Hoover’s Latin American Trip and the Press

The Newspapermen and cameramen on board the ship during the Good Will tour, 1928.
The newspapermen and cameramen on board the ship during the Good Will tour, 1928.

Shortly before his departure on the Latin American goodwill trip, Herbert Hoover wrote to Elihu Root: ‘As usual, it is very difficult to deal with the press in these matters. The youngsters who are detailed to inform the American public seem to think they have a divine right to invent something sensational each day and one is constantly torn between trying to furnish them something and trying to evade them and allow them to invent on their own responsibility.’  With this attitude, it is somewhat surprising that Hoover invited more than fifteen members of the fourth estate—and eight press photographers—to join them on the tour.

Quotes from many of the writer’s articles appeared in The Literary Digest.  This weekly news magazine, the 1928 equivalent of today’s news aggregators, reviewed newspapers across the United States and published snippets in its ‘Topics of the Day Column.’  The lead article of the November 24, 1928 Literary Digest quotes UPI’s Arthur Hachten: ‘Not since the Monroe Doctrine has there been such a bold attempt to solidify the Americas.’  Warren Wheaton wrote in the New York Evening Post: ‘It may mean the beginning of a new era in American trade, born of a policy that sees South American markets as more advantageous than European markets.’

The coverage was not limited to coastal media elites.  The Springfield, Illinois, Union opined: ‘He has not awaited his inauguration to prove his statesmanship; nothing is more important to the United States than its relations with Latin America.’  Points of contention existed between the United States and Latin American nations.  As the St. Louis Star noted: ‘South American States are beginning to resent the ‘big-brother’ attitude that ignores their aspirations. Situations are bound to come up during Mr. Hoover’s term in office wherein an intimate acquaintance with Latin American affairs will be imperative to a wise solution of problems.’

Of course, no news aggregator would ignore the New York Times.  Their correspondent Harry A. Franck wrote: ‘There is sporadic talk of our imperialism as manifested in Haiti, Santo Domingo and Nicaragua…. But the one sentiment which really unites people in the countries to the south is resentment of our condescending ignorance of their political institutions, their culture and their national life.  It will be in the power of Mr. Hoover to sweep away much of the lingering misunderstanding.’  Franck’s next article ‘The World Mr. Hoover is Discovering’ asserted that Latin America was a closed book to the majority of Americans, then revealed his own narrowness in describing ‘exotic’ Peru.

President-Elect Hoover was technically still a private citizen during his tour.  The countries he visited decided to accord him full Presidential honors, hoping that this would strengthen national relations in the hemisphere.  The Latin American press was generally fulsome in their praise of Hoover, predicting that the visits will be of great benefit to all parties.  The Mexico City Excelsior offered this advice regarding Latin American autonomy: ‘We want to live our own lives in our own homes.’

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