Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ike and the press

Just before the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a press conference and told reporters all about it. This unprecedented openness about a secret invasion surprised everyone, including both the reporters themselves and Ike's commanders. But Eisenhower, both as an Army officer and later as president of the United States, disliked censorship, according to Michael Korda's biography Ike: An American Hero. Besides, the preparations for the invasion were obvious to reporters in North Africa. Eisenhower figured the press would be less likely to report information that might be helpful to the Germans if they knew the whole truth than if they were left guessing. He proved to be correct in this assumption, and the attack on Sicily proved successful.

Eisenhower did not repeat this frankness with the press prior to D-Day. That invasion was just too secret and too important to tell anybody about who didn't absolutely need to know. But throughout his career, Korda says, Ike tended to give reporters a free hand. He refused, for example, to block the publication of stories about racial difficulties among Allied soldiers during the war. He declined to censor stories after Gen. George Patton stuck an enlisted man. It was his idea to send newspaper editors to Germany as soon as the atrocities in Nazi death camps were discovered.

Ike wasn't perfect, however. Nor was he stupid. The original photograph showing him and his staff celebrating victory in Europe in 1945 included, right in the middle, Kay Summersby, the young and beautiful British woman who had been his driver and secretary throughout the war and who had long been a source of irritation to his jealous wife, Mamie. In the photo released to American newspapers, Summersby was omitted. As for whether the relationship with Summersby ever became a romance, Korda says it's impossible to know. He does say, however, that as soon as the war was over, Ike asked for permission to have Mamie join him in Germany. President Truman refused.

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