Truman was not at all shy about insulting journalists in private and in public. He referred to columnist Westbrook Pegler as “a guttersnipe.” He called Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson “gutter columnists” as well. The Alsop brothers, Stewart and Joseph, he called the “All Slops.” In private, he called columnist Frank Kent a “prostitute of the mind.” In public, he called him “intellectually dishonest.”
As with Trump, Truman’s war with the press led many in the media to accuse him of suppressing press freedom, an argument he had no use for. In an unpublished missive, he wrote, “The old Moslem assinsins [sic] of Mesopotamia have a much better chance of a considered judgment in the end than have these paid mental whores of the controlers [sic] of our so-called ‘free press.'”
Truman continued, “This so-called ‘free press’ is about as free as Stalin’s press. The only difference is that the Stalin frankly controlled his and the owners and publishers of our press are always yapping about the Constitution and suppressing a free press.”
Like Trump, too, he accused the press of conflating news and editorial. “News should be reported as it happened,” he wrote, and editorials should be stated exclusively as “the opinions of the owners & publishers.” During his presidency, Truman thought the New York Times the only nationally circulated paper that confined editorial opinion to the editorial page.
The press protected Truman, however, in ways that it would never protect Trump. Washington Post journalist Marquis Childs was once dispatched to the White House to ask Truman if he would present an award at a gathering of black journalists. Said Truman to Childs, “I get along pretty well with the burr heads … until sooner or later I say nigger.” Childs, who was white, reported this only years after Truman had left the White House.
Truman’s predecessor presented a New York Daily News reporter whose opinions he disliked with a Nazi Iron Cross at the height of World War II.