In July 1936, Washington Post columnist Franklyn Waltman commented on the relationship of the press to the New Deal in an address he delivered before the Institute of Public Affairs of the University of Virginia. The "greatest service," he told his audience, to "the democratic idea and this Nation" had been rendered by the American press in "almost single-handedly . . . keeping alive the spirit of discussion" during the early part of the New Deal. "Demoralized and dispirited," the Republicans had abandoned their responsibility as a loyal opposition, leaving "the battle . . . on every issue in those early days to the New Deal by default."
It was the press of this country--both Democratic and Republican--which called a halt on the inexcusable haste and indifference with which measures of far-reaching effect were being adopted by our Congress on recommendation of the Executive. Slowly but surely the press of this country forced both the Administration and the Congress to give heed to the deliberative process so necessary in a democracy. It is possible that in those days we had come close to the brink of a dictatorship in this land. If that is true, then the credit for turning back such forces belongs almost exclusively to the American press.1
Little could Waltman know that the major battle by the press in opposition to a perceived drive for dictatorship lay still ahead.
Waltman was not alone in this perception of the role of the press as sole opposition to the New Deal during the early Roosevelt years. Felix Morley, for example, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Washington Post, surveyed the role of the press through most of the New Deal when he wrote, in March 1938: