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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Biden, FDR and the Invention of Television

In a sit-down interview with CBS Evening News’ Katie Couric that aired Sept. 22, Sen. Joe Biden tried to make a historical comparison between political leadership during the trying economic times of today and yesterday. But he got some of his history wrong. Biden told Couric: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed.”

There are several things wrong with that statement. First, the stock market crashed in 1929. FDR wasn’t the president; Herbert Hoover was. He served as president from 1929 until 1933, when Roosevelt, who went on to be elected to the top office four times, was inaugurated to his first term.

Second, if FDR had been president in 1929 and wanted to make a public statement on the state of the economy, it likely wouldn’t have aired on television. Because no one had a television yet. The TV was introduced to the public at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, almost 10 years after the crash.

The Democratic vice presidential candidate’s mistake was picked up by the Associated Press and several other news organizations after the interview aired.