When a President Threatened to Punch a Washington Post Critic

From a John Kelly column in the Washington Post headlined “Remembering the time a president threatened to punch a Washington Post critic”:

In the 1940s, a new singer popped up on the scene in Washington. Her name was Margaret Truman, and she happened to be the daughter of President Harry S. Truman.

Paul Hume was The Post’s music critic, and he became familiar with Miss Truman’s, um, style. In 1947, he suggested that the soprano “should refrain from public appearances for at least two or three years,” during which time she should “learn to sing properly.”

She did not take this advice. Margaret had a rather busy performing schedule, and on Dec. 6, 1950, it took her to Constitution Hall.

In the next day’s Post, Hume wrote: “She is flat a good deal of the time — more last night than at any time we have heard her in past years. There are few moments during her recital when one can relax and feel confident that she will make her goal, which is the end of the song … Miss Truman has not improved in the years we have heard her.”

The following day, Hume received a note at The Post. It began: “I’ve just read your lousy review of Margaret’s concert … It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful.”

It continued: “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

Hume showed the note around the office, but its contents were first revealed not in The Post, but in the Washington Daily News. In its own follow-up story, The Post noted that when Margaret Truman was reached in Nashville, where she was performing, she told a United Press reporter that she didn’t think her father would send such a note. Someone else must have.

“It is very easy to get a hold of White House stationery,” Margaret said, adding, “Mr. Hume is a very fine critic. He has a right to write as he pleases.”

But The Post had confirmed that the note was from the president. Some on Truman’s staff regretted Truman’s rash act. Others thought it helped his standing with the public.

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