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Birthday Wishes

Jason Levine over at Q Daily News sends some grief CNN’s way over this article about President Bush’s birthday. Jason says

This might be the least news-containing news story on the web today. I’m shocked that this story got filed, much less then made its way onto CNN.com.

I understand the sentiment–don’t they have better things to write about?–but is this kind of article in any way out of the ordinary? Was it a momentary lapse in journalistic judgement to post a brief story on the President’s uneventful birthday? Has American journalism ever sunk so low? Thanks to the New York Times archive, we can find out if this is anything new. Everyone seems to agree that television, you know, changed things so we’ll go back before TV. How about Herbert Hoover’s birthday in 1930:

ORANGE, Va., Aug. 9 (AP). – Still physically vigorous after seventeen months in the White House, President Hoover tomorrow will observe his fifty-sixth birthday anniversary.

What? You want to go further back? How about Silent Cal in 1927:

RAPID CITY, S.D., July 1. – President Coolidge on July 4 will celebrate his fifty-fifth birthday in this faraway Summer White House. He plans to pass the day quietly, carrying out a program arranged in advance.

A program arranged in advance! I can only imagine… How about Harding in 1922?

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2. – President Harding spent today, his 57th birthday, at his desk. He had his morning given over to a number of engagements and had planned to take a brief recreation in the afternoon on the golf links.

Sounds like normalcy to me. Wilson in 1915?

HOT SPRINGS, Dec. 28. – The celebration of President Wilson’s fifty-ninth birthday at Hot Springs today was uneventful as far as the general public was concerned. Whatever festivities there may have been were purely of a private nature and were not allowed to penetrate beyond the east wing of the Homestead, which is given up exclusively to the occupation of the Chief Executive and his bride.

I guess President Wilson was a bit more private than W.

But, c’mon! The CNN article actually talked about coconut cake! What kind of news is that? The Times would never report such piffle, would it? How did President Taft plan to spend his birthday in 1912?

BEVERLY, Mass., Sept. 11. – The President will spend next Sunday (his fifty-first birthday) at Millbury with his aunt, Delia Torrey. This is a trip he has made every Summer since making Beverly the Summer capital. He likes Aunt Delia’s famous apple pies, and she has promised to make a batch of them for his visit.

Mmm… pie. Reporters showed such discretion back then. These days, I’m sure the next line would read “President Taft plans to consume the entire batch of pies at a single sitting.” To be fair, a number of the other articles mentioned cake, too. The Hoover one from 1930 went on to mention “a big cake with candles … ready for the dinner table.”

Good old nose-to-the-grindstone Grover Cleveland was hard at work on his birthday way back in 1896:

WASHINGTON, March 18. – President Cleveland is fifty-nine years old to-day. There was no particular celebration of the event at the White House. Mr. Cleveland passed the day, as usual, at his desk.

And, looky here. Even the Vice President’s uneventful birthday deserves some ink (1925):

CHICAGO, Aug. 27. – The sixtieth birthday of a Vice President was nothing to get particularly excited about, said Charles G. Dawes today. Nevertheless the desk of the nation’s Vice President at the Central Trust Company was loaded with flowers before he could escape to spend his anniversary in the quietude of his Evanston home.

Flowers and quietude? Bah! Don’t you reporters have a scandal to cover?