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Harding and Coolidge: Emergence of the Media Presidency

  • Stephen Ponder
Chapter

Abstract

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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Notes

  1. 1.
    John D. Hicks, Republican Ascendancy, 1921–1933 (New York: Harper, 1960), 24–5.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The term is from Fletcher Knebel, “The Placid Twenties,” in Cabell Phillips, ed., Dateline: Washington (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1949), 61–74.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    William E. Leuchtenberg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, rev. ed. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989), viii–xi. One factor limiting archival research into the executive-press relationship in the Harding and Coolidge administrations has been the truncated presidential manuscript collections. Large portions of Harding’s presidential papers were burned, heavily edited, or discarded after his death. For accounts of the remarkable story of the Harding papers,Google Scholar
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  7. 5.
    In a 1995 survey of 58 presidential scholars, Harding ranked 38th of 38 Presidents; Coolidge, 26th, and Hoover, 24th. See Donald McCoy, “Chicago Sun-Times Poll,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 26 (Winter 1996): 281—3. For overviews of the Harding administration,Google Scholar
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    The quotations are from J. Frederick Essary, Covering Washington: Government Reflected to the Public in the Press (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927), 18.Google Scholar
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  36. 69.
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  38. 70.
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  42. 74.
    For examples of the association and Gridiron meetings that Coolidge attended, see “Daugherty Puts Honor Above Office,” New York Times, 9 March 1924, 1. J. Bart Campbell, “Coolidge Beams on White House Men at Annual Press Banquet,” Editor and Publisher 57 (28 March 1925): 29. “Gridiron’s History Reviewed by Depew,” New York Times, 24 April 1925, 10. “Coolidge is Guest of News Writers,” Editor and Publisher 58 (12 March 1926): 40.Google Scholar
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  44. 86.
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  45. 89.
    The quotations are from Lindsay Rogers, The American Senate (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), 215–41.Google Scholar
  46. 92.
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© Stephen Ponder 1998

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  • Stephen Ponder

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