LBJ & the Houston Chronicle: Paper's Support Signed, Sealed & Delivered

The latest volume of Robert Caro's epic Lyndon Johnson biography is out -- The Passage of Power covers 1958 through 1964 -- and Amazon has happily delivered our copy.

A quick check of the index shows there's not much Houston-related content except for one episode describing how LBJ got the Houston Chronicle "in his hip pocket," supporting everything he did in the White House.

LBJ had been angling for newspaper support in Texas, and used the fact that Chron president John T. Jones Jr. was also head of a bank seeking a merger that needed federal approval.

Johnson refused to approve the merger, Caro writes, until an agreement over the paper's coverage of him was done. The deal included a letter confirming the paper would be supportive of him and also would write news stories on items the White House wanted mentioned.

LBJ even dictated what he thought a reasonable letter might look like: "Dear Mr. President...So far as I'm personally concerned and the paper is concerned, it's going to support your administration as long as it's there. Sincerely, your friend, John Jones."

Johnson also wanted the paper to send managing editor Everett Collier to their DC bureau; Caro describes Collier as "a Johnson acolyte since he had been one of his students at Sam Houston High School, one who idolized him and always followed him around."

Eventually, Caro writes, LBJ got his wish and his letter. He then told Jones "from here on out, we're partners."

Caro writes:

"We're partners" -- Johnson's statement to the Chronicle's publisher was borne out by the newspaper's eagerness to comply with their agreement. Even [Johnson] could find no fault with their efforts. Talking with Albert Thomas on January 20, he asked "Is the Chronicle for us now?" and answered the question himself. "All out, all the time, aren't they?" ("They've been that for about two or three [weeks]," Thomas replied. "Every other page" has a favorable story now, the congressman said.) When, on February 9, Johnson told [Jack] Valenti to plant "a paragraph" in the Chronicle, Valenti said he was positive William P. Steven, the Chronicle's editor, would comply. "Bill Stevens [sic], every time I send him, ask him anything, boy, he has it in the paper the next day...Stevens has been real good about it."

The paper endorsed Johnson's re-election, and never again endorsed a Democrat for the White House until Obama.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly