A date which will live where? FDR as writer and editor

As the proud daughter of a veteran of World War II, of course I was conscious of yesterday, Dec. 7. It still does live in infamy.

But today, Dec. 8, gave me the shivers of memory, too. I remember my dad talking about hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech when dad was at school — by radio, just as we later heard and watched things on TV in class. I also remember hearing the whole speech in a journalism class — our professor read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; FDR’s speech on Dec. 8, 1941; and Nixon’s resignation speech, and we had to write a single sentence starting a news story about each one.

I don’t recall what I did for Nixon, probably because I remember watching the speech at home. The Gettysburg Address intimidated me, so I wrote “The president dedicated the new cemetery here today.”

I remember that I went into the most detail on the speech that turns 79 years old today. I was the only person in class who got the central phrase correctly — “a date which will live in infamy.”

CBS’s Jane Pauley doesn’t use the exact phrase at the beginning of the video I’ve attached (from CBS News four years ago, via YouTube), but it’s there.

What fascinated me about seeing this story today is the idea that the president wrote the marvelous speech himself, or at least dictated it.

Then he edited his own work.

He had a good eye (or ear) for clunkers — he changed “world history” to “infamy.”

Advisors wanted a longer speech, but the president didn’t.

It’s worth thinking about. If you want to get your point across,  why rely on someone else to write it?

As I’m writing this and destroying the original drafts by deleting words from the screen, something else comes to mind:

How are we going to know which recent or future presidents are any good at editing, or even choosing their own words, if we don’t see drafts on paper any more?

I hope somebody has a rule about saving the first drafts.


Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.


Filed under: Expressions, Writing


Leave a comment
  • Yes! You have probably seen pictures of Joyce's edits for Ulysses. Thomas Wolf was notorious for ignoring editorial suggestions from Maxwell Perkins. Cut this scene became an entire new chapter. But it's good to know that writing is also editing. How intimidated I was by the phrase that Shakespeare "never blotted a line"

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Maybe Ben meant Bill let the ink dry by itself.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    What a wonderful thought, AW. Thank you!

  • Thank you. I think I did see the "Ulysses" edits at one point -- I found Joyce's work a struggle. I do try to keep in mind how closely writing and editing are related, and I love this story about the great speech on this date starting with the president's ideas and ending with his edits. Surely the "suggested" speech from the diplomats would have been worse.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Oh yes! FDR speech is one for the ages.

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Indeed it is. Part of me was back in that classroom hearing it, but more of my mind has been hearing the original any time I've thought of "Yesterday, December 7th."

  • The answer to the question in the penultimate paragraph is whether the tweet is deleted, notwithstanding that someone else in the webverse has already archived it. But that also assumes that the owner of the account is the only one who posts on it.

    If you are referring to actual speeches, somehow I got Newsmax on my smart TV and decided to sit through it for about 3 minutes. Rest assured that no one edited the riff by some orange clown who was doing a bad impression of Alec Baldwin.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hmm, thanks. I was trying not to think of tweets, or those who send gobs of them. I think part of the reason I enjoyed listening to FDR earlier today was that I've listened to a bit much of that Baldwin impersonator lately.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Your last comment (and maybe mine before that) reminded me of a Finding Your Roots with Bernie Sanders and Larry David. After Henry Louis Gates revealed the two were the closest DNA match of anyone on the show, he asked David if that's why he does impressions of Sanders, and then Sanders was asked if he did impressions of David, to which the answer was "I imitate Larry every time he does me."

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, thanks, Jack -- whichever comment was the source. I don't follow comedy all that much, so I don't have much of an idea of who Larry David is. Or I didn't until this comment. Thank you for the update.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Guy behind Seinfeld and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which I don't see since I don't have cable. Maybe its on some streaming service now.

  • In reply to jack:

    OK. I spent about five minutes on "Seinfeld" before I decided there was no one there to like. I don't see "Curb" either, so I have no enthusiasm there. But thanks for the definitions anyway.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    I was never that much into "New Yawker" humor, either.

  • In reply to jack:

    No, I don't like to be told "See, this is funny, you'll laugh!" I'd rather just be told a good story and decide for myself... or, of course, have a problem to solve in the story.

Leave a comment