Muskie wept: Ever so slowly they turn!


Telling the truth very slowly: In this morning’s New York Times, Jeremy Peters profiles Joe McQuaid, publisher of the (Manchester, N.H.) Union Leader.

The Union Leader was once extremely potent within the Granite State. According to conventional wisdom, it played a very large role in the White House campaign of 1972. In the passage which follows, Peters describes the newspaper’s deeply horrible former publisher. He helps us see how very slowly the mainstream press corps will sometimes tell us the truth:
PETERS (1/9/12): People have feared and loathed The Union Leader ever since the days of the curmudgeonly William Loeb III, who bought the paper in the 1940s and bullied a generation of politicians with vitriolic front-page editorials. Mr. Loeb headlined an article about Henry A. Kissinger’s appointment as secretary of state with an anti-Semitic slur. Edmund S. Muskie became “Moscow Muskie” and a flip-flopper. Mr. Muskie destroyed his candidacy by breaking down and appearing to cry while denouncing Mr. Loeb at a news conference outside the paper’s offices.
What a peculiar construction! We’re told that Muskie did break down (and destroy his own candidacy). But at the same time, we’re only told that he appeared to cry.

Muskie was considered to be the guy who could defeat Richard Nixon. This incident helped take the legs out from his campaign. In real time, David Broder played the lead role in claiming that Muskie broke down and cried. On the front page of the Washington Post, Broder reported, the very next day, that Muskie had “tears streaming down his face.”

Fifteen years later, Broder said that might have been wrong. "In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story," Broder wrote." "First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry." Incredibly, Broder's reporting may have steemed from judgments he and his buddies had reached as they played poker with Muskie. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/18/11.

This is a stunning piece of modern press corps history. It provides the gateway to the era in which the “press corps” has dreamed up stories to guide our thinking about the various candidates. Even today, you pretty much aren’t allowed to know about this remarkable episode. What does it mean when Peters says that Muskie appeared to cry?

Ever so slowly, you’re being told, in slender ways, that what you've always heard about Muskie may have been—How do we put this?—something less than true.

Also involved in Muskie's demise: Also involved in the downfall of Muskie's campaign: The way the press corps declared that he hadn't "met expectations" in the New Hampshire primary, despite a nine-point win over George McGovern.

They still play this self-dealing game. Just last week, Chris Matthews decreed that Romney must win by ten points.


  1. Hmmm.

    Methinks you're guilty here of one of those sins you often point out in others: ignoring significant context.

    It may well have been foolish to set that 50% standard for Muskie in '72; winning is finishing first.

    But the standard did not spring full-blown from David Broder's brow. It was set by Muskie's own campaign manager, Maria Carrier. On the record.

    Granted, the 'expectations game' has become a parody of itself by now. But reporters didn't start it; they...uh.. reported it. Their job.

  2. I can remember Loeb's front-page editorials with bold-face type and CAPS from the 1956 presidential campaign. Our school newspaper delighted in printing lampoons of his screeds.

    At the time, Mr. Loeb had to run the Union-Leader from Massachusetts, since he would have been subject to arrest in New Hampshire. Something to do with a nasty divorce, IIRC.

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