When Franklin D. Roosevelt gave one of his fireside chats on the radio, the story goes, "you could walk along a line of parked cars in Chicago and keep hearing his voice because everybody was listening. That is real power, and we don't have anything like it today.
When the President gives a speech today, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells Big Think, "you might hear the pundits tearing it down before he even finishes the speech." Moreover, our attention span is so diminished," Goodwin says, "that I don't know if we can have a sustained conversation about an issue the way they could about monopolies or corruption at the turn of the twentieth century."
The turn of the century was the time of FDR's fifth cousin, Teddy Roosevelt, and that era is the subject of Goodwin's new book, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. (http://goo.gl/EgUbRe)
Goodwin describes the symbiotic relationship between the Roosevelt and the press, and how that relationship helped usher in an era of reform that was unprecedented in American history. Goodwin tells Big Think that Roosevelt's 'Bully pulpit" - the power of his office combined with the power of the press - provided an unparalleled platform to educate the country and advocate change.
In the video below, Goodwin describes how the bully pulpit was such a powerful tool to battle corruption at the turn of the twentieth century. She also explores how it still can be used as a tool of persuasion today, even in polarized Washington.
Transcript -- Doris Kearns Goodwin: Roosevelt is the first person that defined the term bully pulpit and what he meant by it was that the President has an unparalleled platform to educate the country and to have moral fervor delivered to the country so that the people themselves will become extraordinarily interested in certain programs and push the congress which in his time was reluctant to act on the problems of the industrialites and push them to take action. So he really thought of it as a pulpit in the sense that it was a moral platform but bully in his time didn't mean what we think of as bully now. It meant awesome or splendid or great.
Roosevelt was the first person to produce a room inside the Whitehouse for the press. He coincides with the age of the reporter. In the nineteenth century the most important journalists were editors and they'd often be editors of the partisan magazines or partisan newspapers. If you were a republican you'd only read The Republican Journal. If you were a democrat only the democratic newspaper. If you were a Whig the Whig newspaper. And the accounts would be wholly different. Like Lincoln could go and give a great speech and the Republican Journal he's actually held up, they'd say, by the shoulders of the people as he left. In the democratic account of that same speech they'd say he fell on the floor. He was not able to get up. He was hooted and just sort of undone on his way out.
But by the turn of the century you had national newspapers coming into being. More objective, you had national magazines and reporters replaced editors as the most important people of the time. So Roosevelt is coming into his own at the time that's called the age of the reporter. And he recognizes that they are the ones that are gonna be reaching a broader group of people. Not necessarily his partisans but the country as a whole and he needs them and they need him.
You've got to hope somehow that presidents understand that the bully pulpit is still a tool that they possess. Even though I think it's been diminished over time as an instrument because when Roosevelt gave a speech, the entire speech might be in the newspaper. Headlines would tell about it. The whole country would be reading it even up to the time of Franklin Roosevelt when he gave his fireside chats on the radio, 80 percent of the audience would be listening to his fireside chats. Saul Bellows said you could walk down the street on a hot Chicago night and listen and keep hearing his voice because you could look inside, everybody was listening.
Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton
Tagged under: Big Think,BigThink,BigThink.,Education,Educational,Lifelong Learning,EDU,Teddy Roosevelt,Theodore Roosevelt,Bully,Pulpit,Press,Journalism,Turn Century,20th Century,25th President,Reporter,Doris Kearns Goodwin (Author),Abraham Lincoln (US President)
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