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Richard Cull Jr. Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Richard Cull Jr.

Reporter and correspondent, Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, 1937-41, 1946-62; assigned to Washington, D.C. bureau of the Daily News, 1947-62; head of Press Office, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1963-75.

Independence, Missouri
May 5, 1986
by Niel M. Johnson

See also Richard Cull, Jr. Papers finding aid.

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1987
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Richard Cull Jr.

 

Independence, Missouri
May 5, 1986
by Niel M. Johnson

 

[1]

JOHNSON: Mr. Richard Cull, Jr. is here with me in the Truman Library. Mr. Cull, would you tell us when and where you were born and the names of your parents?

CULL: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914, at the time my father was day city editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. Dad was a native of Miamisburg, a small town south of Dayton in southern Ohio, while my mother, Elizabeth Burns, was a native of Dayton. Both were Irish. Both are deceased. Dad came to Dayton about 1910 to start his newspaper career on the Dayton Daily News and then got a job in the bigger city of Cleveland about 1913. In addition to the Plain Dealer, he also was an editor on the Cleveland Press, one of three papers in Cleveland at that time.

 

[2]

JOHNSON: How long did your father stay in Cleveland?

CULL: About 1924 James M. Cox, the owner and publisher of the Dayton Daily News, brought Dad back to Dayton to be managing editor of the paper. As you know, James M. Cox served three terms as Democratic Governor of Ohio and then in 1920 the Democrats at their national convention in San Francisco chose him as their candidate for President. His running mate as Vice President was Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York, who later was elected to four terms as President of the United States. The Cox-Roosevelt ticket in 1920, of course, lost to the Republican ticket led by Warren G. Harding, also of Ohio, in an election where voters turned their backs on the policies of Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat who was President during World War I. Cox endorsed those policies, which included support for the League of Nations.

So I came back to Dayton in 1924 and went on to complete grade school, high school and college there at Corpus Christi Grade School, Chaminade High School and the University of Dayton, all Catholic schools.

JOHNSON: Did your father write editorials on the Dayton News?

CULL: Oh, no. The managing editor is responsible for the

 

[3]

news content of the paper, not the editorials. The editor writes the editorials, which are the opinions of the publisher. The editor was Walter Locke.

JOHNSON: Did you always want to be a newsman like your father?

CULL: Oh, yes, always. I even remember the exact day I knew that for sure. It was the day in March, 1932, the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped from his crib in New Jersey. I was sitting next to Dad in church when an usher tapped him on the shoulder and told him to call his office at once. Turns out he had to make a decision whether the News should put out an "extra," an extra edition saved for the most momentous news stories. You see, 1932 was long before TV brought you the instant story and pictures as it does today in the 1980s, and even radio didn't saturate a community like a newspaper. Well, Dad decided to go with an "extra" and he let me stay with him while it was put out in a hurry. I was hooked by the excitement and my lifetime work was decided right there. As kids would say today, it was a "neat" experience.

JOHNSON: When did you first start writing for publication?

 

[4]

CULL: I guess it was for the high school paper. Then later I was a reporter on the University of Dayton News before becoming editor in my senior year, 1935-36.

JOHNSON: When did you start to work full-time at the Dayton Daily News?

CULL: I graduated in 1936 at the depth of the Depression. There were no openings on the paper at the time and I finally got a job working nights on the assembly line at a General Motors factory in Dayton. I was there six months, long enough to know I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in a factory. I finally got on the staff at the News as a cub in 1937 when a reporter died suddenly. I helped on the financial page and wrote obits before being assigned as police reporter. Then along came World War II. I was drafted very early, almost a year before Pearl Harbor, and that was the end of my newspaper career for five years.

JOHNSON: Did you see much of the publisher, Governor Cox, while you were there?

CULL: Oh, yes, he was in and out of the newsroom all the time. If you didn't see him, you knew he was there

 

[5]

because he chewed tobacco and his aim wasn't too good some times when he spit tobacco juice.

JOHNSON: Was the Daily News the only newspaper in Dayton when you were on the staff?

CULL: No, not at all. There were two other daily papers, the Morning Journal and the Evening Herald, jointly owned. The Daily News was an afternoon paper with the largest circulation of the three. The News, with Governor Cox as publisher, was strongly Democratic, supporting FDR and the New Deal and with an internationalist viewpoint, while the other papers were Republican, very conservative and regular foes of the New Deal.

By the way, we always addressed Mr. Cox as Governor. He wanted it that way. He wasn't unusual. In my years in Washington, I found many Senators who had been Governors who preferred to be called "Governor."

JOHNSON: Was there hot competition among the newspapers in Dayton?

CULL: Very much so. Newspapers were king in every city in the country until TV came along in the late 1940s. Who doesn't remember Ben Hecht and the "Front Page," his

 

[6]

story of the newspaper wars in Chicago in the 20s and 30s? And I remember the circulation wars in New York into the 1950s. For example, I remember Jerry Greene of the New York Daily News and Bill Lawrence of the New York Times, both covering the white House in the Truman era, and one day there was only one copy of a press release available at the White House. Greene and Lawrence lunged for it but Lawrence of the Times got it, and Jerry screamed at him, "Give me that. We throw away more newspapers in Times Square than you print every day." In my own experience in Dayton as a rookie police reporter just before World War II, police early one Saturday evening found what they thought might have been a bomb in the local post office. Well, the police reporter for the opposition paper got the police officer who found the package to allow him to go with him to an area to test for a bomb so I couldn't get a report on the test. That left me holding an empty bag with a Sunday morning deadline approaching. Only at the last minute did I learn it was a fake bomb. But my story was not nearly as good as the opposition's. But that's the hard-nosed way the game was played before the advent of TV. Competition was red-hot but I think

 

[7]

the public benefited. Today in the 1980s, mergers and buy-outs have killed daily papers everywhere. When the mergers came in, the competition went out.

JOHNSON: Do you think those good old days of competing newspapers in cities from coast to coast will ever return?

CULL: No, never. TV has changed everything. You know, when I came back to Dayton in 1980 after being in Washington almost 35 years, I could see the change at once in my neighborhood. When I left in the late 40s, nearly every home on the block got either the morning or afternoon paper delivered. Not any more; today about one house in five still gets delivery. The TV set replaced the newspaper as the main source of news. Harry Truman would have been disappointed because he liked to read several newspapers every day. Today he would have to watch several TV sets, just as Lyndon Johnson did as President.

JOHNSON: Going back to your start as a newsman in Dayton, did you say you broke in as a part-time sports writer while still in college?

CULL: Yes. In those days, a generation ago, you usually started on the daily paper as a copy boy, which meant

 

[8]

you picked up the copy as it was written and edited and sent it on to the composing room to be set in type. You also did the other routine jobs of sorting the mail and running errands. After a while, if you showed some promise, you could be sent to cover a high school basketball game, which would show if you had any reporting or writing talent. By the way, that's how Leonard Reinsch, who later served in many roles for President Truman at the White House, got his start. I remember Leonard doing the radio broadcasts of local high school games in Dayton in the mid-1930s for WHIO radio, the station owned by the Daily News. Leonard got a job in Dayton, I believe, soon after he graduated from college in the Midwest. Later he became head of the Cox TV-radio empire. Leonard was always a very personable, a very able guy. He also was in charge of arrangements for several Democratic National Conventions as well as for the inauguration of Democratic Presidents, including Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.

JOHNSON: How do you break in today in the 1980s?

CULL: I think you must have more experience today to break in on most dailies of any size. It seems to me from

 

[9]

reading Editor and Publisher, the magazine of the newspaper business, that it's like going to the minor leagues in baseball and working yourself up to the majors. You develop your skills that way. Besides, newspapers today hire more specialists, not just general assignment reporters. You often must be a specialist in something like energy or environment or economics to get on the bigger newspapers. And many papers require you to take an aptitude test, even a drug test, or, as in the case of the Knight-Ridder newspapers, you may have to attend their training school in Miami, Florida. The vast explosion of knowledge and information beginning with Harry Truman's Presidency right after World War II requires news people with much greater training than I had.

JOHNSON: What was the route to Washington for a reporter in your era?

CULL: I think almost all of us who came to Washington from newspapers around the country after the end of World War II followed the same route: city hall to the State capital to Washington. That way you learned the affairs of your city and state and the people who wrote and administered the laws. Washington was Broadway at that time and you

 

[10]

were pretty well rounded in your State's government affairs when you got there. Then you had to learn to mesh your state's interests into the national interest.

JOHNSON: Is Washington still Broadway for young news people today?

CULL: No, I don't think so, even though it is and always will be the news capital of the world. In my time, as products of the devastating Depression of the 1930s, we were intensely interested in job security, and Washington meant lifetime security. Today's generation, with no personal memory of the jobs-short Depression, doesn't have that interest in job security. I see newsmen come and go in Washington now; they go where the opportunity is.

I want to add here that I think it is better to have a frequent turnover of people in news and government in Washington in this era of rapid world-wide changes. I have found that Washington is a deadly place for people who stay too long in that island cloister and lose touch with the changes going on back on the mainland of the country. You know, I think Harry Truman's upset victory over Tom Dewey in 1948 did more to wipe the shine off the seat of the pants of newsmen in Washington than

 

[11]

anything ever did. In their superior wisdom, they just didn't believe the country thought differently from them. I remember John O'Donnell, Washington columnist for the New York Daily News, pounding his highball glass on the National Press Club bar and saying, "How could anyone be so wrong?"

JOHNSON: Before you were drafted into World War II did you write politics at the Dayton News?

CULL: No, I was just learning to be a reporter. An older man, Bernie Losh, was political editor. He was a red hot Democrat as was Glenn "Whitey" Whitesell, who helped him. You know, party loyalty was much more intense then than it is today in the era of TV and I can remember Whitey accusing some people of voting Democratic until they got "wrinkles in their bellies" when they turned around and voted Republican. He meant, of course, the Democrats made them prosperous and then they turned on the Party. Now in the mid-30s in Dayton, as well as in many other areas of the country, the New Deal of FDR was very controversial because it brought government intervention into what many thought were areas reserved for private business. I remember clearly that in Dayton

 

[12]

the News under Governor Cox supported the New Deal while the opposition papers, both Republican, opposed it. In fact, the Dayton News was one of the very few papers in Ohio to support the New Deal of FDR and the Fair Deal of President Truman.

JOHNSON: You