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FDR: Patriarch of the Press

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Courtesy of Google Images

Topher Wagner and Nick Warnement, Sentry Staff Reporters

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We are in the midst of one of the most intriguing presidential administrations in recent memory. President Donald Trump has seemingly begun a war on the media, attacking many outlets for being “fake news” and declaring some members of the media to be the enemy of the American people. This clear struggle between the President and the press has had a major impact on the already polarized American people, leaving many of us wondering which side we should trust. For many years, the press has been thought of as the “fourth” branch of government, and this feud between the two sides is concerning. However, the relationship between the press and the President has not always been perfect, as exhibited by past administrations. No administration has been completely void of a presidential versus press conflict, so it is entirely possible these concerns may always go away.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt inherited the worst financial crisis in our country’s history upon taking office in 1933. The Great Depression, which was spurred by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, took a toll on the international economy as a whole, yet it hit the United States the hardest. With the economy in shambles, Roosevelt put a plan in place that would rebuild America. He called it the New Deal. This New Deal would only be a piece of Roosevelt’s legacy, as he led the country for 12 years–well into World War II up until his death in 1945. After  the longest presidency in American history, there were several occasions where Roosevelt feuded with the press,   but overall these interactions were primarily positive. Since his death, historians and critics have analyzed the intriguing strategies and relationships that our 32nd President forged with the national media at the time.

As a twelve-year president, there was bound to be some turbulence between Roosevelt and the press. However, most historians have stated that Roosevelt primarily maintained good relationships with the press. John Gunther, a journalist during Roosevelt’s presidency, was one the first people to write a biography on the President. As a journalist, Gunther made it clear that he had previously met with Roosevelt and talked in depth about his relationship with the press. It was Gunther’s opinion that Roosevelt used his relationship with the press to help the American people, as he generally tried to act as a friend to the press. Throughout his presidency, Roosevelt was known for working with journalists with whom he had distaste for and forging a positive relationship despite the dislike. These relationships with all journalists were important, as Roosevelt was able to form a partnership with the press that aided the nation as a whole. This partnership kept the American people informed on White House affairs and gave an in-depth look at his presidency. Roosevelt believed that one of his jobs as President was to take care of the press and keep them informed as much as he could.

During his presidency, Roosevelt had several specific motives for working well with the press. Roosevelt knew that not cooperating with the press could hurt public perception of him and damage his relationship with the American people. This relationship with average Americans was forged through newspapers and essentially controlled by the media and how they chose to view the President. Roosevelt was aware of this, and utilized it to his advantage in the process. Historians believe that he would make a show of promoting any news from the White House, thus making the media’s job easier and giving himself a better opportunity to receive more favorable coverage in newspapers across America. Holding frequent press conferences and interacting with members of the press with a friendly demeanor helped Roosevelt to be seen more favorably by the press, and more importantly, by the American people.

As shown by Roosevelt and his interactions with the press, a successful relationship can communicate strength and stability to the American people. Despite the uncertainty that followed the Great Depression, Roosevelt introduced key legislation through the New Deal that helped America to rebuild the economy. His relationship with the press helped communicate his plan to the American people giving them a sense of security that their government was on the right track back to economic stability. Despite the occasional conflicts that were to arise in any presidential administration, the way that Roosevelt interacted with the press set the tone for a successful relationship that greatly aided America.

 

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FDR: Patriarch of the Press