Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hard copy version of the oral history interview.
Opened January, 1972
Oral History Interview with
August 20, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Folliard, to begin, we're primarily interested in your relationship with President Truman. Just what was that relationship and when did it begin?
FOLLIARD: Well, I was the White House correspondent for the Washington Post for many years. I really began covering the White House for the Post in the Coolidge administration, not as a steady thing, but at least I covered Mr. Coolidge's press conferences.
HESS: One question on that, sir. Did you find Mr. Coolidge as silent as they say -- "Silent Cal?"
FOLLIARD: Well, I never was an intimate of Mr. Coolidge, I don't know how he was in private, but people who were his intimates said he could sometimes become downright garrulous. But at any rate, I then covered President Hoover for most of his administration. Then I covered Roosevelt. I covered Roosevelt steadily from 1941 until
the autumn of 1944 when the Washington Post sent me to Europe to cover the war. Then I came back to Washington after the victory in Europe. I came back right after V-E Day. After a vacation down at Hot Springs, Virginia, I was reassigned to the White House. By that time, Roosevelt was dead, and Mr. Truman had taken over the Presidency. Charlie Ross who was then White House Press Secretary, took me in and introduced me to Mr. Truman.
HESS: Was this the first time you had ever met him?
FOLLIARD: Really it was, I suppose. I had seen him when he was Senator Truman presiding over the Truman Committee looking into the war effort. I saw him at least once when as Vice President he called on President Roosevelt. I think they had lunch out on the south grounds of the White House, but as you know, President Roosevelt saw very little of Vice President Truman, and I always thought it was a shocking thing that Roosevelt didn't confide more in Truman. For example, it later came out that he never ever told Truman about the atomic bomb, the work being done on it. But that's beside the point.
When Charlie Ross took me in to introduce me to President Truman, I told him that I was going to be covering him from there on. That was really my first
meeting with him. It started off very well. He told me he had been reading my war dispatches from Europe. That made me feel pretty good.
HESS: Regarding Mr. Truman's press conferences that he held, he usually held a press conference every Thursday, what do you recall about the press conferences, and do you think that Mr. Truman 's handling of them was adequate?
FOLLIARD: Yes, I don't remember that President Truman ever ducked any questions unless it may have been something involving national security. He always answered questions readily and adequately.
HESS: Sometimes, he was accused of "shooting from the hip," answering without fully thinking about what he was saying. Did you find that to be true?
FOLLIARD: Yes, that remark about his "shooting from the hip," it meant he just fired in a wild sort of way. I got to thinking about that one time. I remember my early movie heroes who shot from the hip, William S. Hart and others. They usually shot the villain right between the eyes from the hip. But it's true that Mr. Truman's was impetuous. There's no question about that. And sometimes after he had made a statement at a press conference, Charlie Ross, his Press Secretary, had to
issue what was called a "clarification." But no great harm ever came from any of his shots from the hip, none that I can recall.
HESS: Mr. Truman's first Press Secretary was Charlie Ross. What kind of a man did you find Charles Ross to be?
FOLLIARD: Well, he was a man I admired very much. He was older than me. He had, for many years, been the Washington correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was a highly-trained newspaperman. Of course, the reason he became White House Press Secretary was that he was not only a man who was well versed in national affairs, and a crackerjack newspaperman, but he had gone to school with Mr. Truman in Independence. In other words, they were very dear friends. Ross was just devoted to Truman and their relationship was much more than boss and subordinate. I remember Truman saying when Ross died, he felt as if he'd lost his right arm, and I'm sure he did. I thought Ross was first-rate as a Press Secretary.
HESS: Mr. Ross died on December 5, 1950. Shortly thereafter, Joseph Short was appointed Press Secretary. What kind of a job did he do in that position?
FOLLIARD: Strangely enough, not a good job, I don't think. He was a great friend of mine, Joe Short.. In our travels
we would share drawing rooms on trains, and share hotel rooms. But he lost all detachment once he became White House Press Secretary. He got emotionally involved. Take a man that he had been close to as a newspaperman; if he wrote something that Short thought was critical of President Truman, Short blew up. Consequently, he lost a great many of his erstwhile friends. I think nowadays they would use the vernacular and say, "Joe lost his cool," when he became Press Secretary. But he was a grand fellow, and I had to go through the experience of seeing him die on the job. I don't ever recall anything like that.
HESS: Can you tell me about that?
FOLLIARD: He died the same way as Ross, of a heart attack. The only difference was that Charlie died in the White House, Joe at home.
HESS: He died in September of 1952. What do you recall about the events around his death?
FOLLIARD: Well, I just don't know what brought on the heart attack, except that he was under great tension and great pressure. The strange thing is that he suspected that he might have heart trouble, and he went out to Walter Reed and had a cardiogram made. It showed that he had no heart trouble. A night or two later he was having
dinner with his family down in Alexandria, Virginia, and he toppled right out of his chair, fell to the floor, dead from a heart attack. So, maybe the cardiogram isn't always a good indicator.
HESS: At that time, Roger Tubby and Irving Perlmeter took over both as Acting Press Secretaries. That was a very important time, because it was during the campaign of 1952. What do you recall of Roger Tubby and Irving Perlmeter?
FOLLIARD: I thought Roger Tubby was the Press Secretary.
HESS: He later had the full title.
FOLLIARD: Permeter was his deputy. I thought Roger Tubby was very good as Press Secretary. He was a very calm fellow, and we got along very well with him.
HESS: Any particular incidents or stories that stand out in your mind that might illustrate how those men carried out their jobs? Take Charles Ross first. Anything that stands out in your mind about Charles Ross? Perhaps dealing with the campaign?
FOLLIARD: I don't know whether I can recall precisely now what happened in connection with one incident in the '48 campaign, but it was very embarrassing and Ross was involved. We were someplace -- oh, what's the name of
of that resort in Idaho?
HESS: Sun Valley.
FOLLIARD: Sun Valley. We had spent a night there, as I remember, and were to go on the next day. President Truman was to dedicate an airport and Charlie Ross had talked with the mayor of the town, and he got the name of the person for whom the airport had been named. He got it wrong. It was a name that was susceptible to being taken as either masculine or feminine. I wish I could think of it.
HESS: Carey, Idaho was the place.
FOLLIARD: And Charlie Ross misunderstood the mayor over the telephone, and thought it was being named after some young man who died in the war. Well, he gave Mr. Truman the misinformation. When we got to this place, the President started making a speech praising this young man who had given his life for his country. I may be wrong about this, but as it turned out, I think it was a girl who had been killed and killed flying in a plane on a joyride, hedgehopping or something like that. Somebody interrupted Mr. Truman in his speech to tell him about this mistake, and of course, he was embarrassed. He tried to make the best of it, but it all grew out of poor Charlie Ross' misinformation that he gave to Mr. Truman.
HESS: And you were there at the time?
FOLLIARD: Oh, yes, and we wrote about it.
HESS: That was during the trip in June of 1948, the so-called "pre-convention trip."
FOLLIARD: Yes, I can tell you some things about that trip. There were two trips Mr. Truman made across the country and back in '48. They really explain his victory. Ther