Nixon’s Shadow 6

For my blog post today about Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, I’ll use as my starting-point something that David Greenberg says on page 151.  The topic is how Richard Nixon as President hid himself from the press while showing the public a slick image, and how that was conveyed in the 1976 movie about Watergate entitled All the President’s Men.

“The film of All the President’s Men (1976), directed by Alan J. Pakula of The Parallax View and Klute, memorably rendered Nixon as inaccessible to reporters except via their TV screens.  ‘One of our big problems,’ said Robert Redford, the film’s producer and star, was ‘dramatizing an opposition that had become almost invisible.’  Pakula explained that the solution they devised was to make sure ‘you don’t see the president except on television.’  At the opening, Nixon is seen addressing the Congress after his triumphant Moscow summit.  In the closing sequence, he is sworn in for a second term, pledging to ‘preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,’ as Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, playing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, doggedly clack away at their typewriters.  Nixon’s absence except as a TV image served as a rebuttal to his claims that he liked to speak ‘directly’ to the public via television; as the film demonstrates, the televised address could be an indirect form of self-presentation, compared to press reports based on direct personal contact.  Nixon is perceived as a flickering shadow, not a flesh-and-blood person—-which was how most reporters experienced him in real life.”

I only read part of Greenberg’s long chapter about the Washington Press Corps’ image of “Nixon as  News Manager,” so what I say about this topic will be incomplete.  A point that Greenberg makes in this chapter is that there were many within the press who bought into the “new Nixon” that Nixon was trying to project in 1968—-the more tolerant Nixon, the more relaxed Nixon, the nicer Nixon, etc.  But they felt like real suckers when Joe McGinnis’ The Selling of the President 1968 came out.  On page 141, Greenberg says that McGinnis was arguing in this book that “since Nixon’s natural personality was so unappealing, his campaign aides concocted a new persona they projected through TV ads and tightly guarded performances.”  How did McGinnis know this?  Apparently, he had access to Nixon’s campaign while it was going on.  Greenberg states on page 141 that “McGinnis sneaked in under the radar screen, presenting himself to Nixon’s men as such an insignificant fly on the wall that they never thought to swat him away.”

Greenberg on page 142 says that what McGinnis was arguing in that book would strike many today as obvious: of course politicians try to project an image in an attempt to sell themselves.  To be honest, I’m rather skeptical that reporters back then did not know that.  As Greenberg notes in his chapter about the 1950’s liberals, critics of Nixon regarded Nixon as phony, as someone who hid behind his slick public persona as a champion of the common man.  While reporters may not have spent a whole lot of time with Nixon as a candidate (though Greenberg acknowledges that there were some who did), they got to spend time with other candidates.  Certainly, they would have noticed that the person they interacted with was not totally equal to the public image that the candidate was trying to project.  Am I right?

That said, I’d like to turn to Greenberg’s claim that, because the press largely did not know Nixon up close, they were less inclined to give him the benefit of a doubt during his scandals as President.  This is a challenge to me: letting people get to know me.  For me, part of this is introversion, and part of it may be a fear that people will not like me or find me cool or interesting enough.  Greenberg acknowledges that reporters found Kennedy to be more fun to be around than Nixon; plus, there was the factor of Nixon’s hostility towards the press, which did not particularly help his relationship with it.  But maybe reporters would have enjoyed hanging around Nixon, on some level.  Stephen Ambrose talks about how some who worked for Nixon found him to be a kind and considerate man.  Ambrose also says that, after Nixon was President, people liked going to his parties, notwithstanding his bad jokes.  Perhaps Nixon should have let reporters get to know him a little better.  He should have done this with prudence, mind you: you don’t want to bare your soul to just anyone, since they could easily get a bad impression or use what you say against you.  I think that all of us maintain a public image while hiding aspects of ourselves from the public: it’s a prudent thing to do.  But there’s also a place for getting to know people, on some level, and letting them get to know you.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Nixon’s Shadow 6

  1. Pingback: The Selling of the President 1968 | James' Ramblings

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