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."
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?
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.