At his press conference in the White House last week Franklin Roosevelt simmered with fury. Newsmen watched the blood surge to his cheeks, listened in uncomfortable silence to his hot and angry words.
Said the President: A columnist, in reporting the State Department's attitude toward Russia, had made statements that were a lie from beginning to end, had jeopardized United Nations unity, had committed an act of bad faith toward his nation. It might as well be said once & for all, continued the President: this columnist was a chronic liar.
Never before, in all the turbulent history of Franklin Roosevelt's relations with the press, had he given a writer such a tongue-lashing. The outburst came because Columnist Drew Pearson had said:
> In his Washington Merry-Go-Round columns (circ. 18,500,000): "[Secretary of State Cordell] Hull long has been anti-Russian. . . ."
> On his radio program (3,500,000 listeners): "Mr. Hull and his chief assistants, Adolf Berle, Jimmy Dunn, Breckinridge Long, actually would like to see Russia bled whiteand the Russians know it. . . ."
Through the Pipeline. Franklin Roosevelt's angry outburst was designed 1) to back up Cordell Hull, who had called Pearson's statements "monstrous and diabolical falsehoods," 2) to reassure Moscow, still the suspicious, explosive unknown in United Nations diplomacy. Yet the' outburst left one problem unsolved, raised several new ones:
> Drew Pearson, long noted for his pipelines into the State Department, promptly issued a statement which retracted nothing. Said he: "The Russians . . . were fully aware of Mr. Hull's long and consistent anti-Russian attitude. It didn't take me to tell them about it. ... However, if the President needed a scapegoat, I am glad if anything I have said now forces the Administration to make clear in words what certainly was not clear before in deeds. . . ."
> Many an observer took the Pearson flogging as further evidence of a Roosevelt turn to the right. Drew Pearson has a long and sometimes servile record as a pro-New Deal columnist, was one of the few journalistic apologists for the 1938 "purge" and the Court-packing scheme, has sent up many a New Deal trial balloon.
> The press, which has usually rushed to defend the craft against the President, was this time slow to react. Lean, acidulous Drew Pearson, the capital's No. 1 gossip columnist, is not popular with his colleagues. He has always had good sources in the State and Justice Departments, was close to the old Corcoran-Cohen team, has produced many an authentic news beat (the overage destroyers deal, the University of Louisiana graft scandals). But he is frequently guilty of colossal errors of fact, often reports cocktail gossip as gospel truth, sometimes writes colossal fictions. (In 1940, a few weeks before John L. Lewis went on the air for Wendell Willkie, the Merry-Go-Round solemnly reported, in quotations, a conversation in which Lewis and the President decided to be pals again.)