November 07, 2009

Is Nixon’s November 7, 1962 rant a “teachable moment”?

Long before dogged news coverage of the Watergate scandal helped force Richard M. Nixon to resign as President in 1974, he disliked the press.

In fact, throughout his long political career, Nixon felt the media generally had a liberal bias and an unfairly negative attitude toward him.

He disliked the way the press failed to fully embrace his anti-communist fervor in the late 1940s, when he was a Congressman and member of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

He was annoyed by some of the coverage he got as Vice President under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

He thought the press was unfair to him in his unsuccessful campaign for President against John F. Kennedy in 1960.

And, in 1962, after Nixon lost the race for Governor of California to Democrat Pat Brown, he was convinced that slanted press coverage was a factor in his loss.

On November 7, 1962, the morning after that election, Nixon held a press conference in which his ire at the press infamously overflowed.

Most people know this frequently quoted part of what he said that day:

“You won't have Nixon to kick around any more because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

But that quote is just the short sound bite from what Nixon said that day – a famous quotation with no context.

If you’re interested in politics and the media, you should read the entire transcript of what Nixon said, especially since it has some ironic relevance to recent political events. (The transcript is posted on the venerable Language Log. There’s also a video excerpt on YouTube.)

I particularly suggest the transcript of Nixon’s November 7, 1962 rant as recommended reading for President Obama and his team, because their recent attacks on Fox News seem eerily Nixonian to me.

I don’t say that because I believe Obama will be creating an “enemies list” or tapping reporters’ phones or doing other evil Nixonian things like that.

I say it because, to me, the attacks on Fox News seem as petty and counterproductive as Nixon’s “last press conference.”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to November 7:

“She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”  - American politician Adlai Stevenson’s famous comment to the press when he learned about the death of Eleanor Roosevelt on November 7, 1962. He was adapting an old Chinese proverb that was also used as the motto of the Catholic humanitarian group, the Christopher Society, in the form: “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

“It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” - The title of the classic movie comedy that spawned the linguistic formula of four repeating adjectives: “It's a —, —, —, — , [something].” The film, with it’s all star cast of great comedians, had its world premiere at the Hollywood Cinerama on November 7, 1963.

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