Harding and Coolidge: Emergence of the Media Presidency

  • Stephen Ponder


The 1920s often have been viewed as something of an interlude in the twentieth-century expansion of presidential management of public opinion through the news media. Republican candidate Warren G. Harding pledged in 1920 to lead the nation “back to normalcy” and away from the turmoil of World War I and the Wilson years.1 To correspondent Fletcher Knebel, they were the “placid twenties,” stretching generously from the end of the war to the excitement of the New Deal in the 1930s.2 The political scientist Elmer C. Cornwell Jr. referred to the Harding and Coolidge administrations as periods of “consolidation” in presidential leadership of public opinion, and to the unhappy single term of Herbert Hoover, who took office in 1929, as a “retrogression.”3 Among historians, the presidencies of the 1920s were diminished in hindsight by that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose well-documented impact on executive leadership of public opinion through the mass media overshadowed those who preceded him as well as those who followed him.4


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© Stephen Ponder 1998

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  • Stephen Ponder

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