The Use and Misuse of the Press II
The deterioration in Roosevelt's relations with newspapermen was paralleled by an early and ongoing concern on the part of newspaper publishers and editors over an apparent desire by the New Deal to reduce the freedom of the nation's press. The Roosevelt administration had been in office less than a month before legislation was introduced in Congress, at the instigation of the administration, that would penalize those who published "secret" government papers. This "gag bill" would have punished severely the publication of almost any government material "obtained without authorization of competent authority," and it almost immediately aroused a storm of protest from the nation's press, and even from some, like Secretary of State Cordell Hull, within the Roosevelt administration. The Baltimore Sun pointed out that, if applied literally, it could prevent the publication of any news from the government except that furnished to the press in approved "handouts" by the administration. Such a law, the Washington News noted, would have prevented press exposure of the Teapot Dome oil scandals during the Harding administration. 1 An opponent of the bill, Senator Thomas Schall of Minnesota, wondered: "Could anything be plainer or more definite as to the ultimate purpose? Roosevelt was asking for dictatorial powers over the government and a censorship bill by which he could put any publisher in jail for ten years who dared to criticize any of his acts."2The bill actually passed in the House but was stripped of its censorship provisions by the Senate.
Their suspicions of the Roosevelt administration having been aroused by the proposed gag bill, many newspapermen regarded the National Recovery Administration's attempt to license newspapers with considerable apprehension. While