February 15, 2008

Photo of the Presidential Seal (EOP Library)

Presidents and the Press

During his first press conference as president, Jimmy Carter said, "I look forward to these confrontations with the press to kind of balance out the nice and pleasant things that come to me as president."

Love it or hate it, the press has been essential to the 42 U.S. presidents as a means to convey policies and positions. During early administrations, the press was a promoter of candidates and parties. Beginning in the 1830s, the press's role focused on reporting news.

The News Corporation News History Gallery at the Newseum chronicles the headlines of history, including news from and about presidents. To mark Presidents Day, we test your knowledge of presidents and the press, inspired by the Newseum's collection of more than 30,000 historic newspapers.

  1. Which president was an influential newspaper publisher before being elected?

    Newark (N.J.) Star-Eagle, Aug. 3, 1923 (Newseum collection)

    Warren G. Harding

    Warren Harding's administration was marred by scandal, but he had earlier success in community journalism. As a young adult, he and two friends bought the Marion Daily Star in Ohio, which he turned into one of the biggest newspapers in its county. As president, Warren G. Harding was quoted as saying, "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here." When he died while president in August 1923, the Newark (N.J.) Star-Eagle detailed Harding's early life as a publisher. "The Star when Harding took it was an insignificant little sheet in a county seat of 4,000 population. ... Harding changed its politics from Independent to Republican, though the community was strongly Democratic. Day by day the people of Marion predicted early death for the Star, but it continued to twinkle along."

  2. Who was the first president to hold formal press conferences?

    Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Oct. 9, 1915 (Newseum collection)

    Woodrow Wilson

    Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, held the first presidential press conference in March 1913. He spoke off the record during his press conferences. But his October 1915 trip to New York with "bride-elect" Edith Bolling Galt was anything but off the record. "President's Fiancée Conquers New York," said the front page of Philadelphia's Public Ledger. Wilson, who lost his first wife in 1914, "was happy and jovial throughout the day, and his usually stern face was constantly wreathed in smiles," the newspaper reported.

  3. Which president used a speech titled "The President and the Press" to ask newspapers not to report material sensitive to national security?

    The Indianapolis News, April 17, 1961 (Newseum collection)

    John F. Kennedy

    John F. Kennedy's April 1961 speech to editors and publishers pressed them to use the same standards for using sensitive material in the Cold War that they would during a declared war. Kennedy gave the speech 10 days after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, an unsuccessful attempt by Cuban exiles — with support of the U.S. government — to overthrow the Cuban government. "Invaders seeking to overthrow Fidel Castro landed in Cuba today by sea and air," said the April 17, 1961, edition of The Indianapolis News.

  4. Which president hired the first press secretary?

    The Calumet (Mich.) News, Nov. 7, 1928 (Newseum collection)

    Herbert Hoover

    Herbert Hoover, son of a Quaker blacksmith, convinced Congress to fund an additional secretary, which allowed him to employ the first press secretary — George Akerson, a Minnesota journalist with a Harvard degree. "Hoover Wins," screamed The Calumet (Mich.) News in November 1928, in "a Republican sweep from coast to coast." Four years later, another landslide was reported — this one for Democrats — and Hoover was voted out of office.

  5. Which president reminded the press that it wasn't perfect?

    Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 3, 1948 (Newseum collection)

    Harry S. Truman

    Strike-replacement workers, an early deadline and slow election returns spelled disaster for the Chicago Daily Tribune's presidential election coverage. The Nov. 3, 1948, issue declared Thomas Dewey the winner over Harry S. Truman. Truman, the incumbent and true winner, traveled by train back to Washington. During a stop in St. Louis, he was presented with a copy of the Tribune with its banner headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman." Truman grinned and held it up in front of photographers, creating yet another chapter in the history of the president and the press.

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