George Washington and the Origins of the American Presidency

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson et al. | Go to book overview

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.


NOTES
1.
John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Wasbington, 39 vols. ( Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931- 1944), 30:496.
2.
Carol Sue Humphrey, ne Press of the Young Republic, 1783-1833 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 8.
3.
Ibid., p. 17.
4.
Harry M. Ward, "George Washington and the Media," Media History Digest ( 1987), p. 23.
5.
Donald Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period ( Albany: State University of New York Press, 1969), pp. 160, 520.
6.
Ward, "George Washington and the Media," p. 24.
7.
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).
8.
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.)
9.
National Gazette, March 29, 1792. Quoted in Sidney Kobre, Development of American Journalism ( New York: Wm. C. Brown, 1969), p. 128.
10.
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.

-198-

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