"This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America." President Lyndon Johnson made that announcement State of the Union address on January 8, 1964, kicking off a major government initiative that's still stirring debate on Capitol Hill 50 years later. The speech came very soon after he had assumed the presidency after the death of John F. Kennedy, and Johnson went to work shaping his administration's anti-poverty fight in the following months, including a landmark interview in March of 1964. To highlight his first 100 days as president, Johnson took part in a rare television event: a joint interview with journalists from the three major networks, William Lawrence of ABC, Eric Savareid of CBS, and David Brinkley of NBC. The special was broadcast on all three networks on March 15, 1964 -- the night before Johnson delivered another address to Congress specifically focused on the war on poverty. When NBC's David Brinkley asked Johnson for a general idea of what approaches and philosophies his administration would follow, the president instead gave the American people watching at home a very pointed preview: "A message going to the Congress on Monday will indicate one approach. We are determined, and we have a group of dedicated men that are going to try to get at the roots and the causes of poverty". He went on to explain why the war on poverty was so important to him, which you can watch in the video below.
The television special caused a stir at the time, and reports noted that the format echoed an interview that President Kennedy had done in 1962, with the same three networks. In his analysis of the 1964 special that night, New York Times columnist James Reston highlighted the significance of the event, noting that Johnson "Was nervous about TV politics after President Kennedy's wit and polish on the screen ... but he has a natural and vivid eloquence of his own and this came through with great effect at the end of tonight's broadcast." Throughout the interview, President Johnson was clearly keenly aware of the importance of making his message public -- watch the clip below to see him explain to Sevareid, Brinkley and Lawrence why he's "having this little visit with you fellows." And don't miss more of Johnson's interview and other exclusive footage on our NBC Universal Archives site (nbcuniversalarchives.com, @NBCUArchives).
Video clip provided by NBC Universal Archives.