critical press, the partisan press, pressure from the domestic press concerning
foreign policy, and government leaks to the press. His intended precedent
of the president's not becoming involved with politicking in the press did
not last, and not all of his successors shared his commitment to a free press.
Nevertheless, Washington's experiences with the press very much color our
present press-president relations.
Indeed, several characteristics of the modern free press emerged in his
administrations: the freedom to criticize an incumbent president harshly
without suffering retribution; the ability to obtain information about governmental activities through a variety of sources, including leaks from authorities; and the efforts of a president to manage the press. Ultimately,
what is very striking about the experiences of Washington with the press is
just how familiar they seem to us today. Some modern media scholars are
quick to conclude that the late twentieth-century press-presidency relationship has deteriorated to the point of mutual distrust, overexposure of the
personal aspects of presidents' lives, presidential obsession with managing
the news and preventing leaks, and even presidential claims of journalists'
harming the national interest. Yet all of these elements had their origins in
the presidency of George Washington.
John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Wasbington, 39 vols. ( Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931- 1944), 30:496.
Carol Sue Humphrey, ne Press of the Young Republic, 1783-1833 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 8.
Harry M. Ward, "George Washington and the Media," Media History Digest
( 1987), p. 23.
Donald Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period ( Albany: State
University of New York Press, 1969), pp. 160, 520.
Ward, "George Washington and the Media," p. 24.
For example, in his American Politics in the Early Republic,
James Sharp says
personal criticism of
Washington began to surface in 1792 ( New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1993), p. 54, while Stewart sets the date at 1793 ( Stewart, Opposition Press, p. 520).
Forrest McDonald, The Presidency of George Wasbington ( Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1974), p. 132. (Future references to this work will be made as "GW" in order to distinguish it from
McDonald's other works cited here.)
National Gazette, March 29, 1792. Quoted in Sidney Kobre, Development of
American Journalism ( New York: Wm. C. Brown, 1969), p. 128.
Stewart, Opposition Press, pp. 488, 519; William David Sloan and
James G. Stovall
, eds., The Media in America: A History ( Worthington, OH: Publishing Horizons, 1989), p. 64; Ward, "George Washington," p. 27; Richard L. Rubin, Press,
Party, and Presidency ( New York: W. W. Norton, 1981), p. 47.