To his credit, President Reagan is admitting a small pool of print and broadcast journalists at his official, private swearing-in ceremony in the White House today. The last president to have such a private Sunday ceremony, meeting the constitutional mandate of a Jan. 20 oath-taking, was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
No reporters were admitted on that date in 1957, and the White House correspondents were, to put it mildly, upset. The late Edward T. Folliard, who had covered the presidential mansion as far back as Calvin Coolidge's administration, wrote a classic lead paragraph for this newspaper the next morning. The attribution stuck out like a sore thumb:
"President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon were sworn in for a second term yesterday in a private ceremony at the White House, the Nation was told by Press Secretary James C. Hagerty."
Before that, the last president who took the oath at the White House was Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was in 1945, when he was sworn in for his fourth term. He died three months later. Because World War II was still going on, FDR decided to forgo the pomp of a Capitol ceremony and a parade for a simple 15-minute ceremony on the back porch of the mansion. About 1,800 spectators were admitted to the White House grounds.
It is a measure of the time that The Washington Post's front page the following morning was topped by a three-line banner headline. The first line dealt with the war on the Russian front, the second line with the war on the French front and the third line with the presidential oath taking.