Saturday, August 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

When the press miss big speeches

History happens with or without press notice. Two examples are immediate coverage of speeches by Martin Luther King and Abe Lincoln.

When the press miss big speeches

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C., in Aug. 28, 1963.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C., in Aug. 28, 1963.

As the nation this week recalls the historic 1963 march on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, The Washington Post reminds us that sometimes the press misses the point.

Robert Kaiser, an associated editor at the newspaper who was a summer intern and one of 60 people covering the `63 march and speech for the Post, writes that the 1,300-word lead story the next day that appeared under a page-one banner headline did not mention King or his speech.

(You can read that full 1963 story here.)

Kaiser notes the newpaper's overall coverage, some two dozen stories, included the words "I have a dream" only once -- in a wrap-up of the day's rhetoric on page 15, in the 5th paragraph.

The Post was, he writes, "poised for riots, for trouble, for unexpected events -- but not for history to be made."

You can read his full commentary here.

But it wasn't the first time that a Capital City newspaper failed to recognize what would become one of the most important speeches in U.S. history.

Exactly 100 years earlier, in Gettysburg, another speech got little notice by another Capital City newspaper.

Coverage of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 1863 drew this from the Harrisburg Patriot and Union:

"We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the Nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of."

(Cornell University's library Website has examples of immediate reaction to Lincoln's address here.)

These examples are both disconcerting and comforting. Disconcerting for obvious reasons. Comforting in that even when the press initially blows it, history has a way of making itself known.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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