Saturday, July 13, 2013

Not So Secret?

The Myth of FDR’s Secret Disability
Matthew Pressman, - July 12, 2013

A guest writer at offers an interesting take on whether and how President Franklin Roosevelt's disability was concealed. The writer confirms that there was concealment, but suggests that the idea of a "gentlemen's agreement" among the press to not photograph or mention FDR's disability grew out of our present-day cynicism about today's "gotcha" journalism. We like to think that in the "good old days", reporters had restraint and respect that they lack today, but in reality, they were plenty ambitious and cynical then, too.

I would go a step further and say that maybe we also underestimate the sophistication of ordinary Americans in that time, and assume most people didn't know about the President's disability. Like I said earlier this week, I just have a gut feeling that most people knew on some level that Roosevelt's polio wasn't completely "beaten". Multi-layered thinking wasn't invented in the 60s. People in the 30s and 40s might have had access to less information overall, but they weren't stupid or simplistic, at least no more so than today. I think it's perfectly possible that a nation desperate for leadership in the Great Depression would choose to overlook something like physical impairment in someone they otherwise felt was "the man of the hour." Overlooking doesn't mean not knowing.

I wonder if in some ways, attitudes towards some disabilities might have been healthier than they are today.