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Robert K. Walsh Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview
with
Robert K. Walsh

Reporter for the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, 1928-46,
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]


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.

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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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



Oral History Interview with
Robert K. Walsh

Washington, DC
October 12, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess

[1]

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

 

[2]

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 the editor.

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

 

[3]

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

 

[4]

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 time?

 

[5]

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 desk.

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 the country.

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

 

[6]

at that time. He knew just all about Rhode Island. So that's when I first met Roosevelt.

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?

WALSH: Yes.

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

 

[7]

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

 

[8]

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.

 

[9]

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 President.

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

 

[10]

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?

 

[11]

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 of it.

 

[12]

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

 

[13]

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 Vice President.

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

 

[14]

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 chats.

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 succeed Roosevelt.

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,

 

[15]

the thing that really soured me on him, and not him personally, was later, I guess, in the '52 campaign, when the Progressive Party...

HESS: '48.

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 worried when

 

[16]

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

 

[17]

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

 

[18]

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

 

[19]

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.

 

[20]

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 Hyde Park."

HESS: He went up to Hyde Park for a few days before he went to…

 

[21]

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 press conferences.

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.

 

[22]

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 bulletin.

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.

 

[23]

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.

 

[24]

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 crying, weeping.

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

 

[25]

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

 

[26]

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.

 

[27]

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,

 

[28]

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?"

"Yes."

"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, you know.

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.

 

[29]

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.

 

[30]

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