|Roosevelt Campaigns in Topeka, Kansas||The Scapegoat of the Depression||
Hoover Congratulates FDR
1932: Roosevelt Defeats Hoover
Delano Roosevelt's first campaign for the presidency occurred while
the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt's campaign
was unique in that it was the first to extensively use radio to communicate its
message. The message was simple: appeal to the voters who were mired in
the poverty caused by the depression. If elected President, FDR
would use the federal government to create jobs and regulate industries in an
effort to eliminate high unemployment and to prevent a depression from happening
again. These ideas were unprecedented in American history because no one
had ever used the federal government to the extent the New York Governor was
proposing to do.
On the other hand, his opponent, incumbent President Herbert Hoover, favored a laze fare policy. He believed that, given time, the economy would turn around with little government intervention. However, the voters did not think that the economy would turn around without some stimulation and held the incumbent personally responsible for the depression.
The media coverage of the 1932 election was remarkably different from the way the media covers elections now. For one thing, there was no television, and radio was in its infancy. Therefore, most people got their information about the candidates from the newspapers and word of mouth. This gave the newspapers tremendous power. What they printed and how they reported it could have a significant impact on the election's outcome. The media-savvy Roosevelt knew this well. He understood the power of the media early on and used it effectively to convey his message to the people.
The 1932 election coverage was mostly favorable to both candidates. It focused on the substance of the candidates’ position on the economy. The reporters were very respectful of the candidates and addressed them as either Mr. or by the title of their position, i.e. President Hoover, or Governor Roosevelt. The reporter’s opinion was left for the editorial page. They reported what the candidates said and let the reader form their own conclusion. For the most part, the reporters avoided framing the news or agenda setting. Reporters relied heavily on quotes from the candidates to write their stories. Using quotes gave the readers a sense that they were reading an accurate account of what had transpired. Most of the newspaper stories used at least one quote in each paragraph.
Compared to today’s reporting, the 1932 coverage was balanced and accurate. However, there were some inaccuracies in their reporting that mostly favored the challenger. The reporters failed to accurately address Governor Roosevelt’s physical condition. They did not write about his crippling polio disease, and seemed to exaggerate his physical strength, when in fact, he was barley able to walk unassisted. The New York Times was often guilty of exaggeration about the Roosevelt’s strength. In the July 8, 1932 New York Times article, the paper reported about Roosevelt’s nomination and one paragraph described what happened when then Governor Roosevelt went to the podium to accept his nomination: “as Mr. Roosevelt advanced to the rostrum, the great hall seemed to surge upward, an illusion which accompanied the sight of so many thousands rising simultaneously to their feet.” Add to this that it is alleged that a powerful newspaper publisher, William Hearst, had helped him gain the nomination, and it would appear that Roosevelt got cut a little slack.
FDR received some good coverage because he was very friendly with the reporters. It seems most of the reporters were taken by his charm. Franklin Roosevelt was the first President to have a fully furnished press train car installed on his campaign train. He also granted the press full access to his campaign. The fact that Roosevelt received good coverage does not mean that President Hoover campaign received bad coverage. To the contrary, the Hoover campaign also received mostly good coverage. However, the country’s economic situation made it harder to write positive stories about an incumbent President who did not seem to offer anything new to revive the economy. Moreover, Hoover’s personality was perceived as not being very friendly and did not lend itself to good coverage.