Woodrow Wilson, the Great War, and the Fourth Estate

Woodrow Wilson, the Great War, and the Fourth Estate

Woodrow Wilson, the Great War, and the Fourth Estate

Woodrow Wilson, the Great War, and the Fourth Estate


James D. Startt previously explored Woodrow Wilson's relationship with the press during his rise to political prominence. Now, Startt returns to continue the story, picking up with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and tracing history through the Senate's ultimate rejection in 1920 of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations.

Woodrow Wilson, the Great War, and the Fourth Estate delves deeply into the president's evolving relations with the press and its influence on and importance to the events of the time. Startt navigates the complicated relationship that existed between one of the country's most controversial leaders and its increasingly ruthless corps of journalists.

The portrait of Wilson that emerges here is one of complexity--a skilled politician whose private nature and notorious grit often tarnished his rapport with the press, and an influential leader whose passionate vision just as often inspired journalists to his cause.


Woodrow Wilson remains one of the most controversial figures in American history. As an activist president, he aroused both praise and scorn. Opposing editors often labeled him a Puritan in politics, a Presbyterian priest, an unprincipled opportunist, and worse. But to his friends in the press, he was a gifted world statesman, a second Abraham Lincoln. Some editors considered him a prophet, in the sense that he was an inspiring leader whose passionate vision for a new and harmonious world order was contagious. Amid the international tragedy that was the First World War, a conflict of a different sort permeated the press, one that questioned his leadership. It began in prewar days when Wilson forced through a series of economic reforms that threatened conservative interests. Once the war began, his critics questioned his ability to handle the issues of neutrality and, after the United States entered the conflict, his competency as a wartime president. Later, when he tried to implement his peace plans, his opponents in the press charged that he was devoid of all reason and could not be allowed to destroy the nation’s character and security. To grasp the gravity of these concerns, it must be remembered that they were expressed against the backdrop of unprecedented war, one that claimed the lives of ten million human beings and left countless others wounded. However, politics were also at play.

World War I was a time of powerful clashing personalities and bitterly contested political battles, all fought out in the press as well as in Congress. Wilson’s antagonists in the Senate were imposing figures led by the skilled parliamentarian Henry Cabot Lodge and the staunch isolationist and brilliant orator William E. Borah. Both were partisans of the first order. However, although he often mustered bipartisan support for his war measures, Wilson was himself a partisan in his politics and a worthy combatant. Even near the end of his life, having suffered a massive crippling stroke, the journalist and his future biographer Ray Stannard Baker found him in a fighting mood. After visiting him in 1923, a year before his death, Baker wrote in his diary, “The sheer spirit of the man! Here he is paralyzed, blind in one eye, an invalid, 66 years old & sees himself leading a campaign in 1924!” Moreover, rather than an impractical idealist as some critics claimed, Wilson was a skilled politician, one of the best of his generation, much to the frustration of his opponents. the flamboyant publisher William Randolph . . .

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