The Country has been Through a Draining, News-Packed April BeforeRoundup
tags: FDR, journalism, news media, World War 2
Christopher B. Daly is a reporter, historian and professor at Boston University and the author of the prize-winning study of the history of U.S. journalism titled Covering America.
As we near the end of a tumultuous month of news, Americans are exhausted, scared and overwhelmed with headlines that tell the bleak story: economic disaster, a rising death toll and a spreading disease with no end in sight.
But Americans have been through turmoil and devastation before. In fact, 75 years ago, the country endured the busiest month of news in the history of the United States and, probably, the world.
Over the course of 30 days, American readers were trying to keep up with the momentous events of the closing stages of World War II. On top of the daily military bulletins, the world learned of the unexpected death of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the killing of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and the suicide of Nazi tyrant Adolf Hitler. Headline writers could barely keep up.
In the end, the institutions of journalism generally met the challenges of an overwhelming torrent of news. Other institutions rose to the occasion as well. The U.S. military, the White House and American diplomacy all generally met the tests of 1945, even though there was no road map through the new territory. And they all emerged stronger and more trusted in the process.
Wearied from more than three years of war and eager for ultimate victory, Americans must have followed the news with a mix of dread, hope and suspense. What they read for only 3 cents a day would shape the rest of the century. Would the American and British armies win the “race to Berlin” and conquer the enemy capital before the Soviet Union’s Red Army? Could the Marines take Okinawa and provide a jumping-off point for invading the Japanese home islands? How many people were killed in the concentration camps now being liberated? Would the proposed United Nations get off the ground and end war itself? Who was the new guy in the White House, Harry S. Truman?
At the time, Americans got their news through a smaller number of media outlets than today. CBS and NBC radio news reached millions (while television was still a laboratory experiment). TIME magazine reached millions more, thanks in part to special small-format versions that could be shipped to servicemen around the world. For most Americans, though, news came through the local newspaper or the paper published in the nearest big city.
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