Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

May 18, 1937

THE PRESIDENT: There isn't very much news; but before we talk about news, I am going to ask you for a very few minutes to resolve ourselves into a Committee of the Whole. Off the record, wholly off the record, I wanted to tell you a story that I think you ought to know because it does affect the Press of the country. I think you will all agree on that, when you hear what I am going to read. As you know, I have always encouraged, and am entirely in favor of, absolute freedom for all news writers. That should be and will continue to be the general rule in Washington. That applies to all news services, for that matter.

There have come out, though, in the past couple of weeks two things from one news service which, in a sense, do affect the Press of the country as a whole.

The McClure Syndicate, as you probably know—I don't know if you have all seen it—sends out to about 270 papers every week these [indicating] white sheets for publication which constitute the column in these papers. Of course it is absolutely legitimate that they should collect this news at the White House, or from Congress or from anybody else. With these white sheets for publication, there goes out at the same time, a pink sheet as information for the editor, marked not for publication but sent to the editor in confidence. Of course you and I know that that is not a news service in the strict sense of the word, but it goes out with the news service and you pay for the whole service at the same time.

Now, there are two things in here that I think you people ought to know about. As I say, this is off the record, and just in the family. This pink slip [indicating] dated May 14-15, has the following:

"Unchecked. A New York specialist high in the medical field is authority for the following, which is given in the strictest confidence to editors:

"'Towards the end of last month Mr. Roosevelt was found in a coma at his desk. Medical examination disclosed the neck rash which is typical of certain disturbing symptoms. Immediate treatment of the most skilled kind was indicated, with complete privacy and detachment from official duties. Hence the trip to southern waters, with no newspaper men on board and a naval convoy which cannot be penetrated.

"'The unusual activities of Vice President Garner are believed to be in connection with the current situation and its possible developments.'

"Checking has been impossible."

That is number one.

Number 2. This is from the McClure Newspaper Syndicate of May 12-13:

"At a recent private dinner in New York an official of the American Cyanamid expressed in extreme form the bitterness towards the administration which is typical of the personal reactions of many right-wing leaders in business and finance.

"The gentleman in question asserted in so many, words that 'the paranoiac in the White House' is destroying the nation, that a couple of well-placed bullets would be the best thing for the country, and that he for one would buy a bottle of champagne as quick as he could get it to celebrate such news." That is all I wanted to tell you because, after all, all I think I have to do is to repeat that I have been in favor, as you all know, of any legitimate news reporting or news service, no matter what its origin may be and no matter whether for friendly papers or hostile papers—it makes no difference.

Q. Is that off the record?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, absolutely.

Q. Is that signed?

THE PRESIDENT: It is sent out by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.

Q. Unsigned?

THE PRESIDENT: Richard Waldo is editor.

Q. How about that clipping?

THE PRESIDENT: That was clipped out of another paper. It was used by a radical paper in order to point out the terrible things that are being said by the conservatives, but it has been used in the press.

Q. But the original pink sheet—you read from the original sheet?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, there it is [indicating]. That is the one. I do not have a copy of the other one; but I suppose we have it somewhere. That is the pink slip that goes out.

Q. I did not mean to interrupt you. Have you more to say?

THE PRESIDENT: No; I think we understand each other very well. We have been friends for a good many years and I am very keen that the newspapers of the country—not only our particular family group—should retain the admirable relationships and high regard we have always had.

Q. There is no doubt about the second one—it is the pink slip.

THE PRESIDENT: And it is alleged to be in this paper.

MR. EARLY: It was only received this afternoon and we have not had time to check against it.

Q. That is not newspaper reporting.

THE PRESIDENT: That is just it, it is not newspaper reporting.

Q. Have you taken the matter up with the syndicate?

THE PRESIDENT: No, certainly not.

Q. Isn't that second one actionable under law?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, that does not make any difference at all. The President of the United States does not sue for libel and the Department of Justice does not proceed for libel.

Q. Is it due to the syndicate itself? It might be a fraud.

MR. EARLY: It was checked with Mr. Waldo; and Mr. Waldo promised to retract the pink slip with reference to the coma and the President's compulsion to make the trip south, if the White House would issue an official denial. Of course the White House would not do it.

Q. How much of this is off the record?

THE PRESIDENT: It is all off the record; all strictly in the family and nothing else, because I thought you people were entitled to know some of the things that go on that none of us approve of. Neither you, nor I, nor the public, nor I believe the great majority of editors would approve of it.

So, that is all right; the Committee will now recess.

The only thing I can tell you, I think, is that I am going to send up, within a day or two, the Buenos Aires treaties to the Senate. I have them here on the desk; and they are going to go up in two or three days.

Q. Which treaties are those?

THE PRESIDENT: The treaties resulting from the Buenos Aires Conference in December.

Q. As we came in we heard the band playing on the lawn. Is there any special significance to that?

THE PRESIDENT: I think the point is well taken. (Laughter)

Q. It is the Grass Roots Convention, I guess. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: That is all right, Fred [Essary].

Q. Some time ago there was made public a communication you sent to the heads of departments and bureaus, asking for suggestions as to what they could do in the way of economy in the current year; and they were asked to report to you or Dan Bell by May 1. Is there anything you can tell us on that?

THE PRESIDENT: I have not checked the figures, except to say that they have reported and that we expect to make the economies. I see no reason why Dan should not give you the figures. There has been excellent cooperation ....

Q. There seems to be a strange temerity here today, about asking about the Supreme Court. One of the Senators, who has been discussed as a possible Associate Justice, said he would be disqualified, and necessarily the others would be who voted for the Supreme Court retirement on the theory that they had changed the emoluments of office. Is that your construction?

THE PRESIDENT: Honestly, I have not thought of it. I have not given any consideration in relation to an appointment, and I don't know. That is a brand new one. I would hate even to give a snap judgment on it.

Q. Will Justice Van Devanter's retirement affect your program in connection with the Court program?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think there is any news in that.

Q. Are you insisting on an enactment of legislation this session?

THE PRESIDENT: I am not insisting on the enactment of any legislation this session. What I have said all along was that if we could get some further step forward in our general objectives, it would be a good thing—a desirable thing.

Q. What is your general impression of the bill that was submitted to the House by the group of farm leaders who were called here by Wallace?

THE PRESIDENT: I have not read it. I probably will read it tomorrow or the next day. But the point, I think, should be made that this bill, as I understand it, came primarily from the farm leaders and was not written by the Department of Agriculture. But, taking it by and large, the Department feels that it is along the right lines—the principles are pretty good and the thing is being taken up now, I think, in the House Committee. But as to whether it will go through with the changes or not, I don't know.

Q. Mr. President, when will your legislation or suggestions of legislation for maximum hours and minimum wages be ready for Congress?

THE PRESIDENT: Did you say when?

Q. Yes sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Isn't that assuming that it is going up?

Q. We have all understood that it would go up.

THE PRESIDENT: I think your guess is pretty good that there will be something on it, recommended.

Q. Soon?

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot tell you; but I should say fairly soon.

Q. Can you give us a list of the highly desirable legislation for this session?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't had time to write it out as yet.

Q. Can you tell us what you discussed with Senators Harrison and Byrnes today?

THE PRESIDENT: Budgetary-wide matters.

Q. Economy?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course budgetary matters are always related to economy.

Q. Mr. President, do you expect to make an appointment to the Supreme Court soon?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't thought about it at all. Absolutely no consideration.

Q. Under the law, if the vacancy occurs on June 2 and Congress is in session, you will have to send it in before the end of the session. Isn't that true?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so.

Q. Do you still think it is a good rule not to appoint anybody to the Federal bench who is over 60?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't given any consideration to it at all.

Q. You announced that rule?

THE PRESIDENT: You also must remember that I have, fairly recently, promoted one or two District Judges to the Circuit Court of Appeals who were over 60—as a promotion.

Q. We were thinking of original appointments.

THE PRESIDENT; I haven't given any consideration to it at this time. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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