Lincoln and the Power of the Press. By Harold Holzer. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2014. 733 pp.
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. By Doris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. 910 pp.
In 1854 Abraham Lincoln posed for a photograph holding a copy of the Chicago Daily Democrat. In those days, it was common for people to hold something that represented their trade: blacksmiths, for example, posed with anvils. That Lincoln, a politician, posed with a newspaper, indicates it was a tool of his trade.
Harold Holzer writes in Lincoln and the Power of the Press that the photograph showed how important the press was to politicians. According to Holzer, journalists and politicians in Lincoln's time often worked together "so closely that it was impossible to determine where one organization ended its work and the other began it" (p. xvi). But some 30 years later, the press was just as important to Teddy Roosevelt and his unfortunate successor, William Howard Taft. Doris Kearns Goodwin argues in The Bully Pulpit that Roosevelt succeeded, in large part, because he was good at using the press: Taft failed because he was not.
Holzer's Lincoln was just as successful if not more so than Roosevelt. From his earliest experiences as a politician, Lincoln crafted his speeches with an eye for the press. While rival congressmen would gesticulate wildly and pontificate for the galleries, Lincoln would casually stroll the aisles and speak with a sense of humor and in the vernacular that would appeal to the home folks. During his debates with Douglas, Lincoln made sure that a reporter for one of the Republican papers was available to transcribe his words. At the debate in Freeport, Illinois, the reporter was late. Lincoln noticed he was missing and tried to delay his opening speech until he arrived. "Ain't Hitt here? Where is he?" Lincoln was overheard to say, referring to Robert Hitt of the Chicago Press and Tribune (pp. 179-80).
The debates made Lincoln nationally famous, but Holzer relates that Lincoln had the foresight to collect coverage of the speeches from both Democratic and Republican newspapers and create a scrapbook that was published and became a bestseller. The book was an effective way to communicate Lincoln's views in the 1860 election, when presidential candidates did not usually give campaign speeches. Lincoln was also a big believer in campaign newspapers, which were...