Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The great lurch forward

So I'm back from my trip to Washington DC and Abilene, Kansas and have approaching a thousand pages of documentation to analyse - or at least digital pictures of the paperwork of space policy making under Eisenhower.

Working my way through his own papers, those of Press Secretary Jim Hagerty and his personal secretary (and Assistant Press Secretary) Ann Whitman was a thoroughly fascinating voyage - and I hope I've absorbed even a tenth of what I read.

The 10 days in the US have made a change in my thinking around the project. No longer can I see a direct cause/effect relationship between what the media printed or broadcast and the actions Ike took. The relationship is more subtle - and filtered through the likes of the Dulles brothers, Neil McElroy and Donald Quarles, congressional big shots such as LBJ - and most especially the president's scientific advisers - Jim Killian and George Kristiakowsky. Ike used his press conferences as a sounding board for policy - but used his pre-briefings for these public engagements as opportunities to make policy on the run. While the President wasn't immune from the impact of the media, he dis not respond directly to it, but built standpoints grounded in the opinions of a very close circle around him.

I've much to do to crystallise these thoughts, but the thesis is lurching towards an investigation in Presidential decision making and what role the media took in this. I suspect there'll be a huge contrast between Eisenhower and Kennedy and look forward to making a similar deep dive into the Kennedy papers next year.

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