WASHINGTON — Expressing irritation at the press is a time-honored tradition among the nation's presidents. A century ago, for example, Grover Cleveland, tired of regular meetings with reporters, referred to them as a "dirty gang" and insulted them at every opportunity.
And President Reagan, for all his good-hearted demeanor, proved Friday that he may be no different. As reporters peppered him with questions in what was supposed to be a "photo opportunity" showcasing the findings of a blue-ribbon panel on defense management, Reagan was caught using an expletive to vent his frustration.
"Sons of bitches," the President muttered, a remark he apparently thought would not be picked up by recording equipment.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes initially said that Reagan "doesn't recall saying it" or even hearing anyone else utter the offending words. But, when it became evident that CBS television had a tape that proved otherwise, Speakes turned to humor.
"If he said it," Speakes joked, "he said: 'It's sunny and you're rich.' "
When Reagan boarded his helicopter later in the day for Camp David, Md., he shrugged off his intemperate comment.