The Digital Journalist
Michael Evans/ZUMA Press
Feb. 6, 1981 - Washington, D.C.: Ronald Reagan's 70th birthday party at the White House. The former president tries to cut in on a dance between Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra.

This picture actually got me into a lot of hot water. On the morning of the president's 70th birthday, prior to the evening's official birthday party, I attended the White House daily senior staff meeting. Because of logistical problems, handout prints of the birthday celebration could not be released until 4 a.m. on the Saturday after the party. I asked who the 4 a.m. duty officer would be to OK the release of pictures. They all looked at each other and turned to me in unison, suggesting that just this one time I would do the release.

I reminded the senior staff that my official job description deliberately precluded my participation in the press release process.

I reluctantly agreed, saying I would cover the party as a news event, releasing what I thought would be the most newsworthy images. "No problem," said the senior staff, "it's the president's 70th birthday, nothing could possibly go wrong!"

I then specifically asked if there was any party-attendee who should not be in any released photo. The answer was, no one was off-limits.

One of the released images was this shot of President Reagan trying to cut in on Frank Sinatra while he danced with Mrs. Reagan. It was by far the shot of the party.

I got home at 5 a.m. At 7:30 a.m., my sleep was disturbed by the insistently loud, shrill ring of my White House phone. It was Michael K. Deaver, my immediate boss, and, boy, was he mad. The Washington Post had published the picture on the front page of its Style section. Deaver was terrified that the president might possibly become tainted by a news media rehashing of Sinatra's mob connections. Deaver slammed down the phone before I could get a word in edgewise.

The next call was from James A. Baker III, White House chief of staff. If anything, he was madder than Deaver and reamed me out. When Baker paused to take a breath, I managed to plead my case, but Baker was still mad when he ended the call.

The next call was from Dick Darman, Baker's assistant, saying that I would probably qualify for the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest-lived special assistant in history, at exactly three weeks.

When the phone pealed again, I knew that someone above Baker's pay-grade was on the line. I braced myself for this call, with visions of honorable seppuku dancing through my head.

"Michael, it's Nancy. Ronnie and Frank and I are having breakfast and we love the great picture in the Washington Post."

"Why thank you," I responded, spotting a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

"Do you think you could get some prints up here in the early afternoon to give to Frank?"

"No problem, Mrs. Reagan. I'll get on it right away. By the way, I would really appreciate it if you would call Baker and Deaver and let them know that y'all like the picture."

I never found out if Mrs. Reagan made the calls.

However, I can say that neither Baker nor Deaver ever mentioned the picture to me again.