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tv   QA Harold Holzer The Presidents vs. the Press - Part One  CSPAN  November 26, 2020 7:00pm-8:01pm EST

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.org or listen live on app.-span radio ♪ susan: historian harold holzer, we were talking that this was book number 54 for you, "presidents vs. the press." harold: i wanted to explore the relationship between chief executives and the journalists who have covered them, praise them, cap their secrets, and generally antagonized them. i wanted to trace the origins of the relationships we see on our television screens almost every day. and i also wanted to do it as a
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follow-up to a book i put out five years ago about lincoln and the press, and see how it all fit in as a possible continuum of difficult relations, strained relations between the president and the press from the beginning. susan: how did you select which presidents were included? harold: i dreamed of doing everybody but i realized it was impractical and might be tedious. i know we are dying to know about james polk and the press or benjamin harrison, but i decided to cover the founding era, with washington, adams and jefferson, skip to andrew jackson, who really was a major influence and precedent setter on relationships with press, take a deep dive into lincoln, and then go to the 20th century presidents and a course into the 21st.
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i left out coolidge, harding, hoover. and after kennedy, he was everybody. it was really a personal choice, the presidents that interested me. i thought readers would certainly want to know about everyone whom they might remember from their own lived experience, and that's why i included presidents who served only briefly like jerry ford. susan: did you have the opportunity to talk to any presidents in your research? harold: well, i only asked two. i guess this is a back story. i asked george w. bush and bill clinton. i did not want to overload it with the spin that residents might give on their experience with the press and i also wanted to stay away from living press secretaries, there are an abundance of them. i just wanted to dwell on the records of briefings, press conferences and immediately published memoirs.
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but president clinton was generous enough and thoughtful enough to provide answers to some of the questions i wanted to raise with him. these may be the first comments he has made about one of those fraught eight years. susan: i feel the obligation to tell people that we have known each other a long time. we will spend two hours together on this subject matter. since 1994, when c-span did its first first lincoln project, the -- big lincoln project, the lincoln-douglas debate, and we have worked on many things since. it is delightful to have you in this context. i wanted to jump to the punchline.
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i'm guessing you were inspired to the subject matter by the current president, incumbent president, and all of the sparring he has been doing and the big criticism he has for the "fake news media." what is the punchline? is donald trump's relationship with the press the worst ever? harold: no. as much as i thought i would confirm my own suspicions as a citizen watching all of the chaotic briefings and press conferences and tweets that it was the most disputations, that i think it's a long tradition starting with adams and jefferson, until lincoln. certainly a complicated relationship with fdr.
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and nixon certainly had a worse relationship with the press, he just did not harp on a daily and did not have the technological means to harp on it without going out and confronting the press. this is presidential tradition. several presidents emerged from my research saying almost identical things -- fake news or false news. that is not a new construct. also reminding their own staff periodically that the press are not your friend. we are at odds. that is the classic relationship. don't get too chummy with journalists. sometimes the presidents have to be told that, but clever presidents told staff that. we just have more access to the complaints than we have ever had, and that is because of technological innovation. susan: is the relationship between the president and the
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press in this country different because of the first amendment? harold: oh yes. we are freer here than in any country that has democratic rule or dictatorship or unelected presidents. the reason, as you mentioned, is the first amendment, and the great fighters for the first amendment, one of whom, floyd abrams, figures in the book, an interview and i used some of his published writings. he has pushed back against quite a few presidents who have pushed against the edge of the first amendment. that is not to say that presidents have always respected the constitutional provision that congress shall not
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interfere with freedom of the press. they have gone around it in several different ways. they have passed and signed legislation, they have simply said the are in a war so we can pay attention to it. they will employ secrecy to eavesdrop and later to punish. the first amendment is out there as an ideal, but more than one president has done his best to push back and push the limits. susan: your book was originally scheduled to come out in the springtime, delayed by the pandemic. what has it been like publishing this year? harold: it is frightening. and i don't know whether there will be an audience for this book or really any book in this period. i am heartened by the fact that it is appearing between convention time. we are all more tuned than we were several weeks ago to the countdown to election day, and to presidents's relationships to
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journalists and the media during their campaign and white house occupancy. the thing that makes me saddest is missing all of the events i am used to having when a new book comes out. you know, live talks and book signings. i think i will miss book signings very much because you get to talk to readers and chat about their interests. friendly, you never know who you will meet on a line. i have met descendents of people i wrote about, long-lost relatives. i have met people who have an idea i have not thought of that i like to pocket and use the next time i write. so that will be tough. but again, we are all here and doing well and that's about the most we can ask for.
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susan: i think all readers look forward to the day they can again stand and book lines for -- in book lines for sure. i'm going to start our survey conversation with john adams because it is an interesting history. is there anything people should know about george washington setting precedents in relationship with the press? harold: i think so. washington -- i have two beginnings in my book, the introduction and chapter one, and he is the first president. i was surprised to learn, i have done the research, washington, the universally revered figure, became less so in the final year of his first term, and all through his second term was subject to the first episodes of deeply partisan journalism. frankly, he was horrified, annoyed, hurt, angry.
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i found several episodes where he threw newspapers to the ground, jumped up and down on the newspapers, ripping them up with his boots, yelling about getting subscriptions he did not want. meanwhile, the anti-federalist press -- which, by the way we, was imported into the capital of philadelphia by washington's own secretary of state, thomas jefferson, who not only created the opposition newspaper but funded the editor, give him a job in the state department so he could afford to be the newspaper editor of a fledgling enterprise. washington found himself accused of stealing money from the treasury, indiscretions during the french and indian war, a lack of patriotism.
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charges that were unimaginable against the early washington. when he wrote his farewell address, he drafted a paragraph, later cut by his editor, alexander hamilton, that made it clear that one of the reasons he was not standing for a third term is he could not take the implications, as he put it, of newspapers any longer. he thought they were displaying to the world that our union was fragile, and he had enough. susan: john adams is described in your book as cranky, never got over hurt and resentment, and lacked charm. how did this impact his relationship with the press? harold: as you can imagine, he did not charm reporters or editors. at the beginning, he had the first, if you don't count washington's adoration at the beginning, he had the first press honeymoon, a phrase that came into the vernacular much later. he was shocked after making his inaugural address in 1797 that republican newspapers, that is
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the anti-federalist newspapers, applauded him. the federalist newspapers from his own party were not as excited. the reason is they wanted to give adams a chance to be perceived better than washington, who was perceived to be pro-british. adams was not deceived by the early flattery and quickly became partisan. the republican press went after adams and the federalist press was tepid about him and that doomed his reelection in the famous race against jefferson. susan: you write that the prescription for his frustration with the press was always regulation. what did he do? harold: he signed one of the most ill-advised,
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antidemocratic, unconstitutional measures in american history. the sedition act, part of a package of suppressive bills to limit immigration and crackdown on journalistic criticism. it actually made it a federal offense for a newspaper to ridicule or hope to ridicule the president of the united states. there were large monetary fines, there were prison terms threatened, and it was not just a tubeless warning. -- toothless warning. the adams a ministration went after republican journalists, fined them, imprisoned them. a pro-jefferson editor was imprisoned in the richmond jail for five or six months and find about $500 for criticizing john adams.
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this was a horrific time in american history, at least american press history. the worst abuse of constitutional guarantees. susan: what was the rationale for signing the law legally? harold: i don't know if he had a legal rationale, he had a political rationale. the political rationale was that criticism that was libelous did not fall under first amendment protection. he found a stark opposition from the other party. thomas jefferson denounced the sedition act and frankly one of the reasons he prevailed in the next election was the bitter taste left by the sedition act. interestingly, jefferson did oppose the sedition act because he did not believe the federal government could overreach on anything legislatively.
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when he became president, libel actions continued, they were just bumped to the state level. susan: you write that john adams conducted 17 show trials during the election year, 12 against publishers and printers. why were they show trials? harold: i think that he was -- i think the purpose of the trial was not simply to silence the accused, but to silence the broader group of anti-federalist newspaper editors who he hoped be chilled from further criticism that he deemed to be personal, by these trials. keep in mind, one of the big jeffersonian objections to the sedition act, beside that he felt it was federal overreach, the fact that all of the judges that were in place were federalist.
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all of them had been appointed by george washington in john adams. that's the appeals court and supreme court. republicans argued, and i think with strength on their side, that the courts were stacked against them. but adams definitely wanted the show trial to demonstrate the government was indeed going to crackdown mercilessly. they were sending a message. susan: how did it work out for them? harold: well, he goes down in history as perhaps the most anti-press freedom president ever, although we will be surprised as we go on chronologically to find out who joins him in that category. he also called for -- he was the first to call for a state run news agency, which has an autocratic air to it. he was not the last.
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i guess adams left with a reputation of being repressing, thin-skinned -- because again, this was all about criticism and how he reacted to it. and the sedition act -- some said when jefferson became president and would never again rekindle. but the measures it legislated were later revised by lincoln, woodrow wilson and others. susan: abigail adams was one of the first outspoken first ladies. did she support john adams in this effort? harold: absolutely. she was 100% his advocate and 100% joined with him in writing really angry letters about press critics. can i go ahead to jefferson to give an example? susan: sure. harold: one of adams's chief critics was james calendar, who later turned against jefferson
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after criticizing adams and going to prison, turned against jefferson. abigail had a wonderful series of letters with jefferson in which she basically said i told you so. he was no good. you paid the penalty. he sowed the whirlwind. abigail chuckled that it came back to bite him. susan: under the system jefferson helped create, newspapers became participants and, not just observers of government. what did you mean by that? harold: the first episode goes back to the washington era, where he funded a fellow, he was french, james madison's roommate in college. he got him to move to
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philadelphia, start a newspaper, to oppose the federalist newspaper pretty much praising everything washington did. he encouraged him. he gave him -- to operate. he later encouraged an interesting newspaperman, the grandson of benjamin franklin, who started his own newspaper in philadelphia and quickly turned against george washington viciously. he employed james calendar for a while. when jefferson ascends to the presidency, he decides since he is now in washington, d.c., he leaves the newspaper
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infrastructure in philadelphia as it is. he creates a new jeffersonian newspaper in washington. it is pledged to support jefferson's policies, and in return they get access to news, they get to be the first news agency distributing news across the country, which grew exponentially in jefferson's administration, and was rewarded financially. jefferson had begun a policy where newspapers will be given government contracts for printing handbills and circulars, government advertisements, and the newspapers would also be hired to record the proceedings of congress. there was no congressional record until the lincoln era.
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so newspapers lined up for the rewards of printing the proceedings of the house and senate. they made a lot of money and there's nothing like money to seal loyalty. susan: what was the readership like during this time? did people only read the press that aligned with their thinking and where they only reading regionally? harold: readership is one of the rate mysteries of the time. newspapers were not daily additions, they were weekly and moved to twice daily. they moved to daily when print presses became more mechanical. newspapers expanded into more territory but readership was small. in the thousands at the beginning. there is no way to determine with any accuracy what the readership was.
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literacy was not high. the audience was truncated. the largest ever population was under 18 in the new country and we don't know if they read. one addition of a newspaper might be shared by his many as 25 or 30 people in a nuclear family. it is hard to determine readership. to your other question, my own instincts are and visitors from
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other countries make note of this through the 1840's and 1850's when they visited the united states, and that is that people were given totally different reports about individual news events according to the political party affiliated with the paper they read. european visitors often could not recognize the event they themselves had witnessed when they read about in the different party papers the next morning. i think people read the party paper for which they were affiliated and nothing else. i think it is comparable to the research we have on viewers who are glued often to msnbc or fox but don't flip the dial between to get different perspectives. susan: the press was really about a trajectory of partisan and moving into coverage that was supposed to be fair to whomever was in office, and now
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we are again in an age where at least on television, people are moving to partisan outlets. harold: absolutely. i wouldn't even say are moving. susan: have moved. harold: they have unloaded the moving van and are in the house. susan: getting back to thomas jefferson, you referenced thomas calendar, his greatest enemy. also left damage to jefferson's reputation. what do we know about calendar? harold: he was a jefferson ally, he had been writing for a paper in philadelphia and really destroyed washington, practically criminalizing him, haunting him all the way back to mount vernon. then he established a newspaper and richmond aligned with thomas jefferson and he went to jefferson or communicated with jefferson and asked if he could become the postmaster of richmond. it was not an outrageous request, editors were given federal jobs all the time and they were rewarded.
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jefferson did not like the insistence with which calendar asked him for this reward and he said no. that was not a smart move by jefferson. jefferson would always write beautifully about freedom but did not always practice what he preaches, because we know when it comes to slavery or freedom of the press. calendar immediately switched to a federalist newspaper, and this is after he had done prison time for criticizing the federalists. he jumped to a federalist newspaper and he writes a pamphlet in which he says thomas jefferson is living in sin, or whatever the right word is, with an enslaved woman who he owns and is the half-sister of his late wife. this, of course, is the sally hemmings story that has now been proven through dna.
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this story was put in circulation by calendar and deeply disruptive of jefferson's reputation at the time. one might argue deservedly so. that was calendar's revenge. if there was a lesson to be learned, it was to hold your press allies close to you, especially the ones who are a little bit unstable. calendar later drank himself into a stupor and jumped into or fell into a river and died. by which time jefferson had paid some of his fine for the sedition act, and then broken
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with him and suffered reputational consequences. susan: you write about jefferson that despite his activity toward the press, he came to revile the opposition press, that he never abandon the core belief that under no circumstances could the federal government prevent newspapers from printing opinions. harold: exactly. but he did encourage the prosecution of newspapers understate libel laws. there was a famous case that was adjudicated in albany, new york and alexander hamilton himself was brought into be the appeals lawyer and was so persuasive in getting the charges dismissed that new york refined its libel laws to allow for more criticism. jefferson, again, he is a difficult subject to write about almost anything because his actions sometimes speak louder than his words.
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the man who was capable of writing all men are created equal and then enslaving people was also the person who wrote if i had to choose between a free press and a government, i would choose a free press. he was very persuasive about the benefits of a free press. and when he was retired, he said i never read the newspapers because -- except for the advertisements, because that is the only truth confined in a newspaper. he wrote a mocking statement once about how to sell a successful newspaper. "don't tell the truth, you will never be successful." yet he saved so many newspapers that when he and his assistants and those who work on his estate
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donated his library to the library of congress, as we know it was the core of the library of congress. we hear about the books he donated but he also donated thousands of newspapers. he was, as in many aspects of his life, a very perplexing jekyll and hyde. susan: were going to jump to abraham lincoln. i have to read this because i've read it several times to prepare for this interview and it is so strong. he had become by 1864 the harshest and indeed the most repressive presidential sensor yet. -- censor yet. even the sedition act could not match the ferocity and scope, the undeclared and largely unchallenged war the lincoln administration begin warring against hostile newspapers within months of his
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inauguration. harold: i was tough. susan: you were tough. harold: well, we can argue about the legality, the rationale, the tensions and anxieties that existed when the southern states seceded and started a rebellion. that was lincoln's argument, that in the case of rebellion, all bets are off. he felt he was not obligated to protect individual constitutional guarantees if that meant the entire constitution would go down the drain with the union. so that was his rationale. but the record is undeniable. adams may have conducted what i call show trials to enforce the sedition act, but at least there were trials, a semblance of civil procedure.
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lincoln suspended civil procedure, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus early in the war and enforced a crackdown on the press through the military. the army close down newspapers. the army and the state department threw newspapers out of the post office in new york so they could not be mailed in 1861 to other constituents, threw them off trains. there was an indictment against new york newspapers, a federal force that roused a newspaperman from his bed and hauled him as a prisoner to washington to face a military inquiry. lincoln authorized taking over
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of the telegraph wires by the military. you saw in the movie "lincoln" a kind of benign president who liked to chat with the telegraph operators, but that was also a place where newspaper men had to go for final stories and it was inhibiting i would say to go to a room right outside of the ferocious secretary of war's office where the commander-in-chief used to hang out. not a good way to file stories. they were examples of editors whose stories were censored. they were tarred and feathered, not lincoln's fault, but the atmosphere. just south of 300 newspapers were temporarily shut down, editors arrested, and who were often imprisoned without the kind of trials the adams justice department provided.
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susan: you mentioned the telegraph. telegraph and photography were becoming technology is widely used in society. what impact they have on the coverage of the lincoln administration? harold: i'm glad you asked because one of the themes of my book is how presidents have used technology to their advantage, and lincoln, once the government got control of the telegraph, immediately sensed its utility. he would write letters to critics and make sure they were published in newspapers and distributed by telegraph to the west, meaning illinois in those days. later in the war when he spent much of the last three weeks of his life at the front during grant's last push against lee in virginia, he sent dispatches describing the siege that was then printed on front pages of newspapers as if he had become not only the commander-in-chief but military correspondent in chief. lincoln of course it did make brilliant use of the telegraph for rapidfire communication of his opinions and reports from the front.
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photography was coming into its own. i did not make much of it in the book at the time, not until much later in the book, because while photography was growing in popularity and ubiquity, photographs were still not printed in the newspaper. they were adapted with wood engravings in the weeklies. often they settled for battle maps, seldom for portraits. but lincoln provided the model through which he became the great star and most familiar face in america, through the picture weeklies.
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susan: what is the corning letter and why is it significant? harold: corning, the same family that later dominated the glass business in upstate new york, a democratic politician in upstate new york called a convention of democrats to push back against lincoln's abdication of civil liberties. the administration had just cracked down on a former democratic congressman in ohio who had advised young to not enlist and resist the draft. then the chicago times, a longtime critic of lincoln, a
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democratic newspaper, endorsed the congressman's recommendation. the congressman was arrested, tried, convicted and expelled from ohio. the chicago times was closed, its editor was arrested, and although lincoln later approved rescinding the measure, corning called him a dictator. so lincoln wrote a letter defending that he was violating the constitution. and it is a brilliant letter and he makes a convincing argument that he has to prosecute these cases or the union itself will be destroyed.
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so what is the point of protecting press liberties and the right to speak in public against the government if it causes the fall of the government itself? was he justified? it is still debated in law schools and lincoln forums, but he said it must i shoot a single-minded soldier boy and spare a wily agitator who induces him to desert? he believed that recommending soldiers not enlist, that they desert, that they resist the draft, was treason, and he treated it as such. susan: this caught my eye, you say unnoticed by other historians, his continued crackdown on the press went on even when wins seemed inevitable.
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harold: i was surprised to find episodes late in his presidency after he won reelection. it was consistent, the policy was consistent. and really up to the time of his death -- an editor had been exiled i think to canada who is railing against his assault on press freedom. i would say -- i think, i should add there is a case to be made that lincoln acted in the best interest of the country, albeit violating the first amendment, when he believes a constitution was under threat. but i find it remarkable that during political campaigns, he did not crackdown on criticism. in fact, he just rolled with it. he encouraged his own supporters to attack back. he wrote letters to the editor objecting to criticism or slander, although he never sent the most famous objection of those. he believed that election campaigns where the holy grail
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of the american citizen. almost like lent, you did not do anything violent during this sacred period. during the 1862 off year election when he had to defend the emancipation proclamation, the republican party took a beating and lincoln did not object to criticism, really vile criticism of his inciting so-called war, as some of the press put it. during his own campaign for reelection, he was treated brutally by the democratic press, including suffering the most racist attacks in the history of american politics, i think. charged that he would foment intermarriage and that was the basis of his reelection campaign, which was a little out of his camp at this point.
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he treated campaigns as open season and i think that is to his credit. susan: the next president i want to jump to is theodore roosevelt. you called him the master press agent of all time. why does he earn that in your estimation? harold: i should say that was a quote by one of the journalists who felt outdone by teddy. up until teddy roosevelt, editors were the be-all and end-all. they controlled policy, the tenor of reports from washington. they were the ones that presidents befriended, gave jobs and contracts to. the roosevelt era change that. washington correspondence were more important. teddy roosevelt realized immediately he could leave the editors alone of the daily press -- in fact, they did not like
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him much. certainly hearst didn't and pulitzer didn't. he concerned himself with the correspondents. he called them the sagamore hill club. those who violated loyalty were sent to a purgatory for journalists. what he also did was welcome journalists to talk to him.
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even lincoln had not done that. he had two interviews may be in his entire career as president. one of them was nathaniel hawthorne, and how could you say no to nathaniel hawthorne running for the atlantic monthly? teddy -- no press conferences yet, that would be his successor -- but around 1:00, his barber would come in the little hallway between the outer office in the oval office and give him a shave. while he was covered in lather with an apron over his clothes, he would invite the washington press corps to ask him questions. there are great reminiscences. reporters would try to get him upset because he would leap out of the chair and the barber would be holding a straight edge razor over his cheeks or throat and it was a game to see which one of them would subject themselves to a laceration. but teddy did more than that, he endeared himself to longform journalists, magazine writers who provide the ballast for his progressive reform by writing
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about standard oil and exposing the meatpacking industry. by discussing unfair labor practices. they created the revolution that roosevelt then took to the halls of congress for reform legislation for trust busting as we now know it. we know journalists as muckrakers, but roosevelt devised the term to criticize them. he was a genius. he was a genius about his image, about photographers. he was going to do a thanksgiving day proclamation and the photographer was delayed so we simply canceled the event until which time he showed up
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and interrupted a diplomatic meeting to do it. he became the darling of photographers and caricaturists. if he did not quite get the technological revolution going on, he was just a bigger than life figure who was made for this transformation. and again, reaching out to journalists he liked and giving them access was revolutionary. susan: you credit tr with things that are common for us today, watching the president and the press -- leaks, trial balloons, and swamping the press with diversionary stories. harold: he coined the phrase. swamping, one of his interesting techniques, and someone was going to make an announcement, he would put out a news release and do interviews so he could dominate the front pages.
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critics said that teddy expected to be on the front page of every newspaper every day and when he wasn't, he was disappointed, which is probably true. if it sounds familiar, it should, because some of the ego driven aspect of presidential personality and practice is the idea that you are right and you should be constantly inscribed as such. trial balloons were issues he would float to see if they would gain traction. all of these things, including the bully pulpit, which he also coined the phrase to describe, wherein the president would use the power of persuasion, not necessarily legislation or executive order as we see today, to convince the american people of the righteousness of his cause. susan: famously, he invited booker t. washington to the white house. did he reach out to the black press at the time?
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harold: the booker t. washington event was first a meeting. most meetings with teddy roosevelt lasted longer than the schedule indicated because teddy would do so much talking that the guest would have to find some time to respond. it usually meant they were behind schedule. no exception when booker t. washington arrived. roosevelt said, why don't you stay for dinner? dr. washington did. the press, most of the press in the north and the black press for sure, reported this is a great milestone. abraham lincoln had had tea with an african-american journalist, frederick douglass, who was still a journalist when he had tea with abraham lincoln at the white house, he ran his own newspaper. but this is the jim crow era,
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and this set off the southern newspapers and southern senators in really vile ways. one senator said that black people would have to be lynched in greater numbers now because they would become so haughty about this social advance. to his credit -- i think roosevelt was casual about it, to his credit. to his discredit, i think the administration responded by first trying to deny the dinner had taken place, and then later taking that back in acknowledging that it was no big deal. so he did not use it as a wedge to widen access for african-american reporters or visitors.
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there was never another event of its kind again. there were events in his administration where teddy displayed genuine lack of sympathy for african-americans, including african-american soldiers. it is a mixed record but he gets credit for this one innovation. the black press, liked teddy roosevelt at the beginning. susan: our final 10 minutes will be a successor with a personality that could not be more different. woodrow wilson. you called him chilly, that he had a socratic approach, and he was sensitive to perceived insults. how did he deal with the press? harold: he had his problems. woodrow wilson was professorial.
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not strange. he together with his staff devised the idea of the press conference. they were not what we see today with the briefings and scrums that take place at the white house every day. they were rigid affairs, questions were submitted in writing and wilson answered the questions very formally. he got irritated with questions he did not like, and most importantly, all of the press conferences were off of the record. his manner was severe. the newspapermen had been used to a raucous, jovial atmosphere with roosevelt, who had of course come back into their life as a candidate for president in 1912, the year that wilson defeated him and william howard taft.
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the press liked roosevelt. one journalist gave a great description of what it was like to cover the white house from the roosevelt era to the wilson era, they said it was like going from a foundry full of activity to a convent, a cloistered atmosphere with everyone very quiet. wilson came from a long line of newspapermen. one of his grandfathers had worked for a philadelphia paper, which had been founded to criticize george washington. wilson had been the editor of the princeton college newspaper when he was a student. his own brother was the editor of a daily newspaper. so he understood journalism, he just did not like journalists, and he particularly did not like them when they wrote about or inquired about his family.
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tr had been the same way but he had given up. he couldn't stop them from writing about his cute little boys and his eldest daughter, who smoked, rode in cars by herself and was independent and great copy. wilson did not like his daughters to be written about. when one photographer took a picture of one riding a bicycle, he said on the record i would like to punch you in the nose. when they wrote that she got engaged, he stood up and gave a riproaring lecture about how the press has no right to invade the privacy of his home, and he would see to it that they didn't. they asked if they could put that on the record and he said no. he was a man of many anomalies. he took the press to paris for the peace conference that
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negotiated the formal end of world war i. the french leader, who had been a journalist, did not think the press should be there, but wilson insisted. and yet when everyone got to paris, he excluded them from many of the proceedings. this did not make the book, by the way, because i did not think anybody would care to know about a pandemic -- we do not have pandemics anymore, as i finished the book in january. wilson had caught the spanish flu, but he hid himself and did not reveal the depth of his illness. some said he was very sick and probably close to death. it was the first incident of a president keeping his health secret from the press and it was one that wilson and his wife would repeat after he had a
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stroke when he got back to the u.s. susan: we have five minutes left. would you talk about wilson's stroke and why reporters were not able to get to that story? an incapacitated president? harold: wilson was closed off in his upper bedroom. some reporters knew he was seriously ill, very few wrote about the depths of it. some wrote that he had gone insane. they saw bars on an upper floor window and said that he had been restrained. it turns out they had been put on a nursery when tr's boys were small and wild. word leaked out, doctors giving what they thought were true reports, leaving it to them enough science to tell the
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truth, but they did not. his wife cloaked his activities in total secrecy. he had already during the war cut down press conferences to a minimum. it is remarkable that he was able to conceal his health difficulties. but skipping ahead to our second conversation, so did john kennedy. susan: as we close out this first first period, 130 years of american history and presidents and the press, what is the most important thing to know about this period of time and how presidents dealt with the press? harold: i think you hit on it earlier when you noted that the press started out revering presidents, one president, it moved into strict partisan mode, supporting people in return for political jobs and printing contracts and also because they believed in them. in the 1890's, led by the new york times, reporting became
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more about news and less about political opinion. and somehow presidents appear to take advantage of the fact that they were newsworthy and it was not all about politics. newspapers become more ubiquitous, they become less partisan and they become more focused on news and personality. that is the evolution we see in the first century and a half. if i can quickly add, the presidents never lose their antipathy for press criticism and their punishment. woodrow wilson created the committee on public information to circumvent and censor the press during world war i and created the biggest public relations machine ever seen out of the white house in history at that point. susan: each one of the stories they he told us, the president tries to circumvent the press by
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us, theyou told president tries to circumvent the press by creating their own journalists currying favor with them, and that is an important part of the story as well. the desire to get around the press corps. harold: it is and it will continue to play out into the next 100 years, i am sure. susan: as we close, this is also a book about technology, during the first 150 years, what was the most significant advance in technology that impacted the relationship between presidents and the press? harold: oh boy. telegraph and telephone were certainly huge. electric power was huge. the development of the steam press that would produce thousands of copies, beginning in the civil war era, per hour. those were the key. don't underestimate the telephone, the good old landline, because newspapermen would speak to a president and then find their way back to the press room, get me the city desk.
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that's how it was done. get me the copy editor. susan: the book is called "the presidents vs. the press." this is our first hour with harold, where we look at 150 years of american history, and hourll record the second and bring it up to the modern day. thank you for being with us. harold: thank you for having me. ♪ >> all "q&a" programs are available on our website or as a podcast at ♪ >> that concludes part one of q&a's interview on his book the presidents versus the press. we will show part two of the interview on friday on c-span.
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the u.s. supreme court hears oral arguments in trump versus new york on c-span. the court will hear whether the --sident has the authority from the census. liven to the oral argument on monday on c-span, on-demand or on the c-span radio app. tuesday, treasury secretary steven mnuchin and federal reserve chairman jerome powell testify before the senate banking committee. watch live coverage of the hearing tuesday on c-span3, on demand at, or listen live on the c-span radio app. use your mobile devices and go to for the latest
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video, live and on-demand. president trump, president-elect biden, news conferences, and event coverage at former president bill clinton was part of a recent discussion on affordable housing and closing the racial wealth gap. other speakers included atlanta mayor keisha lance bottoms and former housing secretary julio and castro. hosted by the clinton foundation, this is just over an hour. mr. clinton: thank y'all for joining us for the second edition of building an inclusive recovery.


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