Elmer Davis

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Elmer Davis
Elmer davis.jpg
Elmer Davis
Born January 13, 1890
Aurora, Indiana
Died May 18, 1958 (aged 68)
Occupation Director, Office of War Information, World War II

Elmer Davis (January 13, 1890 – May 18, 1958) was a news reporter, author, the Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II and a Peabody Award recipient.

Education and early career

Davis was born in Aurora, Indiana, the son of a cashier for the First National Bank of Aurora. One of his first professional writing jobs was with the Indianapolis Star, a position he held while attending Franklin College. A brilliant student, Davis received a Rhodes Scholarship to Queen's College, Oxford in 1910. His stay in England was cut short when his father fell ill and eventually died. Davis met his wife, Florence, in England.

Upon his return to America, Davis became an editor for the pulp magazine Adventure, leaving after a year to work as a reporter and editorial writer for The New York Times. For the next decade, Davis reported on stories ranging from pugilist Jack Dempsey to evangelist Billy Sunday. It was his coverage of Billy Sunday that gained him notoriety. Davis later left The New York Times and became a freelance writer.

Davis' best-known work is his company history History of the New York Times. 1851–1921 (New York: The New York Times, 1921).

In 1928 Davis published his one and only novel Giant Killer, a retelling of the Biblical story of David.


In August 1939, Paul White, the news chief at CBS, asked Davis to fill in as a news analyst for H. V. Kaltenborn, who was off in Europe reporting on the increasingly hostile events. Davis became an instant success. Edward R. Murrow later commented that one reason he believed that Davis was likeable was his Hoosier accent, which reminded people of a friendly neighbor. By 1941, the audience for Davis' nightly five-minute newscast and comment was 12.5 million.

On June 1, 1941, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet began sponsoring seven-days-a-week newscasts by Davis on CBS. The program was carried on 95 stations from 8:55 to 9 p.m., Eastern Time.[1]

Office of War Information

Davis spent two and a half years reporting the news on radio and gaining the trust of the nation. Then, in 1941, his colleagues persuaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to appoint Davis director of the newly created United States Office of War Information, a sprawling organization with over 3,000 employees. Even though Davis was being paid $53,000 per year from CBS, he left the network to work in government during the crisis of World War II.

As Director of the Office of War Information, Davis recommended to President Roosevelt that Japanese-Americans be permitted to enlist for service in the Army and Navy and urged him to oppose bills in Congress that would deprive Nisei of citizenship and intern them during the war. He argued that Japanese propaganda proclaiming it a racial war could be combated by deeds that counteracted this.[2] Davis has been termed one of the "unsung forefathers" of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei combat unit in the war.[3]

Davis was also instrumental in loosening censorship rules that forbade the publication of images of dead GIs on the battlefield. Until late 1943, the U.S. Office of Censorship only permitted the media to publish images of blanket-covered bodies and flag-draped coffins of dead U.S. soldiers,[4] partly for fear that Americans would be demoralized if they had any graphic understanding of the human price being paid in the war.[5] The government also restricted what reporters could write, and coverage was generally upbeat and bloodless.[6]

Davis believed that the American public "had a right to be truthfully informed" about the war within the dictates of military security. He asked President Roosevelt to lift the ban on publishing photographs of dead GIs on the battlefield on the grounds that the American people needed to appreciate the sacrifices made by their young men.[7] Roosevelt agreed. Life published a photograph taken by George Strock of three American soldiers who were killed on the beach during the Battle of Buna-Gona, the first photograph published that depicted American soldiers dead on the battlefield.[8] Censorship was loosened, but the media was still forbidden from showing the faces of the dead or the insignia of the units they belonged to.[9]

After World War II

Following the war, Davis continued his career in radio, using the platform to criticize Senator Joseph McCarthy for his anti-communist investigations.[10]

Davis was one of the four journalists who portrayed themselves in the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, and he was the host and narrator of the ABC television series, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse (1950–52), which won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.

He was a longstanding member of The Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to keeping green the memory of Sherlock Holmes.

Davis retired from broadcasting in 1953 after suffering a heart attack. He died in May 1958 of complications from a stroke.[11]


Davis was considered to be one of the greatest news reporters of the mid-20th century, on a level with Edward R. Murrow. Among the many awards Davis received were three Peabody Awards, including an award during its inaugural year. Foreign governments also recognized Davis when he was inducted into the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau and the Czechoslovak Order of the White Lion, among others.

In 1946, Davis received the Alfred I. duPont Award.[12]


  1. "Elmer Davis for C-P-P" (PDF). Broadcasting. March 31, 1941. p. 9. Retrieved 12 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945 p 453 Random House New York 1970
  3. Japanese American Voice
  4. John Whiteclay Chambers, ed. (2006). The Oxford Companion to American Military History (first ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 916. ISBN 978-0195071986.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Dunlap, David W. (28 March 2013). "Photo That Was Hard to Get Published, but Even Harder to Get". Time. Retrieved 22 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Sweeney, Michael S. "Appointment at Hill 1205". Texas Military Forces Museum. Retrieved 23 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Miller, Donald L. (2008). D-Days in the Pacific. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781439128817.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Three Americans". LIFE. 21 September 1943. pp. 34–35. Retrieved 22 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Persico, Joseph E. Roosevelt's Centurions FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II (First ed.). New York: Random House. p. 353. ISBN 978-0-679-64543-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Jim Widner's Radio Days
  11. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19580519&id=-S9WAAAAIBAJ&sjid=GOcDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2861,983544&hl=en
  12. All duPont–Columbia Award Winners, Columbia Journalism School. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  • Nimmo, Dan D.; Chevelle Newsome (1997). Political Commentators in the United States in the 20th Century: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. pp. 81–91. ISBN 0-313-29585-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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