Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Six Crises 6

In the chapter on President Dwight Eisenhower's heart attack in his 1962 book, Six Crises, Richard Nixon lambastes some of the press for its treatment of Eisenhower after Eisenhower had a stroke.  Eisenhower after his stroke had difficulty expressing his thoughts, as he mixed up words and had problems coming up with the word that he wanted.  Ordinarily, even before the stroke, Eisenhower's mind tended to outrun his speech (and Nixon told Eisenhower that, in the case of many politicians, the exact opposite is the case!), which was why Eisenhower's thoughts sometimes appeared garbled.  But Eisenhower's stroke exasperated his struggle with words.

Regarding the press, Nixon says on page 175: "I thought that some of the press coverage of the President's difficulties in this period was unnecessarily savage and sadistic.  Some reporters insisted on counting up and duly reporting the exact number of 'fluffs'----actual or imagined----the President might make in a speech or press conference.  Knowing what agony he was going through, I would become so infuriated on reading such reports that on more than one occasion I slammed the paper or magazine into the fireplace."

Stephen Ambrose speculated in Nixon: The Education of a Politician that, had Nixon become President in 1960, he wouldn't have felt as under assault as he did in 1969, and his relations with the press would have probably been better.  I have my doubts about this, for I think that Nixon's ill-feelings towards the press were long building up, until they culminated in Nixon's 1962 statement to reporters that "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore".  In Six Crises, Nixon notes that a lot of the press was against him on the Alger Hiss case in the 1940's, that the press tended to highlight the sensational charges against Nixon in his 1952 race for Vice-President while not highlighting when those charges were disproved, and that there were people in the press who mocked Eisenhower after his stroke.  There are times when Nixon in Six Crises manifests a nuanced view of the press: when Nixon says that the press highlighted the charges against Nixon rather than the refutation of those charges because it was pursuing sensationalism in order to sell papers, when Nixon refers to reporters who treated him with respect when Eisenhower had a heart attack, and when Nixon acknowledges that there were newspapers that favored Republicans (Nixon's point being that he wasn't surprised when the liberal Washington Post was attacking him in 1952 for having a fund from the donations of private interests, but he realized that the situation was serious when Republican papers started attacking him, too).  But, in a number of cases in Six Crises, Nixon appears quite jaded when it comes to the press.

Perhaps the reporters who mocked Eisenhower after his stroke were themselves jaded.  The world of politics can easily harden people and make them cynical, sucking out of them (to a certain extent) important pieces of their humanity, such as compassion.

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