THE MAKING OF FDR by Linda Lotridge Levin


The Story of Stephen T. Early, America’s First Modern Press Secretary
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Serviceable biography of the obscure functionary who advanced the notion that the president should control what the news was reporting.

Stephen T. Early, an AP wire reporter and man-about-Washington, is little known outside a small circle of FDR scholars; Levin remarks that her inspiration for writing about him originated from a reference in a term paper. Early met FDR at the 1912 Democratic National Convention and was pressed into service first as an advance man in Roosevelt’s vice-presidential bid in the 1920 campaign, and then, after more seasoning, as a press secretary in the 1932 presidential campaign and the subsequent presidency. It is conceivable, Levin writes without much elaboration, that without Early’s help FDR “would have been a one-term president.” It’s true that wealthy newspaper publishers of the Hearst stripe despised and feared FDR as a wild socialist, but there were other determining matters at hand than Early’s use of the press to convey news regularly from the White House. Hitherto FDR had been in the habit of calling reporters individually at all hours to tell favored sources what was going on; now, at Early’s insistence, a single message went forth via press conferences. Levin observes that Early also served as an intermediary among feuding cabinet members, such as Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and Federal Housing Administrator James A. Moffett. (Early didn’t help, and “the dispute made the headlines.”) Levin notes that during the Depression the public seemed hungry, almost insatiable, for news out of the White House. Early made sure they got it, and usually got it the way the president wanted it, which is the meat of the story. Yet Early’s energetic work was not always successful, particularly when the subjects were thorny, and he lost points in his own time for such things as de facto segregation in the White House press room.

A stolid account, adding up to a useful reference for future term papers.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59102-577-1
Page count: 500pp
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2007