Shocking! Presidents do lie to and about reporters

The various radio series that dramatized historical events sometimes sacrificed historical accuracy to tell a story, especially in the common 30-minute format.

In this broadcast, at least a newspaper reporter gets a happier ending out of the revisionist history.

“Mr. President” was an 1947-1953 ABC series in which Edward Arnold played a different U.S. president each week, disguising the president’s name until the end of what was usually a little-known story in that presidential life.

(Unfortunately, online archives of mp3 recordings of the series, such as this collection of Mr. President at the Old Time Radio Researchers Library, often give away the president’s identity in the filename.)

This tale of a president hiding a cancer diagnosis — and even a secret surgery on a yacht — includes more than one newspaper reporter. Only one gets the scoop early — so early that the president swears him to secrecy until after the operation, and even then the reporter has difficulty convincing his editor that he has the true story… and the president comes to his defense.

That’s quite a different tale from the one reflected in the subtitle of a more recent book, “The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth, by Matthew Algeo.

In 2011, NPR interviewed the author, who among other things found a letter from Cleveland admitting his attempt to “deny and discredit the story,” which continued throughout his life.

The reporter is identified as “Holland” at the end of the “Mr. President” episode, which was the syndicated column pseudonym of reporter Elisha Jay Edwards.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
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