By Erian Bradley
Dale Nelson, in “Who Speaks for the President?: The White House Press Secretary from Cleveland to Clinton,”describes the growth of the structures and relationships that defined presidential-press relationships in the early 20th century, and George Juergens, in “News from the White House: The Presidential-Press Relationship in the Progressive Era,” describes in detail Theodore Roosevelt’s strategies for cultivating the press. Roosevelt in particular sought ways to use the press to his advantage, especially at a time when the newspaper industry was changing dramatically. Considering our own changing media environment, how would you compare TR’s strategies for using the media to his advantage with the strategies that Donald Trump employs for the same purpose?
President Theodore Roosevelt’s strategies were much more intended in some cases than President Trump’s outbursts in the media. He knew he had to find a way to manipulate the public, and he found it.
In George Juergens’ book “News from the White House,” he specifically talks about the New Era and how Roosevelt took advantage of and/or paid closed attention to what the media was writing about him. He knew that, like Lincoln, he needed public sentiment and to rule by popular support. Juergens talked about how Roosevelt didn’t have television or radio because it hadn’t been invented yet, but he had an American newspaper that had transformed tremendously over three decades. Journalism had evolved into a huge business with millions of dollars invested into newspapers.
There was a huge increase in the need and want for newspapers during this time, the early 1900s. The average readership had doubled, especially after Roosevelt left the White House in 1909, according to Juergens book. He also said the “thrust for circulation in turn affected the editorial policies of papers in ways Roosevelt and his successors would be able to exploit.”
Juergens also states in his book that the new era of journalism back then increased a need for human-interest materials, including reporting on the government.
The strategies that helped Roosevelt succeed was that he made the characteristics of modern journalism work for him. Juergens talks about how Roosevelt assumed that the news in the daily paper affects public opinion more than editorials. He was trying to seize the headlines and manipulate the way reporters wrote about him and people would ignore or not pay attention to the inside pages of the editorials. He wanted to be on the front page more so he could monopolize public attention, establish his credentials as a national leader, and make it easier to keep generating news about himself.
Not only did Roosevelt understand that he needed to make news, but he needed to pay attention to what else was being reported on as well. Juergens wrote that Roosevelt knew that his personality could be a source of strength in news:
“When every detail of a person’s life is a matter of public concern, something for the press to dwell on, he achieves an almost semimythic status, and puts precious distance between himself and those who would challenge his authority.
Roosevelt thought to dramatize himself, to become a symbol of state as well as a political leader, according to Juergens.
This statement brings me back to how President Trump is today. He, of course, uses much of the new media that is out today. He uses Twitter — too much — but at least he knows it draws attention to himself. He has created an aggressive and untraditional personality to ensure that the public has an idea of him and either loves him or hates him. When he talks about CNN and how it’s “fake news,” many people started to believe him, especially the older crowd. It starts to make news a joke. This is one of his strategies. He knows that everyone is watching him, and now he’s dramatized himself to be either a hero or a villain.
Trump has used the media to his advantage because he is literally all news stations talk about right now. He has used his unpopularity in the media (because of negative coverage) and made it work for him. Yes, many people are questioning his ability to serve the duties of president, but he’s being covered everywhere. Every site that I visit to check what’s going on in the news has at least three stories on the front page about something that the president has done or hasn’t done.
Newspapers hate him but they continue to write about him, and I think he’s doing that intentionally, especially to distract the other policies he’s implementing and the clear mishaps he’s had in getting those policies approved .