Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Gerald Ford And The News Media: Then And Now

It's been interesting to read MSM stories about Gerald Ford, most of which seem, rightly, to emphasize his decency and openness, as well as his great contribution to the country's healing after Richard Nixon and Watergate. It hasn't always been that way, however.

As a young college student I was very politically involved in the 1976 election, and I remember the news media's treatment of President Ford then being simply awful. Then, of course, all we had was CBS, ABC, and NBC, along with the major print outlets. No blogosphere, no talk radio, no Fox News. What they told the public was all the public got.

So how did the MSM really feel about Gerry Ford? Jules Witcover, a veteran political reporter, devoted a number of pages to that subject in Marathon: The Pursuit of The Presidency 1976. I'll share just one telling excerpt, from page 45:
Soon the reporters addressed themselves to the time-honored after-hours relaxation of their trade, the writing of a parody [about Ford]. To the tune of the song sung by Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in [The Wizard of Oz], it went:

I could while away the hours
Reflecting on my powers,
As we go down the drain.
I could spend like Rockefeller,
I could talk like Walter Heller,
If I only had a brain.

I could overcome inflation,
Put gas in every station
And we would feel no pain.
I could make the Arabs cower,
I could be an Eisenhower
If I only had a brain.

Oh, gee, if I could be
Like Truman in his prime;
Salty speeches whipping Congress into line,
Say "geothermal" -- the first time.

I could hold down grocery prices,
Wipe out the oil crisis,
Solve problems with no strain.
I could do a lot of thinkin',
I could be another Lincoln,
If I only had a brain.

It was in such a public climate -- of disillusionment deteriorating into ridicule -- that Jerry Ford in the spring of 1975 prepared for the campaign of 1976 that would determine whether the people wanted him to be their President.
It's hard to know where to begin (or end) in reflecting, in 2007, on that bit of 1976 campaign trivia. The elitism, the condescension, and the clubbiness of the news media covering the campaign are all fascinating. Today, those lyrics would be all over the blogosphere and the writers would be identified and embarrassed. Then, the song's existence was unknown to anyone but "the boys on the bus" until after the campaign, when Witcover told the story.

Now we're hearing about Gerald Ford the Eagle Scout, the fine athlete, the Yale Law graduate, and most prominently, the former president who disagrees with President Bush on the Iraq war. Back in 1976 the MSM made fun of him. Witcover's recent column eulogizing Gerald Ford was much kinder, but his book published 30 years ago is a telling account of how the MSM covered Republican campaigns in those days.

Update: Welcome, NRO Corner and Ed Driscoll readers! (And thanks, K-Lo, for the NRO link.) Please browse around the blog.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, yes, the MSM went over the top in ridiculing Ford. But today's MSM is going over the top in canonizing him. Remember "Whip Inflation Now"? How about the Nixon pardon, a hopelessly bungled bit of statemanship that cheated the nation of any enduring sense of justice over his crimes?

Ford was a very good man who achieved some very good things, not least of which was the way he wielded his veto power to control spending somewhat. But Reagan would have been far better, and might have defeated Carter in 1976. Then we'd have avoided four more years of detente and disastrous economic policies. 

Posted by Bob Ellison

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 8:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike K said...

The pardon was necessary to avoid potentially lethal political stasis. Theodore White has pointed out another such hard decision, when Nixon chose to accept defeat in 1960 rather than challenge Kennedy's election by fraud in Illinois and Texas. Nixon accepted a very hard decision for the good of the country. Ford did the same. The media canonization underway is probably related to his criticism (twisted in the newspaper accounts) of the Bush decision to invade Iraq. Had Ford been re-elected in 1976, we would have avoided a lot of pain and the enduring burden of inflation on our children. The eulogies today, however, are frequently about the speaker more than the man being eulogized. 

Posted by Mike K

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 8:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Teresa K said...

Clearly Ford did not hold any animus towards the press since he apparently requested Tom Brokow to give one of the eulogies today at the funeral. In addition, according to Brokow's recollections Ford thought the press (including "chicken heads") was amusing. Maybe, just maybe, they were all grown-ups who enjoyed teasing one another. 

Posted by Teresa Kopec

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger The Hedgehog said...

Teresa: I don't believe Gerald Ford held animus against anyone, including the news media. That doesn't mean, of course, that the news media was fair to him. The parody above is only one colorful example from Witcover's book. I remember watching several TV news stories about Ford bumping his head as he came out of Air Force One. Events like that became a major meme for the news media-- and remember, they were the only source of news we had in those days. 

Posted by The Hedgehog

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous carol said...

And what about Carter? he was roundly despised by the media as well as the ordinary people back when he was in office. Now everyone gets all gooey and sentimental. I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers how it was.

Why is it so hard to appreciate a president at the time they are actually in office? Is it because we're afraid of looking like chumps?  

Posted by carol

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 1:40:00 PM  
Blogger The Kosher Hedgehog said...

Carol: Believe me, here at the Hedgehog Blog we do not get all gooey and sentimental about Jimmy Carter. If you doubt that, just type in "Carter" in the search box at the top of the page and click on "Search This Blog." I voted for him in 1976, and have never cast a worse vote in a Presidential election. (I say that as a two-time Clinton voter.) 

Posted by The Kosher Hedgehog

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 2:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard L.A. Schaefer said...

It's true that Al Haig evaluated Nixon's legal status as being extremely negative when he listened to the tapes. It's also true that the person who had the job of wrapping up final details of the Special Prosecutor regarding Nixon concluded that there were not legal grounds to indict Nixon. Of course, he knew the law better than Al Haig. Reagan, like both of the Bush Presidents, spent extremely large amounts of federal money, even in comparison with Democratic Presidents; and he made a deal with Tip O'Neill that undercut Republican plans for austerity. Similarly Clinton was taken aside right after his election for a meeting with people like O'Neill and it led to less partisanship, though it must be said that Clinton said in horror to his Secretary of the Treasury after a new budget was presented to him (a budget he submitted and got approved): I've become an Eisenhowever Republican. Admittedly, the midterm election forced him to abandon his dilatory tactics about moving towards a balanced budget. 

Posted by Richard L.A. Schaefer

Wednesday, January 03, 2007 8:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Richard L.A. Schaefer said...

It's true that Al Haig evaluated Nixon's legal status as being extremely negative when he listened to the tapes. It's also true that the person who had the job of wrapping up final details of the Special Prosecutor regarding Nixon concluded that there were not legal grounds to indict Nixon. Of course, he knew the law better than Al Haig. Reagan, like both of the Bush Presidents, spent extremely large amounts of federal money, even in comparison with Democratic Presidents; and he made a deal with Tip O'Neill that undercut Republican plans for austerity. Similarly Clinton was taken aside right after his election for a meeting with people like O'Neill and it led to less partisanship, though it must be said that Clinton said in horror to his Secretary of the Treasury after a new budget was presented to him (a budget he submitted and got approved): I've become an Eisenhowever Republican. Admittedly, the midterm election forced him to abandon his dilatory tactics about moving towards a balanced budget. 

Posted by Richard L.A. Schaefer

Wednesday, January 03, 2007 8:52:00 AM  

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