Elijah FlerlageMedia Literacy (EMB 101-006)Final Paper (December 6, 2017)The month ofMarch 1933 – it was a horrendous time for the United States of America. Nearly a quarter of the nation’s working population was unemployed. Both farmers and bankers suddenly lost their livelihood. Stockswere down over 75% during the four years leading up to this month, and, inthose same four years, the national suicide rate had tripled. However, onMarch 12, 1933, former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt broadcast a worldfirst: his so-called “fireside chats”.
A time of panic and chaos,described as one of the worst economic crashes in recent history, neededRoosevelt’s hardy speech and collected manner to soothe a general publicexperiencing the Great Depression.FranklinDelano Roosevelt took office in 1933, facing the crippling depression and debtthat his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, passed on to him. At the start ofhis presidency, Roosevelt faced the Great Depression, which had spread acrossnearly the entire globe, resulted in bank failure, crippled the industrialproduction process, and left over thirteen million citizens unemployed. Also during the 1930’s, approximately 90% of the American populationowned a radio, so the ability to inform a widespread and encompassingpopulation of people was easily done and accessible to those whom had theproper materials. His first inaugural address hinted at the creation ofhis “fireside chats”, instilling a new confidence in those who watched, and presentedhis promise to the American people that he will build America to a newfoundrecovery (and also stated his widespread quote that “the only thing we have tofear is fear itself”). This promise would hold its truth, for theadministration under Roosevelt enacted the New Deal, Roosevelt’s plan to saveAmerica from collapsing under the adverse effects of the Great Depression,piecemeal over the span of his presidential career. His firstinformal speech was given on March 12, 1933, over public radio broadcast toaddress his initial actions to reverse the effects of the depression.
During this first speech, Roosevelt praised the public’s acceptance ofand respect for the “banking holiday”, which shut down all federal banks untila series of rigorous inspections was completed. Interestingly, thereopening of these banks did not cause the rush of cash withdrawal that theadministration suspected; instead, the banking system returned to normaloperations with a relatively normal level of traffic. This shocking resultseemed to show that the “fireside chat” succeeded and indicated that somepublic confidence had been restored to some extent. The radio speechesthat followed covered a wide variety of topics, each with personal commentaryon policies that could be understood by the most amount of people (Rooseveltwas keen in using simplistic terminology as to not scare any one person awayfrom his message.
). Topics ranging from the judiciary branch (March 1937)and the coal crisis (May 1943) to nation defense (May 26) and the fall ofdictator Benito Mussolini (July 1943), these seemingly informal speeches weregreat tools to show personality and to promptly inform the public. The public’sreaction to these talks were dominated by positive reviews. Reaching anaverage of 58% of Americans, the radio speeches resulted in a clear upwardtrend in America’s confidence, shown by the barrage of letters to the WhiteHouse regarding them, an increased compliance, and Roosevelt’s extremely highapproval ratings while in office. The level of familiarity in whichpolitics were presented made each citizen feel as if they were part of thelegislation process, and, due in part to the conversational diction used, manybegan to have feelings that a relationship between them and Roosevelt wasformed. Most importantly, related to America’s boost in confidence, thegeneral population began to trust him and his administration – the line ofcommunication was proved victorious.Though thedirect effects of his chats can be seen in the effectiveness of the New Dealand his unprecedented number of terms serves as President, I believe that theeffects could be seen in the methods that future presidents used to reach outto the public and to seem more personable.
At the risk of using personalopinion, I believe that each proceeding President took on more open-ended,personal roles in educating the public. The Nixon-Kennedy debates, thefirst to be televised on national television, were ways that the public coulduse media platforms to directly address citizens. In addition, everypresident since Roosevelt has public delivered addresses to American citizenson radio, television, and now, the internet. In fact, I would argue that practices of issuing an addresses was adirect result of the spread that Roosevelt’s chats had. In 1982, Ronald Reagan began issuingsimilarly styled radio speeches nearly every Saturday, for he too believed inthe value of connecting to the average citizen.
Even Bill Clinton was a proponent of this style of colloquial speech.Even in thetwo most recent presidencies can we observe the effects that showingpersonality can have. I believe that social media, while somewhatcolloquial in nature, have amazing platforms that allowed administrators topublically share opinions and views on public policy and current events. Former president Barack Obama is known for having an enormous followingon Twitter, being within the top ten worldwide most “followed” people. His creation of the official Twitter of the President of the UnitedStates, aptly named @POTUS, allowed Obama to portray himself as an ordinarycitizen to seem relatable. (Amusingly, this account’s first reply was ahumorous interaction between Obama and Bill Clinton.) Similarly,President Donald Trump’s use of twitter to discuss current events has amassedan impressive reaction from people around the globe.
The current newschannels will often display screenshots directly from his Twitter account andview these as primary news sources – whenever I tune into news channels atnight, I nearly always see a report one of Trump’s Tweets. This abilityto distribute information quickly has resulted in a more educated public, but aPresident’s ability and willingness to showcase personality and opinion can be tracedto Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats”.Famed novelistSaul Bellow gave a recollection of his experiences with the “fireside chats”:”drivers had pulled over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on their radiosto hear Roosevelt.” Like Bellow, many Americanswere moved by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speeches. They felted joined to him, not necessarily considering the formerpresident’s words but his nurturing and reassuring tone.
We can see that Roosevelt revolutionized themethods that presidents used to communicate, starting with some humble chatsabout public policy over the radio.