The essence of Roosevelt’s leadership, I soon became convinced, lay in his enterprising use of the “bully pulpit,” a phrase he himself coined to describe the national platform the presidency provides to shape public sentiment and mobilize action. Early in Roosevelt’s tenure, Lyman Abbott, editor of The Outlook, joined a small group of friends in the president’s library to offer advice and criticism on a draft of his upcoming message to Congress. “He had just finished a paragraph of a distinctly ethical character,” Abbott recalled, “when he suddenly stopped, swung round in his swivel chair, and said, ‘I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit.’ ” From this bully pulpit, Roosevelt would focus the charge of a national movement to apply an ethical framework, through government action, to the untrammeled growth of modern America. Roosevelt understood from the outset that this task hinged upon the need to develop powerfully reciprocal relationships with members of the national press. He called them by their first names, invited them to meals, took questions during his midday shave, welcomed their company at day’s end while he signed correspondence, and designated, for the first time, a special room for them in the West Wing. He brought them aboard his private railroad car during his regular swings around the country. At every village station, he reached the hearts of the gathered crowds with homespun language, aphorisms, and direct moral appeals. Accompanying reporters then extended the reach of Roosevelt’s words in national publications. Such extraordinary rapport with the press did not stem from calculation alone. Long before and after he was president, Roosevelt was an author and historian. From an early age, he read as he breathed. He knew and revered writers, and his relationship with journalists was authentically collegial. In a sense, he was one of them. While exploring Roosevelt’s relationship with the press, I was especially drawn to the remarkably rich connections he developed with a team of journalists—including Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens, and William Allen White—all working at McClure’s magazine, the most influential contemporary progressive publication. The restless enthusiasm and manic energy of their publisher and editor, S. S. McClure, infused the magazine with “a spark of genius,” even as he suffered from periodic nervous breakdowns. “The story is the thing,” Sam McClure responded when asked to account for the methodology behind his publication. He wanted his writers to begin their research without preconceived notions, to carry their readers through their own process of discovery. As they educated themselves about the social and economic inequities rampant in the wake of teeming industrialization, so they educated the entire country. Together, these investigative journalists, who would later appropriate Roosevelt’s derogatory term “muckraker” as “a badge of honor,” produced a series of exposés that uncovered the invisible web of corruption linking politics to business. McClure’s formula—giving his writers the time and resources they needed to produce extended, intensively researched articles—was soon adopted by rival magazines, creating what many considered a golden age of journalism. Collectively, this generation of gifted writers ushered in a new mode of investigative reporting that provided the necessary conditions to make a genuine bully pulpit of the American presidency. “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the progressive mind was characteristically a journalistic mind,” the historian Richard Hofstadter observed, “and that its characteristic contribution was that of the socially responsible reporter-reformer.
Doris Kearns Goodwin (The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism)