Oral History Interview
Reporter for the Providence (Rhode Island)
Robert K. Walsh
and for the Washington, D.C. Evening Star, 1946-69.
October 12, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
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
As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note
that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview,
such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online
version of the Robert K. Walsh transcript.
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Robert K. Walsh
October 12, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: All right, Mr. Walsh, to begin, would you give me a little of your
personal background: Where were you born, where were you educated, and
tell me a little bit about your early newspaper career.
WALSH: I was born in McAlester, Oklahoma, November 1, 1903. My parents,
mother and father, were both natives of St. Louis; in fact, all my relatives
are from St. Louis, and that has been more or less our family home. I
went to public schools in McAlester. Then I went to St. Louis University
and graduated there in 1924, got an A.B. degree and went immediately into
the newspaper business, in the old St. Louis Star.
HESS: What year was that?
WALSH: That was 1924. I was on the Star just a few months--the
Star is no longer in existence. I went up to Springfield, Illinois
for about a year on the Illinois
State Journal, the morning paper there, worked there, and then
I came back to St. Louis on the Globe Democrat. This covered a
period of almost three years, about a year in each place. Then I had an
opportunity to go to New York City. It was not even newspaper business,
it was a publicity business, a religious organization, The Society for
the Propagation of Faith, the national headquarters, a Catholic organization.
They put out a magazine and various publicity publications, and I was
Then after about two or two and a half years at that, I wanted to get
back into the newspaper business, not that I disagreed with it, but I
wanted to get back into the newspaper business because I liked that better
than publicity. So this was in 1928. That was my first experience in the
East, first time I'd ever been East when I left Missouri in 1926. I didn't
know any newspapers. I applied to several New York papers, but I really
didn't have too much experience when you got down to it, and they kept
putting me off: "Come back in six months and we might have something,"
the New York Times and some of the others. The upshot was that
I applied to several papers in New England and in New York State and I
had an offer right away from the Providence
Journal, Providence, Rhode Island. I went up and I got the job
there. And it was surprising in those days, this was in '28, just before
the depression, and within a week or two after I went to work for the
Journal, I had an offer for an interview from a Hartford paper
and a Boston paper. Jobs weren't plentiful, but they did need people right
after the 1928 election.
So I went up to Providence, having never been in New England in my life,
and I thought, "Well, I'll stay there for maybe six months or a year,
and then get back to New York, or maybe even go back to St. Louis." I
always liked St. Louis. The ambition in those days in St. Louis was to
get on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, you know, because it was a
great crusading paper, it's a great newspaper. The Globe Democrat
is a good paper.
Well, the upshot of the New England thing was that I stayed there for
seventeen years. I worked on the Journal for seventeen years. I
had met my wife there and had married her there. In February 1944 I was
sent down here to Washington. They have an afternoon paper, the Journal
is the morning paper and the Evening Bulletin is the afternoon
paper published by
the same company in Providence. There was another man named Fred Collins,
we were in the bureau down here. I came here in February of '44, and was
with the Journal until April 1946. There again, it wasn't that
I didn't want to go back to Providence, but I had an opportunity, just
by a stroke of luck, to get a job on the Washington Star. They
had a vacancy at that time. I went on the Star in April of 1946,
and I retired from the Star just about the beginning of 1969. They
have an automatic retirement age at 65, although I still do continue with
the Star I've been much busier than I thought I would be, in reviewing
books and Sunday articles, I've got two or three right here. So that is
my newspaper experience in a nutshell.
My experience here in Washington included the Providence Journal.
The Journal is a different operation, of course. You cover Rhode
Island, it's a New England story paper, but I used to go over to the White
House for the Journal very regularly, almost every day when Eben
Ayers was there, or before that, when Steve Early, the President's Press
Secretary would have a briefing every morning, as they still do, or every
afternoon, and I made a point to be over there every day.
HESS: Did you attend any of Roosevelt's press conferences during that
WALSH: Yes, he had a few, yes. The day I met Roosevelt, there was a press
conference. I came down in February and I think--that was in the middle
of the week, Tuesday or Wednesday I remember--and he had one on Thursday
or Friday. Well, within two days I went over to the press conference.
I happened to be accredited.
In those days, they had a ceremony for new men who came in for the first
time. The Press Secretary, after it was over, would take them up and introduce
them to the President. Of course, Roosevelt was sitting down behind the
HESS: In the Oval Room.
WALSH: In the Oval Room, in the White House west extension where the
President's office is. Roosevelt shook hands very cordially, all the charm,
he really had it, there's no question about it. I had been forewarned
he always pretty well knew who was coming, and he knew something about
the geographical or political or personal situation in every state in
So he said to me, "Well, Mr. Walsh, welcome to Washington? How is Quonset
Point coming along?"
They were building the big naval base up there at Quonset Point, I think
it was pretty well completed
at that time. He knew just all about Rhode Island. So that's when I first
Then, I think the next time I saw him was not too long after, it must
have been early in March, they had the White House Correspondents Association,
they used to--still do--have an annual dinner, and the President was there.
Let me see how many others: That was in '44 and I don't know that he
had many press conferences during the election campaign of '44. He must
have. I looked through my scrapbook and I can't find any record of having
written a story, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't there. He may have
had some. I do recall that I went to two or three at least, before the
election in '44. I did see him several times before he died. I saw him
at the inauguration on the back portico of the White House.
HESS: And you drove to Chicago in 1944 for the convention?
HESS: What do you recall about that?
WALSH: Well, I recall quite a bit about it. I was working for the Providence
Journal, and our main concern was to watch the Rhode Island delegation.
They were for Truman for Vice President, so that was my chief concern
there, although I did not even see Truman there except when he accepted
the nomination in a speech at the final session.
HESS: What do you recall of the attempt to keep Henry Wallace from getting
the vice-presidential nomination?
WALSH: I recall it rather round about. I was looking through my clippings
here, and found a story I wrote pretty much on the basis of an interview
or talk with Robert Hannegan, Bob Hannegan, whom I knew in St. Louis.
He was a graduate of St. Louis University. When I was a student out there
he was a football player. He was a very good football player. When I came
here I went down to see him. He had become Democratic National Chairman,
as I recall, that year, wasn't it '44?
HESS: When he got the post, I'm not sure, but he was chairman during
the very important events of the 1944 election.
WALSH: And another man I knew, now these of course, I'm dropping names,
because I actually knew them, I knew Bob Hannegan personally, and I knew
J. Howard McGrath, who was from Rhode Island. He had been Governor of
Rhode Island. My wife knew him since childhood, and I knew him for about
twenty-five years, twenty years before I came here, fifteen years. So
on the basis of
talks I had with Hannegan and McGrath in about May 1944--I'd been there
only about three or four months then--I remember writing a story for the
Providence Journal that they were pushing Harry Truman for Vice
President. They told me that there was a move to dump Wallace, that's
what it amounted to. They weren't so much involved in that--well, they
were--were involved, of course, but their idea was that if Wallace was
dropped, they were going to get Truman in. They were going to do their
darndest to get him in.
HESS: What seemed to be the tenor of their thoughts, was if for
Mr. Truman, or was it more anti-Wallace?
WALSH: Well, in Hannegan's case, it was certainly for Truman, because
he was from Missouri and he knew him, of course. Now Truman was--this
story will refresh my memory too--Truman had made a speech at the Democratic
State Convention in Missouri in April or May of 1944, and it made quite
an impression. The Vice Presidency wasn't mentioned, Truman himself didn't
say anything about it, but Hannegan said, "That's one of the best speeches
he's ever made, locally, in Missouri, and it increased his stature quite
a bit." But even at that time, I remember distinctly that there were rumors
around of reports that Truman was being mentioned.
You were always getting lists of possible nominees--you know, the move
to drop Wallace was over a long period of time, quite a period of time.
I don't know the inside of it all--I don't know whether Roosevelt intended
to or wanted to, but I rather suspect that he did. Of course, as things
came out, he was supposed to have offered it to [James] Byrnes, wasn't
it? Not offered it, but Byrnes was turned down, wasn't it Byrnes?
HESS: Byrnes had the impression in a talk with Roosevelt that he had
Roosevelt's support. That was his impression.
WALSH: A lot of people get impressions like that when they talk to a
HESS: And then also William 0. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice William
O. Douglas was mentioned.
There was a very famous Truman-Douglas letter that was given to Robert
Hannegan, and he had that with him when Mr. Roosevelt went through town
on his way to the West Coast on board the train. Did Mr. Hannegan ever
tell you anything about the Truman-Douglas letter?
WALSH: No, but I heard that, well, it was later, by hindsight, later.
He went aboard the Roosevelt
train in the railroad yards in Chicago, but I had no personal knowledge
of that, wasn't in on it anyway, and Bob Hannegan never mentioned it later
even. As a matter of fact, I don't think I ever asked him. Roosevelt had
been elected again and I suppose nobody followed it up until Truman became
President, but I certainly never did ask him.
After a while, I didn't see Hannegan too much. Of course, he became Postmaster
General, he was national chairman and then he became Postmaster General,
and I was down at his swearing in. Then he died. He served several years,
though, at that.
HESS: He did.
WALSH: I saw him--I go to St. Matthew's Cathedral here and he used to
come there, and I'd just say hello to him, but I don't think I was ever
in his office more than once or twice after he became...
HESS: He was replaced by Jesse M. Donaldson, but he was Postmaster General
for quite some time.
WALSH: Yes he was. He was there for several years.
HESS: One question we should cover before we move on since you were in
the newspaper field in Missouri quite early, did you recall anything about
Mr. Truman at the time that you were in Missouri?
WALSH: No, no. You must remember in the Missouri days I was pretty much
of a cub reporter, but even there I was always interested in politics.
HESS: You were in St. Louis at the time?
WALSH: Yes, from '24 to almost the end of '26, in newspaper work for
two and a half years, and I never remember Truman being mentioned. Of
course, I heard of the Pendergast organization.
HESS: What did you hear?
WALSH: Well, it naturally wasn't very good.
HESS: What was your impression in St. Louis of what was going on in Kansas
City, of the political climate of Kansas City?
WALSH: Pretty bad, pretty bad. There again, it's not a personal prejudice.
It was probably a local prejudice. There was always that rivalry between
St. Louis and Kansas City, and I had been to Kansas City only a few times,
I've been there many times since, but I didn't know too much.
I had no particular interest in Kansas City. I thought it was just another
city. There was a machine there, and it was rather unsavory, the stuff
we heard about it, but I had no direct connection with it, no knowledge
As a matter of fact, I had more of an interest of what was going on in
Chicago as a result of the year I spent in Springfield. That was one of
the most interesting years of all. It increased my appreciation of Lincoln,
and also decreased my appreciation of the Chicago crowd, the state organization.
And of course, it wasn't Democrats or Republicans, they were equally--but
to get back to Truman, I never heard of him...
HESS: When did you first hear of Mr. Truman?
WALSH: Well, I first heard of him, I think in Providence, I'm sure, the
Truman Committee in the U.S. Senate. I was on the Providence Journal,
and I covered the statehouse. Practically all my reporting has been covering
legislation, except for the U.S. Supreme Court for ten years here. I covered
the courts here, too. But for four years in Providence, the last four
years before I came here, I was on the editorial staff. They took me out
of the statehouse and put me on the editorial staff, mostly writing political
editorials, mostly about New England and Rhode Island, but also national
sometimes. So, I began to hear about Truman, and with my background in
Missouri, naturally, I would sort of
follow him, although I didn't remember that I had heard of him previously.
And I used to follow that committee's investigations and by the time I
got down here it was still going, but I don't recall whether he was even
chairman of it then. He was succeeded by somebody in 1944, before he became
HESS: He resigned as chairman in August, the month after the convention.
He received the vice-presidential nomination and then resigned as chairman
in August of 1944.
WALSH: Yes, I used to cover some of the committee's work later when Senator
[James] Mead was the chairman, and then when Senator Homer Ferguson was
chairman, as I remember.
But to get back to Truman. The first time I met Truman, having heard
of him just through reading about him, was in early 1944 when I first
came down here. The first time I went up to the Capitol, I guess I dropped
into his office and just introduced myself to his secretary. They didn't
call them Press Secretaries in those days, they had a fellow who handled
press liaison, and I can't remember who it was.
Vaughan was there with him, I think, and one or
two others, but I just don't even remember. He introduced me to Truman.
Truman happened to be there, and it was just one of those brief friendly
During the convention, of course, I didn't even see Truman, except at
the end. I didn't have much to do with covering the machinations of the
Vice Presidency nomination, although I was personally, naturally, kind
of glad, you know, from what I knew about Truman. I didn't know whether
he was experienced, but I thought as a result of his record he'd be as
good as some of the others. Now, there I guess I gave a gratuitous appraisal.
I didn't think too much of Wallace, although I liked him personally.
He was a very nice man, very kindly, and very generous and I think personally
you couldn't dislike him--I couldn't dislike him. Of course, he was emotional
and all that, but as Vice President I think it was fortunate that he didn't
HESS: What did you see in his character that makes you feel that it was
best that he did not become President?
WALSH: Well, maybe the very thing I'm saying. He was maybe too emotional,
too--I don't like to say erratic--he wasn't that. I talked to him several
times, interviewed him on other things. I hate to use these cliches, visionary
and vague, if you know what I mean, that type. Then, well,
the thing that really soured me on him, and not him personally, was later,
I guess, in the '52 campaign, when the Progressive Party...
WALSH: Was that '48 , sure it was.
HESS: The big year.
WALSH: Oh, of course. I was thinking it was--but that's when he ran.
Well, I covered some of their meetings here, and it was the wildest. I
didn't see a Communist under every bed, but the way, way out leftwing
was pretty much organized. You could see those people organizing, and
handling the publicity, but many other very idealistic and liberal persons
also were in on it.
Now, Wallace, I think, was being used by those far left people. I'll
give him credit, as far as I know, and I don't think that he shared a
lot of those wild radical reactions in that sense, way out. He was a liberal
and I think he was well meaning. Truman--as things turned out--and this
is hindsight again--as things came along, he did as well as probably anybody
could have done under the circumstances. Now, if Wallace had succeeded
Roosevelt, I don't know how it would have gone. I would have been full
of trepidation much more than I was when Truman--I wasn't particularly
Truman became President. I thought, "Well, it is an awful thing to follow
Roosevelt, any man," with Truman's lack of experience Roosevelt never--that
was an open secret- Roosevelt never confided in Truman as Vice President
or even before that. I don't think there was any animosity, but Roosevelt
was just running the show himself, even in those last years.
I remember, and this is backtracking a little bit, but even that first
press conference of Roosevelt's that I went to, the first time I met him
in February, 1944. I'm no physician, of course, but he didn't look like
a dying man. I had seen Roosevelt on several of those campaign trips beginning
in '32, I was at the '32 convention, and saw him several times from 1933
on. Roosevelt, you know, in spite of his disability, got around very well.
But this time when I first saw him in '44, his hands were shaking and
he had a gaunt look and bags and lines under his eyes. He really looked
bad. But I didn't realize he was ill. Then there was the inauguration
in '45, on the White House back portico. It was a gloomy day, it was raining,
it sounded like a good thing and the Roosevelt people wanted to save the
money, the war, of course, was going
on, and they had the inauguration on the back portico.
HESS: He came out on the back porch, did he not, and the crowd was out
on the south lawn.
WALSH: Well, yes, of course there was no doubt to me then. He came out
on the back porch.
HESS: Was there snow on the ground?
WALSH: Yes, I think it had snowed even the night before. They had cleared
it off, but it was very muddy. I don't think it was raining at that time,
but the skies were overcast, and thousands of people were down on the
ellipse. There was a big crowd there, not like the inauguration up at
the Capitol, but there was a big crowd. My wife was there with everybody
else. The press, and Government officials were right under in front of
the portico. He was up there, and we were right down below. I remember
standing near McGrath at the time, and I think Hannegan too. We were all
down there, but I do remember standing right next to McGrath. Roosevelt
came out and read a very short inaugural speech.
But the pitiful thing was, he came out and he looked bad and Jimmy Roosevelt,
and I guess one of the Secret Service men, or one of the ushers, had to
lift him up. He occasionally was helped up
at banquets and meetings. They'd sort of help him up, but this time they
really had to lift him up. He was holding on the rail, as I remember,
and I said to myself, being no doctor, "Roosevelt is not going to live
out his four years." But I had no idea that he would be dead--nobody did,
of course--that he'd be dead the next April. But he looked bad. Of course,
relaxed in a chair, at a press conference, he certainly didn't look like
he was dying. He looked like he was in bad health. He had just come back
from Yalta--wasn't that the Yalta Conference?
HESS: He was just getting ready to go.
WALSH: Yes, you're right, he was just getting ready to go, that's right.
Because I remember, that's another thing, when he came back from Yalta,
that was his last conference, and he came up to Congress
HESS: And addressed a Joint Session.
WALSH: Yes, I was there, in the Gallery. Usually when he addressed the
Joint Session, as all Presidents do, he wouldn't try to go up those steps
at the rostrum. They would have a little lectern, and he would stand up.
I saw him once before at a Joint Session, I don't remember what it was,
but he stood up, and then almost
every picture of course that I saw, he was always standing.
This time he came in, and his first words were, "I know that my friends
in the Congress will forgive me if I sit down." So he sat down at the
table, and he didn't look too bad. I suppose he was made up. But his hands
were shaking and he had that sort of a gaunt look about him. The general
public would never get that idea, and I'm sure over television, I didn't
see that on TV at that time, but I'm sure on television he probably would
have made a pretty good appearance. On the way out, of course, we could
see him going out, wheeled out. As at the inauguration, I thought, "He
will never last four years." And I think a lot of people thought that.
But nobody thought he would die so soon.
HESS: Did you see him again after the time that he was at the Capitol?
WALSH: I saw him again--this was in January, January 20th, when he was
inaugurated, then he must have had at least one press conference. I remember
going to his office. I'm not sure about that, but maybe in February, or
something like that. I don't have any way of checking on that. I have
no story that would refresh my memory.
When I used to cover, you know, for the Providence Journal. I
wouldn't write a long story unless he said something about...
HESS: Quonset Point or something.
WALSH: Yes, of course, we were interested in all these big projects,
WPA, and other stuff. But the last time I remember seeing him, I'm sure
the last time I saw him was on March 4, of '45. It was the White House
Correspondents Dinner again, at, I think the Statler. And he came in and
he was very chipper. He still looked tired and pretty bad, but nevertheless,
he was in a pretty good mood. And we went through the dinner and all this
entertainment, and then he made a little talk, and there again, he was
seated. At those dinners, he seldom attempted to get up, so nobody expected
him to. But he said, "All right, men," it was all men there. I don't think
he said "fellows." "All right, men, take out your pencils, I've got something
to announce." So everybody grabbed paper and he said, "I'm leaving tonight
for..." it wasn't Warm Springs, but I think he said, "I'm going up to
HESS: He went up to Hyde Park for a few days before he went to
WALSH: "And then I am going down to Warm Springs." Then he made just
a few remarks, but he was in a good mood. Much better. He didn't look
half as tired as he did at the inauguration, or even at some of these
Well, I'll finish this story first. Then after the dinner, as I remember,
he seldom stayed around. When we get to Truman's career, the President
often would stick around a while afterwards and talk with people.
HESS: Visit a little bit.
WALSH: And Eisenhower did too. But Roosevelt went right back to the White
House, I'm sure. He left, as I remember, the next morning. That's the
last time I saw him.
I was in the Providence Journal that afternoon of April 12, 1945.
We were in the Hibbs Building down on 15th, right by the Department of
the Treasury. You know where the National Savings and Trust Bank is?
HESS: Cater-cornered across the street. Is that a red brick building?
WALSH: Yes, that's a red brick building. Well, our building--it's still
there--was just up the street from that on the east side of 15th Street,
between New York Avenue and H.
Well, we had a teletype in our office. This was about three or four or
five o'clock in the afternoon, April 12th. Ordinarily the teletype would
be going all the time, and if they had a bulletin, they'd ring the bell,
ding, ding, something like that. But all of a sudden--I was there alone--the
bell started, ding, ding, ding, ding, like a funeral dirge. And I walked
over to it, I couldn't imagine what was the matter, and it said, "President
Roosevelt died this afternoon in Warm Springs." I still have that little
So, I jumped and ran, really ran, over to the White House, which was
only a couple of blocks away. I suppose people wondered what this crazy
guy was doing, but I got over there, and certainly I wasn't the first
one in the press room who knew of his death. Bob Nixon, I guess, may have
been down at Warm Springs.
HESS: Yes, he was.
WALSH: He was, and Doug Cornell. There's a good man. Do you know Douglas
Cornell? There would be a very good man to interview. He was down there
with Roosevelt. I thought you might be interested in him. He's with the
Associated Press, still there. And [Marvin] Arrowsmith, although Arrowsmith,
I think, covered mostly during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.
Doug Cornell was there quite often.
Well, to get back to the White House. I ran over there, and ran into
the Press Room. Most of those there weren't regulars covering the White
House. The regulars were down at Warm Springs, and the members of the
UP and the INS at that time, and the AP, they're there all the time. At
this moment, there couldn't have been more than four or five reporters
when I got to the White House, and they, of course, had gotten the news.
The press services were alerted first. So we went into Steve Early's office.
Eben Ayers was there at that time. When Truman came to the White House,
he came in the other way, we didn't see him. By that time they were gathering
all the Cabinet members and others. They had gathered in the Cabinet Room,
it still is the Cabinet Room there, and you know the layout--you know
where Steve Early's office, where the Press Secretary's office was.
HESS: Is that the West Wing?
WALSH: Yes, the West Wing. The press section is on the West Wing. Although
President Nixon has revised it quite a bit, but Early's office had a suite
of about two rooms, three rooms, and then there was a corridor going east.
They had their news tickers out there.
This led to the other room down there, another corridor, and toward the
Cabinet Room and then going from the Cabinet Room to the President's Office,
the Oval Room.
First of all, to get back to Wallace, I remember Henry Wallace coming
in, big shots were coming in one by one, or two by two. Wallace was literally
HESS: He was Secretary of Commerce then.
WALSH: He was Secretary of Commerce, yes, and somebody, I had this in
a story I just looked at the other day, and somebody had his arm around
him, not holding him up, of course, but sort of comforting him. I can't
think who it was. Either some Cabinet associate, or some other friend.
Wallace was really in tears. And, you know, it's a terrible thing to see
a man crying. And he really meant it. As I said, he was emotional, and
in spite of the fact that he had lost the Vice Presidency, and maybe he
thought Roosevelt didn't quite do the way he should have...
HESS: He might have been the man in the White House that day.
WALSH: Most of them went in the back. But they left the press, by then
there were hundreds of us. May
Craig and I were practically up in the front of the group in the corridor.
But they wouldn't let us go in the Cabinet Room. So we were about, I should
say as far as from here to the front door from the Cabinet Room, about
20 feet. The door was a little ajar. You've seen that picture where they're
all standing in front of the portrait of someone, George Washington, and
I could see Truman and Mrs. Truman and Margaret, who was a young girl
then, and Chief Justice Stone.
They all came in that entrance, most of them came in, rather than going
through the White House, for some reason. I suppose the fact that Roosevelt
had died, and the President wasn't there, so most of these Cabinet officers
came through the West Wing. I'm sure some came through the East Wing,
too, but Wallace and those people came in where the press went in, you
know, the West Wing.
Well, we could see them, but the actual swearing in, I can't claim that
I saw that. I did see Truman standing there, and then they sort of closed
the door a little more, and you could see a little, but couldn't hear
anything. So that's the closest I got.
Then we were bombarding Early if the new President was going to meet
the press, you know, we wanted to
talk to him. So Early apparently went in, or had word sent out, but Truman
sent out a message, very grateful, he said, but, "Under the circumstances,
I think it would not be appropriate for me to meet the press. I'm sorry
to disappoint you." Very nice thing. He didn't brush us off, and I'm sure
he said it. It wasn't something that Steve Early cooked up.
HESS: I have a question about those events. As you know, Steve Early
had been the Press Secretary until on the trip back from Yalta when Pa
[General Edwin M.] Watson died, and then he was made Administrative Assistant,
and Jonathan Daniels was officially the Press Secretary, and he was, as
I understand it, at the White House at this time. Steve Early and Jonathan
Daniels were both there. Do you remember seeing Jonathan Daniels?
WALSH: Yes, that's right. There again, I'm quoting Steve Early. It is
quite possible that Jonathan Daniels--they were both there, and Eben Ayers
was there. Whether they were all there...
HESS: Who seemed to be taking charge of the press, Early?
WALSH: Yes. In my opinion, at least, from what I saw. Of course, we were
just badgering everybody we could get, you know. And Eben was just--well,
he was the assistant, he was probably the first assistant.
Eben and I worked together - I don't know if you knew that. Eben worked
on the Providence Journal. He was head of the Associated Press
in Boston, chief of the bureau there, and he came down to the Journal,
in the thirties sometime for four or five years, as sort of executive
news editor. He had some title, sort of an overall coordinator between
the two papers.
HESS: Is that when you first met him?
WALSH: Yes, that's when I first met him. I had heard of him being in
Boston, of course, and I may have run into him in Boston. He was in Harrisburg
before that, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. But he was in Boston several years,
quite a few years. That's when I first got to know of him, then I got
to know him very well when I came down here.
That's one of the reasons I used to go over to the White House so often,
for these briefings, because very frequently he would handle the announcements
at news briefings.
In the Roosevelt days, the days that the press conferences were held,
they would never announce in advance as they do today, that, "The President
will have a press conference on Friday," and this and that. Roosevelt
usually had two a week, one in the morning,
let's see, on a Tuesday
HESS: Tuesday and Friday.
WALSH: Tuesday and Friday, something like that, and one in the afternoon,
and then the briefings every morning by his Press Secretary or Assistant
Secretary, but during the Roosevelt administration, that is the period
that year I was there, was familiar with it, we would have to call up
on Tuesdays or Fridays, "This is Robert Walsh of the Providence Journal.
Is the President having a press conference?"
"Well, I'd like to come." You see, tell them that you're coming. It was
a security arrangement for some reason. I don't know--well, it would have
made a difference. They didn't want a lot of people hanging around, I
guess, outside even.
Of course, the minute Truman came in, well, the war was almost over,
HESS: That was probably a wartime security precaution.
WALSH: Of course. When I got down there it was going on, and it must
have been on, maybe through most of the war, I don't know. Because the
security was very strict, soldiers and everything else, not ostentatiously,
but the White House was very well guarded.
HESS: What would be your evaluation of Mr. Roosevelt's handling of the
press conferences? How capable was he at fielding a question, and perhaps
not giving a direct answer to a question that was asked?
WALSH: Very capable. To preface the answer to that, the last year, Roosevelt's
voice--I forget to mention that--he didn't have a big huge voice, and
that was the thing that I noticed first.
HESS: You'd have to be on the first row to hear?
WALSH: You'd have to bend over, he spoke very low, and he was tired,
it was a tired low voice.
You know, when you get tired, your voice drops, I think I do it myself,
and his voice was very low, but he could speak sharply, and he was the
master of ridicule. Well, you've heard many stories about that.
But he was great at dodging a question, evading a question if he didn't
want to answer a question.
There's another thing I remember the way press conferences changed. In
those days, and I understand even before that, the press conference really
didn't, as we know it now, get started until the Hoover--really it was
the Roosevelt administration. That's when it got started.
Hoover had these--things, but there were submitted written questions,
and things like that, but Roosevelt really opened it up. But they had
this rule--if you asked the President, it was an unwritten rule, but it
was understood by every reporter that went there, that if you asked the
President a question and he said, "No comment," or declined to comment,
that was not to be reported. Do you see what I mean? This was a way of
getting around things. "Well, I better not say that." "Well, you wouldn't
say that." And, "That's off the record." And they didn't print the full
text as they do now so much. I remember that, so a President could pretty
much say, "No comment, or "I'd rather not say anything about that right
now," you're not supposed to even quote that non-quote. It would give
an implication that he was either dodging it or that he's hiding something,
or some great disclosure is coming out.
HESS: Was that a