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Eben A. Ayers Oral History Interview, June 12, 1967

Oral History Interview with
Eben A. Ayers

Seventeen year veteran with the Associated Press. Later news editor and acting managing editor of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin, after which he served in the White House as liaison for the press-radio division of the Office of Inter-American Affairs. In January, 1945, he became part of the White House staff as a press officer until he retired at the end of the Truman administration.

Washington, DC
June 12, 1967
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]

 



Oral History Interview with
Eben Ayers

Washington, DC
June 12, 1967
Jerry N. Hess

[192]

HESS: Mr. Ayers, in our last interview we were discussing James Byrnes and a few of the things that you wanted to set down about him, and you have indicated that you have some more material, more information on Jimmy Byrnes. Would you like to tell me what it is?

AYERS: When going through my notes over the years, I find a great many references to Byrnes and his relations with the President, but one of the first that shows any real difference of opinion, it seems to me, was on Byrnes' return from the Moscow Foreign Ministers conference in late 1945. Byrnes arrived back in Washington on December 29th, shortly, I think, after or about noon that day. The President, meanwhile, was on board the Williamsburg for a rest trip down the Potomac and on Chesapeake Bay, accompanied by a few members of his staff. As I understand, he had not had any formal report from Byrnes on the conference, although I think he'd been in communication on occasion with him during the meeting in Moscow, but as I later learned, a message was received at the State Department from Byrnes requesting that arrangements be made for a radio broadcast by Byrnes on Sunday night--that would be the following night. Now, my first

[193]

information about this was telephoned to me from an employee in Byrnes' office at the State Department--he said this message was to be relayed to the ship. Now I have a copy of this message. As I understand, it was transmitted through the State Department--I don't know what means of communication they used, but it must have been a teletype or radio--and this was marked from Secretary of State Byrnes to the President, and it said, "Please have Charlie Ross contact NBC, Mutual, Columbia and American Broadcasting Companies requesting broadcasting time for Sunday to make a report." That was followed by a short message in which he said, addressing directly the President, "Hope you are well and having a pleasant trip. Will see you when you return."

Now, this, as I was informed, was the first word the President had from Byrnes following his return. He, apparently, from what I was informed later, mostly by Charlie Ross, who was aboard the ship with the President, he apparently intended to make this radio speech without any approval in advance from the President, and without any previous report to the President on the conference from which he was returning. It was following these messages that I found myself involved in this, what came to be a very confusing situation. I received a message

[194]

from Ross which was my first communication from the ship, in which he asked me to make every effort to line up the Columbia Broadcasting System for a half an hour on the air Sunday for Byrnes to explain the Moscow communiqué to the people. It seems that the National Broadcasting Company was already committed through arrangements made by Byrnes' office or Assistant Secretary of State William Benton to an exclusive broadcast by the National Broadcasting Company. Ross' message to me, pointing out that the National Broadcasting Company was already committed, said that the President desired to have the Columbia Broadcasting Company also available at that evening hour, and Ross in his message said to tell the Columbia Broadcasting Company that this was a request of the President. When I got that, I had an idea there might be some complications resulting, inasmuch as the National Broadcasting Company was scheduling the speech and I had a hunch that NBC thought they would have an exclusive broadcast coming up. So I checked with Carleton Smith of the National Broadcasting Company--he was the top man at that time here in Washington--and I was told definitely that they had an agreement with the State Department for an exclusive, and that if the speech was to be made available to others they'd give it up. I was told they

[195]

had cancelled about $30,000 worth of scheduled programs in order to carry it. They said they'd been struggling with the State Department since about 1 o'clock in the afternoon before getting the arrangements settled. So then I checked with the State Department and John Howe, the man in Benton's office who handled the radio arrangements, and he tried to get the White House involved in it; and, I understand, somebody--I don't know who--was also trying to get Paul Porter, who was then, I believe, chairman--at least a member--of the Federal Communications Commission, to put pressure on. I was told that he had called on the radio people to take on the speech. I was on the telephone to various people and they were on the phone to me, and I did ask NBC finally what they were going to do, and this is the answer they gave me, and this was after, reportedly, Paul Porter was dragged in; how far he got in I don't know to this day, but somebody there said, "What would you do if you had one hundred and fifty stations and were dependent on the FCC for licenses?" In their reply they were obviously trying to convey the idea of being pressured by somebody in the Government, and I gathered that they intended to loosen up and say, "All right, let CBS have it." Anyway, that's what I think finally happened.

[196]

So, I finally sent a message to Ross telling him that National Broadcasting had made these arrangements for Byrnes to make the speech, and told him about the exclusive nature of it, and I told him that I wasn't approaching Columbia Broadcasting System, in view of that situation. Finally I got a reply back from Ross to do what I had told him. He thought we should not have anything to do further with the broadcast and that's what ended it. But what did follow up was the President, somewhere in this, sent another message to Byrnes, in reply, apparently, to the two messages that Byrnes had earlier sent--the two or the one, whichever it was--in which he asked to have the arrangements for the broadcast made. The President said he was happy to hear of his safe arrival, and he suggested Byrnes come down "today or tomorrow"--now that was on the same day, December 29th, that Byrnes had arrived to report on his mission. He said arrangements could be made by him through the Secret Service. The President said to him in this message, "We can then discuss, among other things, the advisability of a broadcast by you." And as a result, Byrnes did go down that afternoon or in the late evening--I don't know what time he got there, I don't remember about that--but he got down there, and after Byrnes arrival

[197]

on the ship, the two of them went into conference and they talked for about two hours; it was after they came out that the President told Ross, and Ross told me later, that the President had approved Byrnes' plan to speak and suggested that he be made to get the Columbia Broadcasting Company to carry the speech. Ross said that when Byrnes had told the President he was going to speak over the NBC network, he did not say that it was to be made exclusively over that chain, and afterwards Byrnes had dinner with the President and the others--he didn't stay that night, he came back the next day.

HESS: What seemed to be President Truman's general attitude toward Mr. Byrnes about this time?

AYERS: I think it was a very friendly attitude and a friendly feeling. I think he thought a great deal of Byrnes. He had known him for a long time, and despite differences on his handling of, perhaps, some of the things during his tenure as Secretary of State, I think they were more because of the way in which Byrnes did it and not because of any personal feelings toward Byrnes. I think that was an official attitude and not a personal one. I think he retained his personal fondness for him right through to the end, and that's evident in little things that were said at different times. I remember, I ran across in my notes

[198]

some of the things that came up like that. On one occasion that same year at a press conference the President had, in which he read a statement on foreign policy and that was on the day that Henry Wallace was asked to resign and he concluded a statement having to do with that, he said, "I have complete confidence in Mr. Byrnes and his delegation now representing this country at the Paris Peace Conference. And Mr. Byrnes consults with me often, and the policies which guide him and his delegation have my full endorsement."

Again I know there was, I guess it was early in 1947, there was a ceremony at which General Marshall was sworn in as Secretary of State succeeding Byrnes after Byrnes finally resigned, and in presenting the commission to Marshall the President said he regretted most sincerely that Mr. Byrnes found it necessary to leave as Secretary of State. On various occasions even after he had left office and when some time later their differences came to the surface again, even then he wasn't too critical of Byrnes until By