1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. Clayton Fritchey Oral History Interview, May 6, 1970

Clayton Fritchey Oral History Interview, May 6, 1970

Oral History Interview with
Clayton Fritchey

Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Director of the Office of Public Information, Dept. of Defense, 1950-52; Assistant to the President of the United States, 1952; and Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1953-57.

Washington, DC
May 6, 1970
By Jerry N . Hess

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

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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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

Oral History Interview with
Clayton Fritchey

Washington, DC
May 6, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Fritchey, to begin today, I'd like to read an excerpt from the book, The Politics of Honor: A Biography of Adlai E . Stevenson, by Kenneth S . Davis, and get your reaction to it. This is on page 278 and 279:

There were other grave disadvantages to headquartering in Springfield. Travel in and out of the town was much more difficult than travel in and out of Washington would have been, and Springfield was deficient in mass-communications facilities. The latter complication was enhanced by the apparent fact that Bill Flanagan, whom Stevenson retained as his personal press secretary, seemed not to enjoy the candidate's full confidence. When newsmen asked Flanagan questions to which, they felt, he should have immediate answers, Flanagan was likely to reply that he didn't know, he'd try to find out. For this, and various foul-ups in news facilitation, the unfortunate Flanagan was soon very much in the doghouse with reporters. The situation was considerably improved when the White House loaned to Stevenson one of the President's principal assistants, Clayton Fritchey, who had had a brilliant newspaper career (he'd been editor of the New Orleans Item, managing editor of the Baltimore Post, and won a Pulitzer prize for reporting while on the Cleveland Press) before coming to Washington in 1950 as assistant to General Marshall, then Secretary of Defense.

Now, my question is, if you agree that the situation was considerably improved, as Davis says, what did you do to improve the situation when you got there?


FRITCHEY: Well, in justice to Bill Flanagan, it was not that he was not up to the -- let me put it this way, it was not that he was incompetent, it was the fact that he had served Stevenson as press secretary while Stevenson was Governor of Illinois, and therefore, overwhelmingly concerned with relatively local affairs.

It is not a fair test of Flanagan's ability or intelligence or general competence that he was not in the best position to serve as press secretary to a presidential campaign. Stevenson himself had been concentrating on purely state and local matters for four years. Even as experienced as Stevenson was in international affairs, and to some extent national affairs, he had been away from the scene. That was one reason he was reluctant to run. He realized that he would have to do a cram course during the campaign, which he did. Fortunately he could fall back on many years of very professional experience. Flanagan could not. He was an Illinois lad, and I think the reporters liked him, but it's true, he was not in a position to deal with many of the intricacies of affairs that


had been occurring on the Washington scene and the international scene.

So, while I was serving as Wilson Wyatt's executive assistant (he was the campaign manager), I inevitably got involved in the press area, and I think I was able to be of some help, simply because we had a hundred or two hundred correspondents in or around Springfield and on the campaign train, the campaign plane, all of whom I knew because of my Washington experience, and from my having served on many different newspapers around the country. So it was inevitable that they would gradually drift to me, especially in matters within my competence.

And, of course, the reason Governor Stevenson asked Dave Bell and me to come out there was the fact that we had been close to the national and international scene, and it was only natural that Stevenson should rely on us perhaps more than some of the men who were with him while he was Governor.

HESS: One question about Mr. Stevenson choosing you and Mr. Bell. Did he personally know you before this time, or did someone on his staff know you?


FRITCHEY: Yes, he knew me.

HESS: When did you first meet him?

FRITCHEY: I think I first met him through Barry Bingham, the publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal. We spent a weekend together one time at Mr. Bingham's house. We also had many good mutual friends, and many of the people who came to Springfield, like Arthur Schlesinger, Ken [Kenneth] Galbraith, David Bell, and others, were close friends of mine, so we were a very congenial group. We had all known each other, and worked together. We had all served in the New Deal-Fair Deal administrations.

HESS: Do you happen to know if Governor Stevenson knew Dave Bell before this time?

FRITCHEY: I can't answer that. I really don't know whether he ever met Bell before or not, but he knew of him, and he was a very able man, and instantly supplied what Stevenson wanted, which was a great deal of know-how, and sophisticated knowledge of the issues we were going to deal with.

HESS: Fine, we'll get further into your duties in Springfield


in just a minute, but at the conclusion of our last interview, we had just mentioned the campaign trips, and you said that you had traveled on some of them. Just how were the campaign trips conducted?

FRITCHEY: Well, I think not too differently than is customary. We had a logistical team planning the itinerary. We had a group in Washington and a group in Springfield coordinating this. It was under the general direction of Wilson Wyatt, because, naturally every political boss and every state chairman and county chairman in the country wanted the candidate to come to his particular area, and so this required the judgment of Wyatt and a number of his associates, as to which were the most strategic spots to go to and when to go to them and how. So, we would fan out from Springfield for, say, a week at a time, or four or five days at a time, sometimes longer.

So every trip had to be plotted from morning to night. This required a tremendous logistical operation, because we also had to provide facilities, room and board so to speak, hotel arrangements, telephone and other communications for a very large press corps that was


with us. There were always two planes: the candidate's plane and the press plane. With us, of course, many times, were visiting political leaders who came to Springfield to see the candidate and who also wanted to be on the plane when we were visiting their particular states and cities. They usually rode the candidate's plane. This required a very big staff just to plot this out, and to keep it moving all the time. It's one of the biggest and most important things in a campaign, coordinating the logistics, especially these days, where you're moving so fast with planes.

HESS: How would you compare the difficulty of arranging a campaign with planes as opposed to a campaign with trains?

FRITCHEY: Planes are more difficult, because you're trying -- I