Humor as a wartime communication strategy: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Curtin and allied journalists, 1941-1945

Coatney, Caryn Michelle (2015) Humor as a wartime communication strategy: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Curtin and allied journalists, 1941-1945. In: 27th International Humor Conference of the International Society for Humor Studies 2015, 29 June-03 July 2015, Oakland, California.


During the Pacific war alliance, the United States president and Australian prime minister developed humor as a communication strategy to win public support for fighting Axis enemies from 1941 to 1945. This paper uses rarely researched multimedia archives that reveal fresh insights into the two leaders’ use of humor when they persuaded journalists to represent them as being trustworthy to public audiences. The wartime U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Australian Prime Minister John Curtin developed humorous techniques in their news interviews and media talks that eased tensions over the military build-up of U.S. troops in the city of Brisbane, Queensland. Almost a million U.S. soldiers visited the Brisbane base, when this was the Southwest Pacific war headquarters. As Curtin, a former labor-oriented journalist, attempted to win the American news reporters’ trust in his Australian governance, he rehearsed inclusive rhetoric, egalitarian gestures, and visual signs to establish a rapport with the correspondents. Through these techniques, he was able to elicit the reporters’ enthusiasm for presenting a likeable portrayal of his prime ministership to American news audiences. As a result, the journalists increased their calls for the U.S. defence of Australia from Axis attacks. Similarly, Roosevelt used visual symbolism, rhetoric, and jokes to gain journalists’ confidence in his Pacific war leadership. The two leaders’ use of humor helped to mask strains in the war alliance over the Australian request for U.S. military aid. Their administrations succeeded in staging light-hearted scenes of American war brides and Australian military surfing carnivals that were favourably reported in the news. Yet Roosevelt and Curtin also used humor as a diversionary tactic to evade journalists’ questions over the prolonged Pacific battles. Likewise, the humor strategy helped the two men to turn journalists’ attention from their health problems. Consequently, many public audiences were shocked by their deaths in 1945 before the Pacific war’s end. This paper contributes to growing research on political leaders’ use of humor to persuade journalists to support their media messages and the impact of this communication method on public audiences.©

Statistics for USQ ePrint 28240
Statistics for this ePrint Item
Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Access to published version in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Arts and Communication
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2016 06:58
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2017 05:23
Uncontrolled Keywords: humour studies; political humour; World War II; political communication; government-media relations; Australian-US relations; John Curtin; Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Fields of Research : 19 Studies in Creative Arts and Writing > 1903 Journalism and Professional Writing > 190301 Journalism Studies
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture

Actions (login required)

View Item Archive Repository Staff Only