Heading into Nut Country: Ted Dealey and JFK

Aerial of Dealey PlazaAerial of Dealey Plaza, Nov 25, 1963. (Photo: University of Texas at Arlington Library)

It was both ironic and fitting, at least for some, that President Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza. The Plaza was named for George Bannerman Dealey, a progressive civic leader. But many concluded that his ultraconservative son, Edward “Ted” Musgrove Dealey, created an environment that contributed to the assassination. The Dealey family published the Dallas Morning News. Under George Bannerman Dealey, the newspaper was moderate, even liberal; in contrast, under Ted, the News was “opposed to social progress, the United Nations, the Democratic party, federal aid, welfare, and virtually anything except the Dallas Zoo,”as Stanley Marcus, the retail magnate of Neiman Marcus once quipped.

Under Dealey the father, the Dallas Morning News played a major role in driving the Ku Klux Klan from power in Dallas. The News supported recognition of Russia in the 1930s and advocated some programs of the New Deal. In the 1930s, the paper praised Roosevelt and Alf Landon for their opposition to teachers’ loyalty oaths, supported the Daily Worker’s right to freedom of the press, and denounced the efforts of Hearst’s newspapers to suppress academic freedoms. In 1936, the News observed that “Red-hunters” were “gullible victims of racketeers who live luxuriously from the profits of Red Scares.”

In the 1940s, after Ted Dealey became publisher and assumed control of the newspaper from his father, the News swung editorially to the Right.[1] The News reflected the ideology of Ted Dealey, a rabid anticommunist who loathed welfare, federal aid, and the United Nations. Whereas his father could be progressive, once outlawing any references to “Jew girls” by his writers, Ted could be strident, course and mossback, commonly peppering his language with salty racial epithets. The News under Ted Dealey provided right-wing organizations with a prominent and sympathetic medium to express their viewpoints. The newspaper called the American Civil Liberties Union the “Swivel” Liberties Union. The Supreme Court was the “judicial Kremlin” and “a threat to state sovereignty second only to Communism itself.” According to the News, the New Deal was the “Queer Deal,” and members of Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust “were subversives, perverts and miscellaneous security risks.”[2] The New Deal, editorialist and self-styled “Columntator” Lynn Landrum wrote, was “a series of improvisations strung pretty much upon a single string. The single string is that the underdog is bound to be the best dog…All the rest is spur-of-the-moment strategy, shot-in-the-arm therapy, rabbit-out-of-the-hat showmanship.” “Taxes,” the Columntator added, “are the poorest form of molasses to attract industrial flies” and “as effective at keeping out enterprise as would an electrified fence.”[3]

Along with endorsing union-busting measures like the Texas “Right to Work” law, the News promoted the careers of such right wing stalwarts as Senator Joseph McCarthy and Representative Martin Dies, a Texan who chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee from 1937 to 1944 and conflated Communism, civil rights, and labor activism.[4] The News even supported Senator McCarthy after his precipitous downfall, observing that his censure was “a happy day for Communists.” As one contemporary observed, “The conservatism of the News over the past fifteen or twenty years has taken on the tone of the radical right…All United States presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s day have been subject to its wrath—even Eisenhower, who was much too liberal in some of his policies for the News.”[5]

As a guest at the White House in 1961, Ted Dealey insulted President Kennedy in front of other Texas reporters, calling Kennedy and his administration “weak sisters,” and claimed that the president was “riding Caroline’s tricycle.”[6] Just hours before his death on November 22, 1963, Kennedy called Dallas “nut country” after seeing the contents of Dealey’s newspaper. In a Fort Worth, Texas hotel room that morning, the president’s mood had turned sour as he read the day’s edition of the Dallas Morning News, which featured a full-page advertisement placed by three members of the John Birch Society. “Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas,” it read, with accompanying text that claimed that the success of Dallas was due to “conservative economic and business practices,” not “federal handouts,” and repeatedly accused the president of Communist sympathies. “How can people say such things,” Kennedy asked his wife, who was donning a new pink Chanel dress. “We’re heading into nut country today,” he muttered. “You know who’s responsible for that ad? Dealey.”[7]

1 Robert B. Fairbanks, For the City As a Whole: Planning, Politics, and the Public Interest in Dallas, Texas, 1900–1965 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998), 235.

2 Chris Cravens, “Edwin A. Walker and the Right Wing in Dallas, 1960–1966” (Master’s thesis, Southwest Texas State University, 1991), 22–23; Warren Leslie, Dallas: Public and Private: Aspects of an American City (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1998), 152–164; “The Legacy of Citizen Robert,” Texas Monthly, July, 1985.

3 “Lynn Landrum Vs. the Modern World,” D Magazine, September, 1987.

4 Dallas Morning News, January 12, 1940, July 12, 1940; George Norris Green, “The Far Right Wing in Texas Politics, 1930’s – 1960’s” (Ph.D. diss., The Florida State University, 1966), 120–127, 133; Martin Dies, The Trojan Horse in America (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1940), 128; Patricia Evridge Hill, Dallas: The Making of a Modern City (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).

5 Cravens, “Edwin A. Walker and the Right Wing,” 22–23; Leslie, Dallas: Public and Private, 152–164; Green, “The Far Right Wing in Texas Politics,” 155, 286; Saul Friedman, “Tussle in Texas,” The Nation, 3 February 1964, 114–117.

6 Herbert S. Parmet, George Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yankee (New York: Scribner, 1997), 92.

7 Richard Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile of Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 661; William Manchester, The Death of a President, November 20-November 25, 1963 (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

About the Author

Edward Miller

Edward "Ted" Miller is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University. His research interests include the political and urban/suburban history of 20th century America. Dr. Miller focuses specifically on the rise of American conservatism. His first book Nut Country: Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2015. He is currently at work on his second book Sugar Daddy: A Life of Robert Welch, about the founder of the John Birch Society.

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