Elmer Davis (January 13, 1890 – May 18, 1958) was a well-known news reporter, author, the Director of the United States Office of War Informationduring 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 Davis' first professional writing jobs was with theIndianapolis 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 became 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 forThe 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 the company history History of the New York Times. 1851–1921 (New York: The New York Times, 1921).
In 1928, Davis published his novel Giant Killer, a retelling of the 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.
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. Davis has been termed one of the "unsung forefathers" of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei combat unit in the war.
After World War II
After World War II, Davis continued his career in radio, using the platform to criticize Senator Joseph McCarthy for his anti-communist investigations.
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 long-standing member of The Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to keeping green the memory of Sherlock Holmes.
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.