Book Reviews -- Bylines in Despair: Herbert Hoover, the Great Depression, and the U.S. News Media by Louis W. Liebovich
Evensen, Bruce, Journalism History
Liebovich's study of Herbert Hoover's relations with the press during his years is Europe's emergency food coordinator, secretary of commerce, and president benefits from considerable detective work in the print media of the period. His conclusion that Hoover had a band in undermining press relations during his presidency buoyed by an examination of Hoover's papers, oral history interviews with select White House reporters, and the diary notes of Hoover's second press secretary.
Liebovich portrays Hoover as "stubborn" and "self-righteous," leading to "problems with the press." These difficulties, as Liebovich sees it, were heightened by Hoover's "autocratic approach," which led him to ignore reporters while carefully cultivating favored editors and publishers. Crucial to this claim is his assertion that Hoover failed to recognize the increasing "independence" of White House and wire service reporters, a subplot in his study that would benefit from more detailed analysis.
Another area that might have been explored further is Hoover's use of radio. Several studies of early radio, including Robert McChesney's Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, document Hoover's healthy respect for the potential power of radio in furthering the purposes of politicians. Instead of seeing Hoover as a hopelessly nineteenth-century man unaware of the possibilities of twentieth-century mass communication, a strong case can be made that Hoover was an early and aggressive, if ultimately unsuccessful, manipulator of mass media and its messengers.
Liebovich, in fact, provides abundant anecdotal evidence to support the claim that Hoover was a pioneer in the use of mass media, yet he spends much of the book arguing against precisely that conclusion. Hoover used Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, Literary Digest, Munsey's, Saturday Evening Post, and Scientific American, as well as many leading newspapers, to sell his food-aid program directly to the American people. …