Dick Nixon won on the radio: On Saturday, we may have overstated a bit concerning the press corps’ Standard Tales from Past Presidential Debates.
We said there were maybe a dozen such tales. The best number may be smaller.
Last Friday night, Anderson Cooper rattled a list of the Standard Tales the children haul out at this time of the year. These are the seven he treated:
The mainstream press corps’ Standard Tales from Past Presidential DebatesAs matters stand, those have become the Magnificent Seven—the mainstream press corps’ Standard Tales from Past Presidential Debates. To complete the official list, you must include “You’re no Jack Kennedy” and “Who am I? Why am I here?” from vice-presidential debates.
1960: Richard Nixon “sweat[s] profusely under the hot studio lights.”
1976: Gerald Ford makes a ridiculous statement about Soviet domination of Poland.
1980: Ronald Reagan wins the election by saying to Carter, in jocular fashion, “There you go again.”
1984: Reagan cinches re-election by telling a joke about Mondale’s age.
1988: Michael Dukakis fails to punch Bernie Shaw right in the nose.
1992: President Bush “deliberately looks at his watch,” blowing his chance for re-election.
2000: Al Gore “sighs over and over again. And Bush, the underdog, surprises by winning the debate and of course, the election.”
Looking at those standard tales, you get a dispiriting look at the way our official “journalism” works. To judge from this official list, there has never been a winning claim about some serious matter during a White House debate!
With the exception of Gerald Ford’s gaffe, all the iconic events involve “body language,” quips and jokes, or matters of physical appearance and perceived temperament. This provides an unfortunate map to the soul of the modern “press corps.”
These are the moments your “journalists” recall when they think back on our White House debates! Put another way, those are the moments they and their colleagues chose to stress in the aftermath of these debates.
Exaggerating wildly, they love to say that Gore “perpetually sighed” in that first debate with Bush. They don’t say what he was sighing about. And they cling to their childish tales, no matter if they’ve been debunked.
The basic facts will get rearranged to give their silly novels more punch. Example:
Cooper’s claim to the side, Candidate Bush didn’t “win the debate” at which Candidate Gore so memorably sighed. But here’s a more famous example:
On September 7, two AP reporters filed a preview of this year’s election. In their section on presidential debates, Donna Cassata and Connie Cass began with a hoary old tale:
CASSTA AND CASS (9/7/12): With debates, it's important to watch as well as listen. Despite hours of study and practice to get their best lines down pat, it's sometimes actions, not words that prove memorable. Remember 1960, when people listening on the radio were certain Richard Nixon had won a debate, while those watching TV awarded it squarely to John F. Kennedy.Nixon won on the radio! He only lost among TV viewers because of his lousy makeup! This hoary old tale was debunked long ago, but many reporters still recite it. The AP was still advancing this groaner at the start of last month.
Once the chimps have a story they like, that hoary old tale never dies. In the case of their Standard Tales from Past White House Debates, this means that the journalists must execute two key assignments:
They must erase the role they themselves played in creating this Famous Debate Event. And they must avoid the basic facts that undermine their preferred tale.
Tomorrow, we’ll see Cooper pretend that public reaction made these famous events so important. In all cases, these silly old groaners must be blamed on reactions of the voters.
According to edicts of Hard Pundit Law, these famous events became so important because of the way the public reacted. As always:
If you hear the press corps tell it, the press corps itself wasn’t there!
Dick Nixon looked great on the radio: Did Nixon win that debate on the radio? There's no real evidence that this occurred.
For a brief treatment of the debunking, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/08.