This is CNN . . . in 1945

What if something like CNN and modern communications were around in early 1945? What if the rules of presidential news coverage were then as they are now? And what if such a mythical CNN hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt as much as it despises Donald Trump, then as right-wing as it is now hard left? How would the daily news in a mythical 1945 treat a now-iconic FDR? What would the country have thought of its president?

In the manner that we’ve learned that Donald Trump supposedly eats double servings of fast food and gulps down a dozen diet sodas a day, we instead might hear similar CNN “exclusives” about presidential diet and health, either from “unknown” sources in the White House or “fake news” exaggerations of rumor and innuendo.

Wolf Blitzer might give us a news bulletin something like this: “CNN in an exclusive report has learned that President Roosevelt is a sick, maybe dying, man. But the true nature of his health has long been covered up, most notably in last year’s election and is even now more dishonesty hidden. CNN has learned that the conspiracy of silence among the president’s family, his staff, and his doctors is long-standing, scandalous—and, in this reporter’s view, dangerous.”

“Sources tell me that the president’s blood pressure routinely hits 240 over 140. He has lost 40 pounds. Some sources tell CNN that the president suffers from chronic sinus and urinary infections. He may be battling skin cancer. CNN is now learning that the president could never walk or even stand up on his own.”

“That image of a robust president was also inaccurate—the fiction of collusion that for years has hidden the true extent of the president’s paralysis from the American people. CNN has also learned that President Roosevelt has been absent from the White House for weeks at a time and has been too ill to work at his desk. Yet he continues to chain smoke and drink a series of stiff drinks each evening, a habit dating back to Prohibition before he was president.”

“As one source put it to CNN, ‘He is incorrigible. We try to get the president to eat healthier food and stop smoking and drinking. No dice. He is like a child, scarfing down eggs, honey biscuits, sugary gelatin, and cottage cheese, smiling while he mixes martinis for his buddies and puffing away on that infernal cigarette holder. Does he want to die eating that stuff?’”

“CNN has also contacted a number of medical experts at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington. One told us off the record, ‘He should never have run for reelection. I doubt he makes it ’til May. A sick man like that has no business running the war.’”

The President is a Cheater
If the 21st-century rules of etiquette prevailed in 1945, the CNN of that era would no doubt inform all 140 million Americans about the intimacies of FDR’s sex life.

Here might be Jim Acosta’s evening lowdown: “Our sources also report that president of the United States has long conducted a number of extramarital affairs. To this correspondent what I was told seems shocking, but here it is nonetheless. Now instead of the past ‘Missy’ and ‘Daisy’ in FDR’s bedroom, there is this ‘Lucy’ again.”

“For all practical purposes, the president and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt long ago have lived separate lives, despite their public posturing. We are told the current object of presidential affection is once again socialite and former personal secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt, Lucy Mercer Rutherford. She seems to be running the White House, if not the country. I’ve been told by a number of key administration insiders that the president’s own daughter Anna has moved into the White House and serves as the go-between for Lucy and the president—to the furor of her mother who feels betrayed by her own daughter.”

“CNN has also contacted one unnamed Republican senator who expressed outrage in confirming Washington’s best-kept secret. He said, ‘We all know what is going on. It’s a panty show up there. The president is incorrigible. He’s always been a serial womanizer. It is not enough that we hear that he is nearly incapacitated and was taken to the cleaners at Yalta, but now we learn he sure had enough time to conduct an affair in the White House!’

“Another unnamed aide put it more bluntly: ‘The guy could drop dead any minute and yet he uses the last bit of his energy to sneak around with that Mercer woman. What a con.’”

The President is a Sick Man
So what would CNN conclude about Roosevelt’s last year in office? Impending defeat of Nazi Germany? A collapsing imperial Japan? A roaring economy? Hardly.

Instead, the headlines would be juicy and slanted, designed to confirm the dismal presidential portraits above.

Anderson Cooper might inform us: “CNN has been told by a number of sources close to the president that he is scarcely able to sit upright and talk. Roosevelt has hardly even spoken to his own vice president, Harry Truman. We are now learning from a number of key aides that Democratic insiders forced Truman on the ticket in fears that Vice President Henry Wallace would likely be president this year. They supposed that Roosevelt either is going to be soon removed for health reasons or is already incapacitated.”

“CNN has informally surveyed a number of top historians and political analysts to discover whether FDR’s health and personal life have affected the current conduct of the war. A Yale psychiatrist put it bluntly: ‘He’s in denial. A total fantasy world. I’m not so worried that he is sick, but that he deludes himself into thinking he’s well. He needs an intervention.’”

“One Harvard expert told CNN: ‘Well, we lost everything at Yalta. Just turned it over to Stalin. So much for free elections in Eastern Europe. But how was a sick president going to know how that busybody Alger Hiss and that gang were working for the other side? And now FDR is mad at Uncle Joe and feels betrayed? Well, what did they expect? Uncle Joe told us off the record he ‘pitied’ our president. Sad that a half-dead FDR is throwing away a decade of a pretty damn good record.’”

Anderson Cooper might continue: “Another high-ranking general expressed disgust at the president’s hidden agendas. Although CNN was unable to confirm his charges, he insisted that there is a ‘big boom’ on the way. He would not elaborate but claimed that a new super bomb may soon be dropped—and that Vice President Harry Truman hasn’t a clue about it, despite $1 billion already spent off-budget and missing from the public record.

“The general also ridiculed Roosevelt’s direction of the war. ‘He might have been on top of things in 41 or 42 but not now. Did any heads roll for those disasters at the Bulge or the Hürtgen? Whose bright idea is it now to barge head on into Okinawa or park the fleet off that damned island with all those suicide bombers in the sky? There will be hell to pay when no one at the top is in charge. Okinawa will make Iwo look like a picnic.’”

The Lesson is One of Degree
Back to 2018. Note that Roosevelt was an effective wartime president. He probably should not have run in 1944, but the voters apparently had legitimate considerations of continuity of wartime command, as well as an appreciation for a booming economy and near-defeated enemies. If a CNN circa 1944 had reported on Roosevelt as it now does Trump, FDR might never have been elected to a fourth term.

My point is not whether the news of Roosevelt’s health, sex life, or ability to do the job should have been reported, or if it had been, would have been largely accurate.

Rather, the lesson is one of degree. What would have been broadcast to the nation by CNN would foremost have reflected the ratings-driven network’s biases and thus been warped to achieve the political agenda of discrediting the president whom CNN despised, and nullifying his leadership—rather than letting the voting public have unadulterated facts without editorializing to make informed decisions.

The same experiment could have been repeated with an entirely out-of-control libido of JFK in 1962, the titillation overshadowing his legislative and foreign policy records. Would we like to know that JFK deflowered virgins in the presidential bed or that he faced down Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis? For those of you whose answer is “both,” then we surely did not get the former story along with the latter.

Not a Medieval Morality Play
Reporting on any president should not be just 24/7 scandal-mongering or monotonous editorializing, but rather first informing whether his efforts hurt or improve the country. A president is not the sum total of his worst moments, any more than Barack Obama should have been nightly assessed mostly on his bouts of inanity and sloppy talk—ridiculing the Special Olympics, confusing the Falklands with Maldives, calling Mitt Romney a “bullshitter,” ridiculing the Tea Party with
“teabagger” sexual smears, urging his supporters to “get in their faces,” not to “take a knife to a gunfight” and “punish our enemies,” or unleashing his aides to demean war-veteran and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu as a “chickenshit” and “coward” speaking “aspergery,” a tasteless reference to Asperger Syndrome.

There is no doubt that FDR always had health problems, led a far more unhealthy life than did the nonsmoking, nondrinking Trump, and liked to enjoy what his massive inherited wealth provided, as much as does the billionaire Donald Trump.

But the worst of FDR was not the whole FDR. A right-wing 1945 version of CNN, mutatis mutandis, would have driven a president out of office and reduced a distinguished record to a gossip sheet of a duplicitous and reckless adulterer. Presidential reporting is not a medieval morality play in which an irate CNN chooses sinners to be damned to hell and the virtuous to be deified.

The reason an ill, secretive, and adulterous FDR of poor habits and failing judgment has a stellar presidential record today is, at least in part, because the media of 1945 never covered him or his impressive achievements in the way that an obsessed CNN of 2018 covers Trump.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the newly released The Dying Citizen.

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33 responses to “This is CNN . . . in 1945”

  1. Another great VDH article. I really enjoy his writing.

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  2. A disgusting article. FDR was garbage. A liar. He ignored the precedent set by Washington, a man of actual honor and integrity. He is positively disgusting in the pictures of Yalta where he looks like he is in the middle of a love affair with one of the most evil men in all of history, Stalin.

    VDH gets it exactly backwards. If we had an honest press back then they would have revealed to the American public the true nature of the man who hated the Constitution and was it’s sworn enemy. The men who did the fighting in WWII won it, not that piece of garbage politician who lied at every opportunity to get us into the war.

  3. All “liberalism” is Marxism and all Marxists are the enemy of humanity.
    They are what Orwell tried to warn us about.

  4. I seldom disagree with VDH, but what he describes here would have been a great service to the nation.

    • But back then after WWII,, (Wolf Blitzer) types,, they would’ve been shot in the streets.. Van Jones ,,,,,,, tarred and feathered,,, Como,, cement shoes!!!

  5. All that, and it doesn’t even touch how a 1945 CNN would have constantly been harping on how many Germans and Japanese were getting killed each day and what evil, marauding bastards the Allied armies are.

    • Good point Morrill — They’d have been saying “Open the Borders” and “Give Amnesty” to any and all who got here as they’d contribute so much to our country via invasion. Sorry CNN but coming across a country’s borders without permission or invitation is INVASION whether you do it in a tank or on foot dragging your two year old kid.

  6. What silliness….the chop-logic here is the fabled childhood reasoning, “everybody else is doing it.” Is the point of this that, yes, we are in deep do-do, just as were in 1945? Produce something serious, please.

  7. Big difference…. the CNN of 1945 would have been reporting the truth. Today, they simply sell Fake News.

  8. What history shows is the media was just as left wing in 1945 as it is today. The media hid the real FDR and attacked his enemies, just as their descendants hid Clinton and Obama. The left wing propaganda ministry has run the press since at least the 1930’s. The lesson to be learned is never trust the media. The media serves up all the fake news you should believe to remain obedient.

    • The media has always been left wing even back before our founding. Read about the underhanded use of the media by Thomas Jefferson or the bat-guano-crazy attacks on Lincoln.

    • Propaganda works though. Especially when one of the parties (Republicans) have the spines of jelly fish and go into a defensive crouch (or pile on) when one of their own is attacked.

  9. No need to go as far back as FDR. What about JFK and LBJ???

    • Pravda supported the Russian Bolsheviks, CNN supports American Bolsheviks.

  10. Media is a business. The entire non-Murdoch news media has thrown in with the Democrats. Now it is a race to the bottom to take market share.

    • I was forced to watch CNN for about 2 hours in October (in a public building). I didn’t realize how far out in left field they have gone. It was obvious they are trying to attract lefty Trump haters. A lot of conspiracy theories and “this just in” stories about the latest anti-Trump news. It was very petty though. Even if their stories were true (Niger was Trump’s fault) it was…..well petty.

  11. I’m usually a big fan of VDH, but for me this article does not seem to accomplish what he was obviously trying to achieve. I cannot envision CNN ever being truthful to much extent. If CNN was the same Leftwing biased entity it is today and has been as many years as I have been aware of them, then I cannot envision them revealing FDR’s fallacies. Rather, they’d be spiking most of the bad news about him, excusing bad decisions or blaming them on the generals, and gushing over all the victories as due to his brilliance. FDR was a Lefty Progressive and a perfect illustration of where the disastrous Obama would be were it not for the 22nd Amendment.

    • The articles assumption is that the 1945 CNN was right wing

      • Correct. The story is saying Trump = Roosevelt (in the eyes of the media) and CNN = CNN.

  12. Great piece, as usual. CNN is a disgrace, and often referred to as the “Clinton News Network,” or even the “Communist News Network.” Not even NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS are that bad, although they are often close. MSNBC is worse yet, but most people understand that they are just rank partisans for the extreme left. Today, only FOX gets anywhere near fair, and that is mostly because of Bret Baier and a few others.

  13. I’ve read that the press knew about the more squalid parts of FDR and JFK, but obviously never published the stories. Did they do this out of some great virtue or was it because even then they were still just an extension of the democrat party?

  14. The very last time I watched CNN was in the days of the Clinton administration / blue dress / Matt Drudge. One of the CNN Sunday morning shows had this older newsman/journalist (?) on talking about the influence of the internet, lack of gatekeeper, etc.

    This older guy was really upset with the internet because it would interfere with the “media’s ability to influence public opinion.” Eventually I stopped watching all TV news.

  15. There was a t=right wing commentator in 1945 who hated Roosevelt. His name was Westbrook Pegler but he at least had a sense of humor. For Christmas card he sent a photo of himself and Eleanor Roosevelt together.

  16. No, this is not how an adversarial media would have covered FDR.

    Trump’s only weakness is his favourable attitude towards Kushner, and his tribe.

    FDR was guilty of far more than this, and Eleanor and every one of his aides were commie traitor scum. An adverserial media would have called for a military or civilian uprising to overthrow that subhuman, anti-American garbage licker.

  17. The LSM would be doing the same thing to anyone who had the nerve to beat their Queen.

  18. Since it was in the middle of WWII, CNN would be committing treason. And given the times, they would be silenced (by the viewers if not the government).

    Blitzer would be found with a gunshot wound behind the ear,

    Acosta would be found with a slit throat,

    And Cooper would not be on the air given the sexual morays of the day, Gays were NOT out of the closet.

    I almost miss the old days….

  19. If the media vs the President was during WW2 as it is today, think about Pearl Harbor. If the NYT could put Abu Ghraib on their front page for 34 consecutive days, whether there actually was news or not (as a way to go after President Bush), imagine how they would have treated Pearl Harbor and Roosevelt. They would have found a couple of Cindy Sheehan type mothers to parade out and ask how FDR could have allowed their boys to be killed.

  20. Or how about this one. Roosevelt ran in 1940 as the peace candidate, saying he will keep us out of war. Yet he had already met with Churchill to go over war plans for once the US was in it. Of course that was the right thing to do, but still, he lied. What if someone would have leaked the notes to that meeting, showing Roosevelt lied to get elected.

    • Well don’t forget the same strategy worked for Wilson in 1916 and for LBJ in 1964

  21. Thank you very much Dr Hanson.

    You didn’t even have to use:

    – FDR locked up all the Japanese American citizens
    – the 2000 troops killed in training accidents preparing for D-Day that was kept secret
    – the horrible inferiority of M4 Sherman tanks to German tanks that got lots of troops killed