What is it like to cover the biggest presidential scandal of your time? How does it feel to spar with the President of the United States on camera? One legendary ABC News correspondent — Sam Donaldson — knows all about it. Covering politics for ABC News since 1967 Donaldson has had a front row seat to history, bearing witness to an assassination attempt, the Watergate scandal, the Lewinsky affair, two presidential impeachment trials and everything in between.
Donaldson tells Jake Tapper — his present successor in the White House press corps - that the biggest story of his career was the assassination attempt on President Reagan, which occurred thirty years ago this week. Sam Donaldson was with the President that day as White House correspondent, alongside ABC cameraman Hank Brown.
"That was shocking," said Donaldson, "we didn't think the president had been hit. He didn't think he'd been hit… So it came as a shock to all of us when we got the word that he was in the hospital with a bullet wound. And the rest of the day of course was just a turmoil."
As for the biggest scandal he has covered? Donaldson says there is no contest.
"The [Nixon] impeachment for me was the high water mark in American history," said Donaldson who served as ABC's Watergate correspondent before taking his seat at the White House, "when a president left town one step ahead of the sheriff, or else he would have gone to jail… The effort against Mr. Clinton was a pale imitation of that."
As a veteran journalist known for his aggressive style, Donaldson has also witnessed the changing pace of broadcast news.
"I am not sure there is anything to learn [from me] because you all do it differently," said Donaldson. "There are certain principles: get it right, be honest, all this - but outside of that the techniques have all changed…everything has to be quick."
One of Donaldson's famous questions — which led to one of President Reagan's most celebrated one-liners - occurred during a presidential news conference at the White House. "I asked him during the recession , 'Mr. President tonight, you blamed this continuing recession on congress and the mistakes of the past. Doesn't any of the blame belong to you?'" recalled Donaldson. "And he said 'yes, for many years I was a democrat!'"
And what does it take to be a successful White House Correspondent?
"I think I prospered under Reagan for two reasons," explains Donaldson. "I think my voice was loud and he had a hearing problem but he could always hear me. And second I think two hams recognized each other!"
- Sam Donaldson
- President Reagan