For a long time the main body of the daily press was in full cry against Roosevelt and Truman, as it was never against Eisenhower. There will probably be a time when it will be pitched against President Kennedy. But now a Democratic President has an effective method—broadcasting—to bypass a hostile press and even to attack it. Publishers were disturbed about Jack Paar’s emotional outbursts on television against the press. What if it were not Paar at midnight but the President of the United States at 6 p.m.?

Particularly on issues of family economics, the press is vulnerable to attack because since 1934 the general public has shown—through its votes and its folk sayings—its belief that in any conflict between business and the consumer, the newspapers are on the side of business. This set of mind is the Achilles heel of the daily press in American society, and every intelligent politician knows it. In a sense, this is unfair, considering the large body of honest reporting in newspapers. But public skepticism exists.

The quick television victory of the President on April 11 makes it plain that newspapers are not always the most effective link between the President and the public and that any time he chooses, a commanding public figure can go over the head of the press. Implicit in this demonstration is the possibility that should the press consolidate against a President, as it has in the past, he need not be so chary as before of antagonizing the newspapers and, if need be, he can appeal to the endemic suspicions of the press’s own readers.

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Ben Bagdikian was an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, and later dean of the University of California, Berkeley's journalism school. He wrote about the Washington press regularly for CJR in the 1960s and '70s.