During the depression and war years, America was dominated by one single administration for over 12 years. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the office of President in 1932 and continued in that role until his death in 1945. The mood of the country was mixed and Roosevelt's domestic policies remain controversial to this day. History describes the policies as left of what was then the center. Many of the news organizations reflected that feeling.
One commentator stands out, however, for being a spokesman for conservative causes. Though he was a supporter of FDR, he opposed his New Deal plans. But his voice was heard over radio via the Mutual Broadcasting System and though often a lone national voice, he was very popular and a powerful influence. The man was Fulton Lewis Jr.
Born in Washington D.C. on April 30th, 1903 from affluent parents (his family's summer home stood where the National Cathedral now stands), when he was of college age, he enrolled in the University of Virginia. But his interests lay elsewhere. He dropped out after three years and enrolled at George Washington University School of Law but dropped out a second time. He found a job as a reporter for the Washington Herald. With reporting and newspaper work, he had found his niche. Within three years he became the city editor.
He was soon wooed away from that to become the Washington correspondent for the conservative Hearst's Universal News Service. In was during this time that he met his future wife Alice Huston. With his marriage, Lewis was beginning to climb the ladder of influence in conservative Washington. Alice was the daughter of Claudius Hart Huston, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. At the Lewis/Huston wedding, even President and Mrs. Hoover attended.
Between 1933 and 1936 Lewis wrote a newspaper column called The Washington Sideshow which was syndicated by King Features. His start in radio soon followed. Volunteering to fill in for a vacationing broadcaster, Lewis was heard regularly during this period. Through his enterprise, Lewis took his substitution to new levels of "on-the-spot" reporting. His efforts impressed the head of Mutual/WOL at the time, William Dolph, who asked Lewis to do a series of radio talks (commentaries at that time were considered "talks"). The "talks" never ended during this period and within two months, Lewis was national over the Mutual network.
That he was considered a controversial commentator is mostly reflected in his strong conservative stances in a time of increasing liberalism. Throughout the Roosevelt/Truman administrations, Lewis continued to defend his beliefs. In pre-war America Lewis supported and encouraged the America First stance of Charles A. Lindbergh, which espoused that America spend its money and resources on building up our own defenses and stay out of the European conflict. Lindbergh was an admirer of the military capability of National Socialist Germany.
As the medium of radio waned during the rise of television in the late forties and early fifties, Lewis' appearance on the small screen was simply not good television. He appeared too much out of place and so he continued on radio. It was in the fifites that Lewis' star began to wane. He was a strong supporter of Joe McCarthy, the Wisconsin Senator who presided over the committee investigating communists in the government. Even as McCarthy's committee turned into a witch hunt, Lewis continued to support him. As McCarthy fell, so too did Lewis. He continued broadcasting, but his audience had dwindled. He died on August 21, 1966.
Despite his political stances, Lewis was a keen reporter who helped add respect of radio journalists among the Washington-establishment. It was Fulton Lewis Jr. who finally convinced Congress to allow radio coverage of Congressional activities. His broadcasting style was somewhat folksy making the listener feel Lewis was speaking directly to him. And he spoke in a voice that intoned knowledge and authority. It certainly contributed to his rising popularity in the thirties.