November 4, 1982
Historian Dr. Robert Butow of the University of Washington at Seattle spoke in Josselyn House living room on his recent discovery— tapes made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Oval Office. During a break in his work at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY, Professor Butow, a scholar of Japanese history, jokingly said to the library’s director and the head of the audio-visual department—thinking of the revelation in 1973 of the tapes of President Nixon—“I’m tired of reading, now can I hear the Roosevelt tapes?” To his surprise, the answer was “Oh sure, I’ll bring you a list of what’s available.”
Apparently to avoid being misquoted about private conversations, Roosevelt installed an experimental recording system in the Oval Office. The system, tested during press conferences, was difficult to turn off and therefore it made some very poor quality recordings of the President’s private remarks. Butow said that there were no great revelations on the tapes—Roosevelt spoke disparagingly about the Japanese and once told Secretary of State Cordell Hull that he intended to lie if reporters asked him if he had knowledge of a statement by Japan’s premier—but that the scratchy recordings did confirm Roosevelt’s easy and reassuring manner in his “fireside chats” as his normal manner when speaking informally to friends and close associates. Barry Fox, “Now the Roosevelt tapes…,” New Scientist, Feb. 4, 1982.