A newspaper accused the president’s family of profiting from a foreign deal. The president sued.Breaking News
tags: presidential history, Teddy Roosevelt, Trump, libel
The president was furious over “scurrilous and libelous” newspaper articles alleging wrongdoing by men linked to his administration. Somebody should sue the newspapers for libel, he suggested. Maybe even the federal government should do it.
The president was Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1908 was stirred to anti-press rhetoric that foreshadowed the anger of President Trump about what he calls the fake-news media. That anger has ramped up as Trump, his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and their associates have come under scrutiny for an alleged foreign influence campaign of their own.
But back in 1908, Roosevelt campaigned for fellow Republican William Howard Taft to be his successor. A month before Election Day, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World disclosed charges that a secret American “syndicate” made “huge profits” from the U.S. purchase of the Panama Canal property from France for $40 million. Those involved allegedly included relatives of both Roosevelt and Taft.
The day before the election, the Indianapolis News published an editorial asking, “Who Got the Money?” The result was the biggest presidential attack on the press since John Adams jailed journalists under the notorious Alien and Sedition Acts, which barred criticism of the president.
In contrast to Trump, Roosevelt generally enjoyed friendly relations with the press after the former vice president succeeded President William McKinley, who was assassinated in September 1901. On returning from McKinley’s funeral, the 42-year-old Roosevelt met in the White House with reporters from three major news services. “I shall be accessible” to you for information, Roosevelt said. But he added, “If you even hint where you got it, I’ll say you are a damned liar.”