Friday, May 26, 2017

When a Sitting US President Threatened a Journalist: "Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens, you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"

This is a fairly well-known story. It's one of those "Give 'em hell, Harry!" anecdotes about that Democrat icon. A few years ago, the original letter was offered by Christie's auction house at an expected price of up to $100,000. (I'm not sure what it actually sold for.)

Obviously, comparisons with the recent Greg Gianforte "body slam" come to mind.

Gianforte was elected as a Montana representative to Congress last night, despite credible allegations that he had violently shoved a Guardian reporter, a few days before. It's arguable that his physical show of temper didn't hurt him with the voters and may have actually slightly helped him.

A few points.
  • It's wrong for politicians to physically attack journalists. (This is virtue signaling on my part.)
  • President Harry Truman didn't actually physically attack anyone. He merely threatened to.
  • He was defending (to him) the honor of his daughter, not merely expressing frustration at an annoying reporter sticking a microphone into his face at a campaign event.
  • Still, Truman threatened to do much more to his target than merely break his glasses.
  • The Washington Post decided not to publish Truman's aggressive letter. Imagine what the Post would do today if Trump has written such a missive.
  • Years later the story would have a happy and even heart-warming ending. Note the classy responses of the journalist and Margaret Truman (at the time) and Harry Truman (years later).
  • It's neither here nor there, I suppose, but the threatened critic was an expert on Catholic liturgical music.
The Obituary of Paul Hume, published by the Daily Telegraph, November 28, 2001:
Critic who made Harry Truman fume dies at 85
By Stephen Robinson in Washington
A LINE has been drawn under a famous episode in American presidential folklore with the death of a mild-mannered music reviewer once threatened with serious physical injury by President Harry Truman.
Paul Hume, The Washington Post's music critic, wrote a gently damning review of the singing of Margaret Truman, the president's daughter, at a 1950 Washington recital.
"Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality," Hume wrote of the performance.
"She is extremely attractive on stage, yet Miss Truman cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time. . ."
Truman was livid and fired off a letter, branding Hume "an eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay". Then he added: "Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens, you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"
Truman was prone to what his staff referred to as "longhand spasms" when he would fire off unpresidential letters to settle scores with his adversaries.
Hume took it in good heart and The Washington Post decided not to publish the letter or report the president's outburst. But Hume mentioned it to a colleague on the Washington News and the episode was made public.
Hume, however, showed considerable grace under fire, regarding it as no great sin for a father to be over-protective of his daughter and blamed himself for telling a colleague about the letter.
Margaret Truman was equally forgiving. "Mr Hume is a very fine critic," she said. "He has a right to write as he pleases."
She subsequently gave up her singing career and achieved some success as a writer of murder mysteries set in Washington DC.
Some years later, when visiting Missouri, Truman's home state, Hume looked up the retired resident. Truman was delighted to see his old enemy and played the piano for him in his office before joining Hume at a concert.
Hume, an authority on Catholic church music and the works of Verdi, was The Washington Post's music critic for 35 years until his retirement in 1982. He died in Baltimore on Monday, aged 85.


  1. "I shall incinerate you like so many tens of thousands of Japanese children!" would have been more cutting and accurate.

  2. What Truman wrote was petty and pathetic and the critic who took it all in good stride was, by far, the more masculine one in this encounter.

    Imagine if he was so emasculated as to have written a puff piece about the President's daughter owing to Truman's position and authority - the way a writer for Pravda would have done had the singing been done by Stalin's Daughter.

    The post did make an old memory cell fire - ABS recalls when Joe Sobran was an editor at National Review and a letter writer mailed in some vitriol about some column previously published and the writer demanded his subscription be ended immediately and Sobran refused the request.