In the past two weeks, if you’ve read my column, you’ve at least learned one thing: The Daily Campus is OLD. Because of that, not only has it witnessed a lot of UConn history, it has also been around for more than half of the United States’ history. This week, I’m going to focus on how UConn’s student newspapers have discussed a specific historical topic: U.S. Presidents that died in office.
Of the eight members of this depressing club, four of them met their ends while some incarnation of the Daily Campus existed: William McKinley (1901), Warren Harding (1923), Franklin Roosevelt (1945) and John Kennedy (1963). Press coverage changes over time, and while all four of these events were tragic, it is fascinating to see how our paper reacted to each, and how each reaction varies greatly. (Side note: Shout out to Warren Harding for somehow turning his two-year presidency into enough content for me to write two separate articles on him)
In 1901, the Connecticut Agricultural College Lookout had only existed for two years, but it was tasked with discussing the assassination of the nation’s leader in its third issue of the year. What the students got were three sentences of praise and respect, taking up about a quarter of the first page of editorials. While McKinley’s death was mentioned, it was clearly not seen as the paper’s number one priority. Also noteworthy about the editorial is that a third of it was devoted to praising the man who would succeed McKinley: Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy was already a popular figure, as he had been a war hero, and judging by the fact that basically all of us know more about him than we do about McKinley, it’s probably understandable why the Lookout’s editors chose this way to discuss the tragic event.
While McKinley got a bit of a lackluster send-off, Harding’s was infinitely worse. In fact, the man was not mentioned by the Connecticut Campus in the year of his death at all. At first, I thought that this might have been due to the fact that Harding died of natural causes, but only four years before, the Campus included a small tribute to Teddy Roosevelt, who had been out of office for a decade, after his death. Harding simply was not mentioned, and if I had to hazard a guess, it may have been due to fear of backlash from the government. While it had been repealed in 1920, the Sedition Act of 1918 made it pretty hard to talk about the government, and the sentiments lasted after it was repealed. Honestly, it’s possible that people at the Campus didn’t have many nice things to say about him, so they just didn’t make an attempt.
Switching gears to another Roosevelt, the Campus returned to a format similar to McKinley following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. With two separate tributes written, the paper was respectful and mourning, but it’s clear that the people who made the paper did not want to let the one story dominate the others.
The idea that the paper would make a presidential death a singular story amongst all of the stories in the publication was thrown out the window with JFK. Maybe it’s that the Daily Campus became an every weekday paper in 1955, and there was a lot more space to print stories, but there is no denying that a huge change in the approach occurred. The entire Nov. 23 issue of the Daily Campus was dedicated to the Kennedy assassination. Not only was this an incredible amount of attention given to the event, but this issue was printed on a Saturday.
The variety of attention each of these tragedies got from the Lookout, Campus and The Daily Campus respectively shows just how different the press’ attitude towards this kind of event changed over time. Even now how we report national news is different, as even with the Kennedy assassination, the articles were United Press International and AP, not written by UConn students.