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How Reuters reported historic turning points in U.S. politics

John Entwisle  Corporate Historian, Thomson Reuters

John Entwisle  Corporate Historian, Thomson Reuters

As Reuters reports on the 2016 race to the White House, David Cutler, assistant archivist, looks at how Reuters covered earlier turning points in U.S. presidential politics.

19th century

Lincoln is elected – 11 days later, a result

We are very lucky to have in our archive, stories from the United States from as early as 1859, just eight years after Julius Reuter opened his first office in London.

According to Paul Rusoff, a Russian business partner of our founder, Reuter had contemplated setting up an American office in 1858 to coincide with the laying of the first Transatlantic cable. Unfortunately this link failed after a few weeks and telegraphic communication was not resolved for another eight years. This meant that news was still arriving no faster than the speed of a transatlantic steamer.

The first significant news to be sent from the U.S. at this time was the election of its 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, in 1860 – and it took 11 days to arrive! You can see our story here:

Reuters news clipping of the election of U.S. President Lincoln

In 1862 James McLean, the first Reuter agent arrived in the U.S. to oversee the start of a news exchange agreement with the Associated Press whereby AP supplied North American news to Reuter. It wasn’t until 1967 that Reuters finally broke from AP and independently reported news from the United States.

The first presidential election after the repair and successful completion of the transatlantic cable in 1866 saw the victory of President Ulysses Simpson Grant. This news, as you can see in our second story, actually arrived on the same day.

Reuters news clipping of the election of U.S. President Grant

20th century

Roosevelt dies suddenly

Early in the 20th century, U.S. politics was dominated by four-times president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was first elected in 1932. He was elected for his fourth term in 1944 during the dying days of World War Two.

Reuters coverage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death

The stress of office and of running the country during a world war undoubtedly contributed to his sudden death at the age of 63. He was the seventh president to die in office. Above, you can see our snap from that day, 12 April 1945.

Kennedy is assassinated

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first president to be born in the 20th century and he became the new youthful hope of a post-war generation succeeding the more conservative President Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy was the youngest presidential nominee to ever be elected and the world mourned after he was assassinated in office in 1963, at the age of 46

Here, you can see our first alerts of his assassination while riding in a motor convoy. They detail a photographer’s report that he heard two shots and saw blood on the president’s head, and and also tell us that Jackie Kennedy jumped up and grabbed her husband, crying ‘Oh no’.

Reuters coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy

 

Nixon ‘bows to the inevitable’

In August 1974 Richard Nixon became the only U.S. president ever to resign from office.

Reuters coverage of President Nixon's resignationNixon, a Republican and the 37th president, figured prominently in six decades of public and political life from the 1940s, both as a leader and as a controversial figure. He was forced out of office following the revelation he knew about a break-in at the Democratic Party campaign headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington by associates of the Committee for Re-Election of the President in 1972. Two years later he resigned in disgrace. Here, we report that Nixon has ‘bowed to the inevitable’, ‘toppled by the Watergate scandal’ and detail the words of his television speech.

Reagan wins in a landslide

The country’s 40th president was Republican and ex-film actor Ronald Reagan. Reagan was the oldest president and was a former actor. He succeeded Democrat, Jimmy Carter.

In this Reuters story, we report his landslide victory – and the reaction of ‘an obviously pained but smiling Mr Carter’.

Reuters coverage of Reagan's election win

Bush is elected 41st president

Reagan was then succeeded by his vice-president, George Herbert Walker Bush. His presidency saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War.

Our headline here shows the immediate impact of the news – ‘Bush triumphs, Gorbachev sends congratulations, dollar falls’.

Reuters coverage of George Bush's election win

21st century

Following the elections of presidents Bill Clinton, who was to be impeached and then acquitted, and then George W. Bush, Barack Hussein Obama became the  first black president to be elected in U.S. history, on Nov 4, 2008. Here’s our story from that moment:

OBAMA ELECTED FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

U.S. Democratic President-elect Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) gives his victory speech during his election night rally in Chicago, November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed Obama wins U.S. presidential election – US media

5 November 2008

WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (Reuters) – Democrat Barack Obama won a grueling two-year struggle for the White House on Tuesday, U.S. media projected, beating Republican John McCain to become the first black president in U.S. history. Obama, 47, a first-term senator from Illinois, will be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president on Jan. 20, 2009. He will face a crush of immediate challenges, including easing the economic crisis, ending the war in Iraq and striking a compromise on overhauling the health care system.


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