Lesson Plan: Choice Board - US Presidents and the Press

Historical Relationship between the Press and U.S. Presidents

Author Harold Holzer gives an overview of the historical relationship between media and U.S. presidents.


Throughout history, U.S. presidents have carved out their relationships with the press. In this lesson, students will hear from author and historian Harold Holzer as he discusses how several presidents, from George Washington to Donald Trump, navigated their interactions with the media and implemented strategies to communicate with the press, some of which are still used today.


  • SET-UP:

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related questions and have students share their responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the Google resources so students can review vocabulary terms prior to beginning the lesson, take notes as they view the videos and respond to the accompanying questions.

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as how many items students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.

    Vocabulary: Definition Handout (Google Doc)

    Vocabulary: Flashcard Activity (Google Slide)

    Note-Taking Chart: US Presidents and the Press (Google Doc)

    Choice Board: U.S. Presidents and the Press (Google Slides)


    Ask students to view the following video clip and respond to the accompanying questions.

    VIDEO CLIP 1: Historical Relationship Between the Press and U.S. Presidents (2:49)

    Author Harold Holzer gives an overview of the historical relationship between the press and U.S. presidents.

    • Describe the historical relationship between presidents and the press as Harold Holzer explains.

    • Why are we more aware of complaints in the present time?

    • How does this compare to similar relationships between leadership and the press in other countries?

    The following video clips discuss the relationship between several presidents and the media as well as readership. Have students view each clip, or select from the collection of videos, and respond to the accompanying questions.

    VIDEO CLIP 2: George Washington and the Press (1:48)

    • Describe George Washington's reaction to the press as he entered his second term as president.

    • How did the Anti-Federalist press impact his presidency?

    • Explain Washington's position regarding the press as he ended his final term in office.
  • VIDEO CLIP 3: John Adams and the Press (5:51)

    • Describe John Adams' relationship with the Anti-Federalist and Federalist press at the beginning of his presidency.

    • Explain the Sedition Act that Adams' signed.

    • What actions did members of the Adams' administration take against Republican journalists?

    • What was Adam's rationale in signing the law?

    • Explain the purpose of the show trials that Adams' conducted. What were the results?
  • VIDEO CLIP 4: Thomas Jefferson and the Press (2:32)

    • Explain Thomas Jefferson's approach to dealing with the press and the impact.
  • VIDEO CLIP 5: Then and Now: Readership and the Press (3:00)

    • Describe press readership during this time as Harold Holzer discusses.

    • Explain the partisanship that was present in the press and how it relates to today.
  • VIDEO CLIP 6: Abraham Lincoln and the Press (3:21)

    • What actions did Abraham Lincoln take regarding the press? Explain his rationale as Harold Holzer explains.
  • VIDEO CLIP 7: Theodore Roosevelt and the Press (5:41)

    • Describe press operations prior to Theodore Roosevelt's time in office.

    • How did Teddy Roosevelt approach his relationship with the press?

    • What techniques did Roosevelt implement in dealing with the press and are still seen today?
  • VIDEO CLIP 8: Woodrow Wilson and the Press (5:21)

    • Describe Woodrow Wilson's approach to press conferences as Harold Holzer explains.

    • How did Wilson respond to press mentions of his family?

    • Explain the circumstances involving the press that traveled to Paris for the peace conference that negotiated the formal end of WW1.

    • Describe how Wilson was able to conceal his health issues from the press during his presidency.
  • VIDEO CLIP 9: FDR and the Press (7:46)

    • According to Howard Holzer, why was FDR effective in public relations?

    • Explain how the press and FDR navigated media coverage of his health.

    • Describe the Roosevelt administration's' approach to the press during WWII.

    • Explain the significance of FDR's fireside chats.
  • VIDEO CLIP 10: JFK and the Press (8:05)

    • How did JFK communicate effectively with the media?

    • According to Harold Holzer, why was the press willing to cover up some of the issues involving JFK's health and behaviors?

    • Explain why the press canonized JFK as Harold Holzer explains.
  • VIDEO CLIP 11: Richard Nixon and the Press (6:18)

    • According to Harold Holzer, why was there antipathy between Richard Nixon and the press throughout his career?

    • Describe the relationship between Richard Nixon and the press during Watergate.
  • VIDEO CLIP 12: George W. Bush and the Press (6:00)

    • Describe the Bush administration's approach to communicating with the press during his presidency as Harold Holzer discusses.

    • What was the position of the Bush administration toward the press during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?

    • How did they pursue leaks?
  • VIDEO CLIP 13: Barack Obama and the Press (4:40)

    • Describe Barack Obama's interaction with the press when he was in office as he explains, and Harold Holzer describes.

    • How did the Obamas go around the press and use communication media?
  • VIDEO CLIP 14: Donald Trump and the Press (3:34)

    • Explain President Trump's perception of the press.

    • Describe the relationship between the Trump administration and the press as Harold Holzer explains.
  • WRAP-UP:

    Ask students to consider information from the videos and responses to the questions and complete the following chart:

    Compare and Contrast (Google Doc)

    Students will complete the chart by citing ways presidents have interacted with the media both in the past and present.


    Have students complete one of the activities below to apply what they have learned in this lesson:

    • You are president! Describe what your relationship with the press is like. How do you communicate with the media? Which platforms do you prefer to use? How often do you connect with press outlets?

    • You are a member of the media! Describe the relationship you prefer to have with the president. How often do you think you should be able to communicate with the president? Which methods do you prefer to use when connecting?

    Find video clips of the press covering our current president using the C-SPAN Video Library. Search for a topic that interests you, view the clip and explain whether or not you agree with how the press covered the event or briefing.

Additional Resources


  • 1st Amendment
  • Anti-federalist
  • Autocratic
  • Bully Pulpit
  • Censor
  • Dictatorship
  • Federalist
  • Habeas Corpus
  • Libel
  • Muckraker
  • New Deal
  • Overreach
  • Partisan
  • Pentagon Papers
  • Progressive
  • Propaganda
  • Public Relations
  • Regulation
  • Secede
  • Sedition Act
  • Trial Balloon
  • Watergate
  • Wiretap


Executive BranchJournalismMediaU.S. History


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