Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
How important were Roosevelt's "fireside chats" in helping allay the fears of the public? Were they a way to spin information or to reach out to the public? Let's explore a presidential means of communicating with the public that has long been forgotten with time and technology.
These chats were vital for America during Roosevelt's presidency. It was a trying time for America.
Today we take the face of the President for granted. He is plastered on the television and in the newspaper every day. But when Roosevelt was in office, it was the radio that brought him into the lives of the American people. He used that technology to reach out to the people of the nation and make a deep connection with them. There was no internet.
Radio was the communication of the day. There was no television. There was no internet. The only way to reach a large audience at once was either through newspaper or the radio. People gathered around it to hear news, listen to music, or have stories acted out for them. In fact, the first soap operas were performed on the radio.
Power of Radio
Through the radio, his voice could be right there in the living room which gave the communication the title of ‘fireside chat’ as so many families would gather around the fire and listen intently to the words coming from the radio device. It was a means to communicate, but it was also a social event for families and communities.
Roosevelt took this time to personally explain the actions of the government under his charge and how it would impact the people directly. He didn't wait on the newspapers to do the reporting and spin it in the view they wanted. He was the first president to directly address the people and keep them updated in his own words.
His first address concerned the banking panic and how the government had dealt with it. He explained how everything worked for the people which allowed a vast majority of the banks to reopen the next day. (1) It reassured the nation that life would continue and that they were not completely destitute.
Faced the Issues
In one of his addresses, Roosevelt assured Americans that the actions taken to address the nation’s problems had been productive and that “the major part of them have greatly helped the well-being of the average citizen.” (2) He faced the issues and laid them all out to the American public. Instead of hiding behind a facade of peace and prosperity, Roosevelt laid it all out to the public while assuring the people of what was going on and that he was addressing all matters.
In the same address he acknowledge that “in the early spring of this year there were actually and proportionately more people out of work in this country than in any other Nation in the world.” (3) The chats became a connection that kept the people connected to their leader giving them the reassurance that all was well. It was a “significant development in building a direct and intimate bond between the president and the public.” (4) It was a big step in changing how the president and the people functioned.
The public were not in the dark about issues that directly impacted them. They felt like they were a part of the solution and aware of the progress.That didn't mean what they heard was not spun to make everything look better. It was better to hear it directly form the country's leader than to hear about it the next day or even later from the press who could spin it in any direction. His personal voice gave a reassurance and removed the distance between him and the people.
When someone feels that they know what is going on, what they face is not as frightening. Roosevelt connected to the people which gave them the reassurance they needed. It was vital at the time and changed politics forever.
(1) Eric Rauchway, Great Depression and the New Deal : A Very Short Introduction, (Cary: Oxford, 2008), 57.
(2) “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” The American Presidency Project, University of South Carolina, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=14537.
(4) Carah Ong, “This Day in History: Roosevelt Delivers First Fireside Chat,” University of Virginia,http://millercenter.org/ridingthetiger/this-day-in-history-roosevelt-delivers-first-fireside-chat.