The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle between the White House and the Media—from the Founding Fathers to Fake News

October 31, 2020
The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle between the White House and the Media—from the Founding Fathers to Fake News

An award-winning presidential historian offers an authoritativeaccount of American presidents' attacks on our freedom of thepress."The FAKE NEWS media," Donald Trump has tweeted, "is not my enemy,it is the enemy of the American People!" Has our free press everfaced as great a threat? Perhaps not—but the tension betweenpresidents and journalists is as old as the republic itself.Every president has been convinced of his own honesty andtransparency; every reporter who has covered the White House beathas believed with equal fervency that his or her journalistic rigorprotects the country from danger. Our first president, GeorgeWashington, was also the first to grouse about his treatment in thenewspapers, although he kept his complaints private. Subsequentchiefs like John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and BarackObama were not so reticent, going so far as to wield executivepower to overturn press freedoms, and even to prosecutejournalists.Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to actively managethe stable of reporters who followed him, doling out information,steering coverage, and squashing stories that interfered with hisagenda. It was a strategy that galvanized TR's public support, butthe lesson was lost on Woodrow Wilson, who never accepted reportersinto his inner circle. Franklin Roosevelt transformed mediarelations forever, holding more than a thousand presidential pressconferences and harnessing the new power of radio, at timesbypassing the press altogether. John F. Kennedy excelled ontelevision and charmed reporters to hide his personal life, whileRichard Nixon was the first to cast the press as a public enemy.From the days of newsprint and pamphlets to the rise of Facebookand Twitter, each president has harnessed the media, whetherintentional or not, to imprint his own character on the office.In this remarkable new history, acclaimed scholar Harold Holzerexamines the dual rise of the American presidency and the mediathat shaped it. From Washington to Trump, he chronicles thedisputes and distrust between these core institutions that definethe United States of America, revealing that the essence of theirconfrontation is built into the fabric of the nation.