Sunday, September 28, 2008

Critics of Joe Biden's FDR-TV Gaffe Are Ignorant of History Themselves

Republicans, the media, and John Stewart have been yukking it up about what Joe Biden said to Katie Couric, "When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"

John Stewart sagely informs us that (1) "Roosevelt wasn't President when the stock market crashed" (in 1929), and (2) "no one had televisions". And The New York Times helpfully offers that "Herbert Hoover was president when the stock market crashed, in 1929. Roosevelt did not take office until March of 1933. When he did, Roosevelt communicated to the people over radio — not television."

Well ... apparently neither Stewart nor the Editorial Board of The New York Times are media historians.

Here's a little history for them:

1. Herbert Hoover (then Secretary of Commerce) and Walter S. Gifford (President of AT&T) participated in a conversation via television hook-up between Washington and New York in .... tada tada ... 1927!

2. FDR gave a televised address from the 1939 World's Fair in New York ... thereby becoming the first U.S. President to be televised.

3. FDR was televised from a Democratic Rally in Madison Square Garden in October, 1940.

So, here is what is TRUE about what Stewart, the New York Times, et al have been saying about Biden's gaffe: (1) FDR was indeed not President when the stock market crashed in 1929.

And, here is what is FALSE about what Stewart, the New York Times, et al have been saying about Biden's gaffe: (1) Contrary to what Stewart said, there was indeed television in 1927. (2) Contrary to what The New York Times said, although FDR was known for his fireside radio chats (see my The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution for details), he indeed also communicated to Americans via television.

Now, television service was indeed much less common in the late 20s and the 30s and early 40s than it would soon after become, and Biden indeed was mostly in error in his statement to Couric ... But, media, next time you publicly take potshots at a VP candidate, open a book, look around a little on the Web, get your facts right ... It's not that hard.
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