The press and the presidency: two centuries of debate

Jul 26, 2017

Almost since the beginning of American history, there have been debates about the media and the nation's leader. Even America's first president, George Washington, faced attacks from the press. In a historic site named for a president of a century ago, a local political scientist Tuesday talked of a current president and his different take on the media.

Theodore Roosevelt was president in the days when there was only the print medium. President Trump deals with a wide array of media.

As a widely published writer of books and magazine articles and friends with many reporters, Roosevelt had a chance to sell his point of view, which was not always the general point of view. As a widely known businessman who is serving in political office for the first time, Trump has a variety of avenues to get out his message.

"We just have several other avenues that will interpret that message however it is they choose to, and act in a much more adversarial way than the avenues he chooses to use," said Daemen College Assistant Professor Jay Wendland at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site. "TR only had one avenue to use."

Donald Trump addresses the media during his presidential campaign stop in Erie County.
Credit WBFO file photo

However, Wendland said a prior president who really went out to sell his programs to the public was Franklin Roosevelt with his Fireside Chats about what was going on in the world. He said the presidential advantage was that his was often the only voice on radio. People who do not want to listen to Trump can turn to something else.

"FDR was much more successful. People had fewer options," he said. "If they turned on the radio, they heard FDR. Whereas now, if we flick on the television, we have the opportunity to watch Trump if we want to or we can catch a baseball game or a football game."

Wendland also spoke about reporters who used to keep quiet about affairs or a president in a wheelchair.

"Pre-Watergate, it was kind of an Old Boys Club, where they would respect the president's privacy," he said, "and after Watergate, we saw the press take a much more adversarial role with the president and try and find the scoop that was going to cause controversy and that they could cover in a more negative light and so I think Watergate is really that tipping point."