An “irresponsible press corps” along with President Eisenhower’s reluctance to deal with reporters has led to a misrepresentation of his presidency, a visiting history professor said Tuesday evening at the Kelly Alumni Center.Michael Birkner, a history professor at Gettysburg College, is the latest Green Honors Chair to visit TCU. The Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair allows TCU departments to invite guest speakers annually for a three-day visit.
Birkner said Eisenhower’s background as a military general contributed to his idea that the press is a “necessary nuisance.” Birkner also said that Eisenhower had a quick temper, thin skin and chose to tolerate the press only as much as he had to.
Eisenhower’s distance from reporters resulted in a biased press corps, eager to denounce the president as ineffective and uninformed about domestic issues, Birkner said.
Birkner said that if John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt are regarded as the “gold standard” of press-friendly presidents, Eisenhower is the extreme opposite. He said Eisenhower and James Hagerty, his press secretary, were masterful at managing the press.
Birkner said even though the contemporary press wrote the first draft of Eisenhower’s history unfairly, time has vindicated him.
Clayton Brown, a professor of history, said he agreed that Eisenhower is quickly becoming an icon.
Gary Ohls, studying for his doctorate while teaching several history survey classes and one of about 30 guests, said Birkner’s lecture has inspired him to explore the subject further.
During a post-lecture question and answer session, Birkner listened as Jim Wright, former U.S. congressman from Texas who was speaker of the House from 1987 to 1989, explained that much like politicians, there are good and bad reporters.
Ken Stevens, chairman of the history department, said he has known Birkner since 1980 when they worked together at Dartmouth College and was excited to welcome his friend on his first visit to Dallas/Fort Worth.
After a successful military career in World War II, Eisenhower was elected president in 1952 and served two consecutive terms in office from 1953 until 1961.
Birkner is the author of several books including “The Eisenhower Era” and “James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850s.