Herbert Hoover photo

Address to the Gridiron Club

December 12, 1931

Members of the Gridiron Club and guests:

I know that I represent all of the guests in expressing our gratitude to the Gridiron Club for their hospitality and entertainment. We have had a highly educational evening. We guests fully realize that this is the semiannual occasion when the representatives of the press make their contribution to lofty ideals, to unity and solidarity of national action in the presence of national danger by rubbing the salt of wit, the vinegar of hyperbole, and the iodine of satire into the raw wounds of politics. That is all natural and appropriate, for just as the village gossip satisfies the soul of both Main Street and Wall Street, also the gossip and the humor of politics and public life are always more interesting and surely more relaxing than striving to serve one's fellow men, especially after dinner.

For nearly 20 years I have attended Gridiron dinners. On each occasion I have listened to the solemn announcement that "ladies are always present and reporters never present." During all of these years I have wondered about that statement. I do not challenge its honest intent, but every one of you will read in the Sunday newspapers a full account of these proceedings, except, I hasten to add, the partially extemporaneous efforts of Mr. Blythe 1 and myself. If you are conversant with the newspaper world, you will know that this account of the proceedings is always released by the Gridiron Club itself a week in advance. It is not a leak, it is a flood. The procedure no doubt enables the Gridiron members conscientiously to obey their sacred rule, because the murder has already been committed. Another explanation may be that secrecy is limited to addresses by guests, because either the Gridiron Club has no confidence in the humor of its guests, wishes to protect the public from it, or considers it must be censored.

In any event the news release of a week ago describing what has taken place here tonight, contained description of a skit on White House censorship. That is a thorny subject, as old as the Government and involving the theory that the principal job of Presidents is to make news for both morning and afternoon editions each day, and particularly that it shall have a mixed flavor of human-interest story and a dog fight that will please the village gossips. A revered President, long since dead, once told me that there was no solution to this relation of the White House to the press; that there never would be a President who could satisfy the press until he was 20 years dead.

Let me say from some experience that the conduct of public business, both domestic and foreign, nine times out of ten is a matter of delicate negotiation, of long and patient endeavor to bring about the meeting of many minds. One critical essential in all such negotiations is to avoid the rock of announced positions and the inflammation of public controversy by which measures affecting men and nations may be wrecked before a common understanding may be reached through the long and tedious process of give and take. But naturally the correspondents under pressure to discover every step of such processes and to envisage every difference of opinion in those terms of combat, to satisfy the village gossips would require to have minute-by-minute access to the most confidential conversation--for both morning and evening editions--and to have mimeographed copies of all foreign dispatches. Not always having these facilities given to them they must satisfy the managing editor somehow at least by a column damning the Government for secrecy, with forebodings and a dark conspiracy against public interest with Wall Street, or Downing Street, or some other dark alley. Yet if all of these facilities were offered minute-by-minute the press would be entirely upset because such facilities are of no importance unless given as individual scoop to the exclusion of every other newspaper.

As a matter of fact things are not that bad. On the contrary, the access of the press to the President and other officials here in Washington is without parallel in any nation. Moreover, the vast majority of the correspondents possess an amazing ability to follow the intricate movements of this most gigantic of all organizations on Earth. Considering the time at their disposal, they report them intelligently, objectively, with astounding accuracy and penetration. They possess a sense of honesty, public responsibility, a deep patriotism, and the high importance of a scoop.

The press suffers from many other impositions. I recently received an explanation of some of them from my friend, Dr. [William A.] White, who heads St. Elizabeths Hospital for the insane in the District of Columbia. You are aware that Dr. White is a leader of the modern school of psychotherapy. This is an important and growing branch of the physician's science. The discoveries made in it have been most helpful in accounting for human behavior. Our language and our ideas have been enriched by its discoveries. A new nomenclature has grown up from it.

Dr. White informs me that there is a very definite pathological type which is known as the "exhibitionists" and that they peculiarly congregate in our National Capital.

I will not go into the doctor's definition of an exhibitionist; suffice it to say they comprise those who have an abnormal desire to preen into public. One well-defined form is represented by those who visit the White House to say a hurried few words to the President and on leaving hand out a long statement to the reporters at the door on subjects that have never been or little discussed with the President, but with the firm confidence that the implication of their visit will put them on page one, column one. There are other varieties of exhibitionists and dwellers in that twilight of near sanity, illuminated only with brainstorms, who collect around this neighborhood; but as I make it a practice never to say anything that cannot be forgiven, I shall not pursue the subject.

You have heard something tonight about cooperation between the political parties. The country needs cooperation. But do not forget that ours is a government built upon political parties. There is no method by which the American people can express their public will except through party organization. The day that we begin coalition government you may know that our democracy has broken down. Constructive opposition is an essential to the very functioning of our democracy, and no less certainly destructive opposition at this stage of the world's history is the road to the abyss. Political leaders can cooperate and maintain their identity. And political parties, having been elected to power whether in the executive or in the Congress, have a definite and positive responsibility to the people and an expectation from them of patriotic action which overrides all partisanship. No party can stand among the American people which will not accept its full responsibilities.

The Republican administration has the responsibility and duty of providing a program in a time of great national emergency. That program has been provided. It is not partisan. It favors no group except those in need. It calls for sacrifice evenly, each according to his means. It will provide such further recommendations as the times may require. I am as confident of the actual cooperation of our Democratic colleagues in national service as I am confident of their patriotism, but I do not doubt that they will contribute to the anvil of debate.

I need not remind you that these are difficult times. Never in peacetime has the Executive and the Congress been confronted with greater responsibilities. They are times which require broad sympathies and great sacrifices. They are times which require stern and resolute action of Government and it requires equally stern and resolute action by citizens.

The whole situation requires unity of action in our Nation. It demands cooperation. It demands courageous action by governments and by men. It demands that men rise above party and political advantage.

1 Samuel G. Blythe was president of the Gridiron Club in 1907.

Note: The President spoke at a dinner meeting held in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The Gridiron Club, an organization of Washington newsmen, met semiannually for a dinner and satirical review of current political events. Remarks at the dinners were off-the-record, but President Hoover's were later published.

Herbert Hoover, Address to the Gridiron Club Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207075

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