During the Symposium, we were lucky to host several authors with new books released about Theodore Roosevelt and his era. I was able to interview a few of these authors for our readers. First is Chip Bishop, author of The Lion and the Journalist: the Unlikely Friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and Joseph Bucklin Bishop. Mr. Bishop is the great-grandnephew of Joseph Bucklin Bishop. Originally from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Mr. Bishop graduated from Boston University and has walked a varied career path. He is currently the president of Chip Bishop Communications and Management, Inc., a marketing and communications consulting firm.
KT: Was the story of Bishop and Roosevelt one you grew up with or something you discovered later and became interested in?
CB: I clearly recall extended-family discussions over the holiday dining table when I was young. There was much talk about “Old Uncle Joe’s” friend Theodore Roosevelt and all the books he wrote about him. As I write in my book’s Acknowledgment, signed copies of Bishop’s books were gradually given over to me by older relatives as Christmas presents. In time, they caught my curiosity and I read them all with relish. Soon I realized that this was a story to be told to a much broader audience. And so, the book!
KT: The opposite characters of Roosevelt and Bishop were illustrated throughout your book – how do you think two men with such different temperaments were able to sustain such a long and rich friendship?
CB: Heritage was the starkest difference between the two – TR was Manhattan, breeding and money, and Bishop was a humble Yankee farmer’s son. But as young adults in New York, they were bound by an uncompromising sense of right and wrong and a common loathing of public corruption. That’s what brought them together and kept them moving forward as agents of progressive change over a quarter century. And how they both reveled in the enjoyment of each other’s words and thoughts!
KT: The book makes use of both publicly available archives and your family’s personal papers. How much research went into your book to be able to give such clear pictures of two complex men?
CB: Roosevelt and Bishop wrote a total of 600 letters to one another over 25 years; they form the basis of the book. I read them all in the archives at Harvard, some many times over. And I tried to include the best excerpts in my book, against the backdrop of dramatic events such as the calamitous Pennsylvania coal strike of 1902, the McKinley assassination and, especially, the building of the Panama Canal. There is simply no better way to come to know a person than through their writings. Now, with the great online project at DSU’s Theodore Roosevelt Center coming alive, future research will be exponentially easier and more thorough.
KT: Bishop met Roosevelt during his Police Commissioner days in New York City. Why do you think the young Roosevelt impressed Bishop so much?
CB: Bishop was constantly warring against public corruption in his newspaper editorials and, in TR, he found a crusader of like mind who was aggressively bent on cleaning up the city’s police force from within. In those days, Roosevelt was a trusting soul—until he was crossed. In the book, I tell the story of the “snake in the grass” that put the Roosevelt-Bishop friendship to a severe test. If Bishop hadn’t passed the initial Roosevelt challenge, there would have been no friendship—and no book.
KT: Roosevelt is often remembered as our first president with an active relationship with the press; however he didn’t hesitate to let someone know when they stepped out of line. What do you think it was about Bishop that Roosevelt seemed to inherently trust?
CB: TR wrote many times over the years that Bishop told him what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear. That kind of honest and forthright advisor is what any great political leader must have to succeed. And Bishop had an uncanny ability to express Roosevelt’s thoughts and plans in editorial phrases that Roosevelt marveled at. It was unusual then for politician and journalist to have such an overt partnership but TR wrote the book on how to reach out to the press and win them over to his point of view. He corralled them with his astonishing intellect and beguiling charm—and through personal friendships like he had with Bishop.
KT: Out of the entire story of Roosevelt and Bishop, what is your favorite event or even just letter between the two? Which do you think best illustrated their relationship?
CB: It came near the end of TR’s life when he made the critical decision to entrust Bishop with the writing of his life story. Roosevelt directed the Librarian of Congress, who had all his papers, to turn them over exclusively to “my friend, J. B. Bishop.” Legacy is top of mind with any public figure, and it is illustrative to consider the unqualified faith and confidence Roosevelt had in him. Even at 71, when other men might have opted for soft and easy retirement, Bishop did not disappoint. His two-volume Theodore Roosevelt and His Time was heralded by TR friends and foes alike. It should still be required reading for any serious student of Theodore Roosevelt.
The Theodore Roosevelt Center would like to thank Mr. Bishop for taking the time to discuss his new book. You may learn more about Mr. Bishop and The Lion and the Journalist by visiting his site.