our future. And there we are again talking about the future and the passage of time. I know that many of you during these past few years have gone through the business of hiring young reporters and executives in your business, and I know that sometimes you must reflect on how young they are and counsel them on the work and adventures that await them.

And that's what it really is all about. Passing on to another generation and the generations after them this thing called the American dream -- making sure it remains a beacon of hope to a troubled but waiting world. You've been doing that now through this association for a hundred years. And during the past 4 years, especially, all of us together have come a long way toward bringing back excitement and energy to that dream.

So, this morning I want to thank you all for your editorial support in the past and ask your support for the future, particularly on that crucial MX vote, and wish you, at the same time, all a very happy birthday.

I would like to just point out because I know that there's kind of an image created with regard to defense spending -- would you be interested to know with relation to the gross national product, defense spending is considerably lower than it has been over the past, back in the fifties and back in the Kennedy days, and as a percentage of gross national product. We tend to overlook that. It isn't the great stupendous increase that everyone thinks it is; it's actually a lower percentage. In Kennedy's years, it was almost 50 percent of the budget; here it isn't 30 percent, and it is a smaller percent of the gross national product at the same time.

But before I -- and, incidentally, also, our negotiators will leave this weekend for Geneva. And I can't tell you that passing the MX will guarantee a good arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union; but I can guarantee you that a vote against it and not passing it will make that kind of a treaty much more difficult, if not impossible. The fellows on the other side of the table aren't there out of good will; they're there for the reason that Margaret Thatcher said to our Congress just a few days ago: They're there because of our strength; that's why they've come back to the table. And they see a determination on our side to maintain that strength.

Well, before I close, I want to speak to you just briefly about a great power for public service that you possess. I'd like to suggest one especially tragic area where your newspapers can do a great deal of good: the problem of missing children.

Well over a million American children disappear from their homes or neighborhoods every year causing, as we can all understand, heartbreaking anguish. Parents cry out for help, many through letters to me. For example, I learned about Jonelle Matthews of Greeley, Colorado, who would have celebrated a happy 13th birthday with her family just last month. But 5 days before Christmas, Jonelle disappeared from her home.

Letters like these touch us deeply, and we've tried our best to help. Last June we opened the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which runs a toll-free hotline and gives other aid as well. But a President can only do so much. So, today I'd like to ask for your help.

We saw how reaction to the television program ``Adam'' led to recovery of at least 36 missing children. We also know how milk carton manufacturers have begun putting photos of missing children on milk cartons. If your newspapers -- and forgive me for sticking my nose into your business -- but if you could publish, as a regular feature, pictures and descriptions of children missing in or near your circulation areas, I know that you would give the police a welcome new source of leads that could solve some of these cases. So, I'm asking you to enlist your newspapers in this mission of mercy. Even if it only finds one missing child, it's worth it.

So, I'll thank you for what you can do to help. And I'll thank you also for coming, and God bless you all, and a happy birthday.

Note: The President spoke at 11:55 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.