Special of the week; Issue 1-71 "President Nixon and the Media"
NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week from WPI in Nashville an address delivered before the Peabody college chapter of the American Association of University Professors on President Nixon and the media. The speaker is Dr. Ray Hubert director of the Washington journalism center at the University of Maryland. How many of you have heard of George Bush one and two three. Good. Well I'm glad you heard of him because George Bush may very well be the next vice president of the United States. And many people think that if he is the next vice president he will go on to succeed Richard Nixon in 1076 as the next president of the United States. And my guess is that less than one percent of the country
even has heard of George Bush. Well the reason why I ask you that question is going to be apparent in the course of our discussion tonight because George Bush is the vice presidential candidate or potential land presidential potential for one reason alone and that is mass media. We'll talk about that in a minute. Richard Nixon will probably be recorded in history as America's most mass media oriented president. Now many of our presidents have had a keen awareness of the press. Thomas Jefferson defended press freedom and then surreptitiously instigated the founding of a newspaper that would be sympathetic to him rather than the independent papers he had been protecting.
Andrew Jackson hired the first White House press secretary and Ghost Writer Teddy Roosevelt set up a special room in the White House as a favor to news reporters. Woodrow Wilson instituted the first press conference and FDR and JFK were both master manipulators of the mass media. But Richard Nixon may turn out to be the most sophisticated of them all. This does not mean that he likes the media. From all appearances he does not. Roosevelt was genuinely fond of the press. Franklin Roosevelt. As a matter of fact he called reporters his beloved wolves. Truman could pal around with newsmen at the National Press Club and enjoy it. Some of Kennedy's best friends were Washington correspondents. Even LBJ for all his heavy handedness with reporters had a true reverence for the
press and Dwight D Eisenhower was often downright grandfatherly to the men and women who covered his administration. But Richard Milhous Nixon is all business when it comes to the fourth estate. He has little reason to feel fond of the press and few warm spots in his heart for the deeds reporters have done to him. For example it was the press that first exposed his rough political tactics back in California in the late 40s in the Helen GEOGHEGAN Douglass campaign. It was the press that nearly cost him the vice presidency in 1052 by exposing campaign fund discrepancies resulting in his famous Checkers speech. It was the television cameras that got credit for beating Nixon in 1960 by over emphasizing his mean 5 o'clock shadow and his blunt
answers in debate with John F. Kennedy. And it was the press on whom he turned when he lost in 1962 in the California gubernatorial election. And in a vicious attack on nationwide television he hissed at reporters that they had finally succeeded in getting Richard Nixon. In 1968 However an entirely new Richard Nixon emerged after six years of political exile in the sophisticated regions of eastern establishment wall street legal and financial circles. The new Nixon was cool and savvy with a new public relations polish and a coterie of top professional communications advisors. Among them were sharp
young Madison Avenue advertising executives such as Ronald Ziegler who is now the White House press secretary or public relations expert such as William Sapphire who is now the president's chief speechwriter or leading television producer directors such as William Shakespeare who now heads the U.S. I and one other important individual a calm soft spoken newspaper editor from California an old Nixon campaign worker with an astute knowledge of the press a man by the name of Herbert Klein who is now the administration's director of communications. It's a matter fact Klein's position was Nixon's first major innovation in his press relations. Never before had the executive branch of government used one man to oversee its total communications
effort. The press in Washington sometimes refers to Klein as the communications czar of Washington. But I think perhaps it would be more appropriate to think of him more or less as a quiet musician offstage who prepares the orchestration for the entire concert. The sound of the Nixon administration one small example of this is the unobtrusive effort that has been going on during the first two years of the new administration to replace agency and department information officers. Even those who enjoy civil service standing with political appointments who can be directly responsive to Herbert Klein. The office of director of communications as thus far proved to be an outstanding success for the Nixon team.
Hardly a reporter in Washington disliked Herb Klein and few have been able to pin him with a single slip. The new position has moved the public relations function in the White House one step closer to cabinet level status which is a stature it enjoys in many other countries. It seems reasonably certain that future administrations will not downgrade the office of director of communications but that this will become a permanent part of American government. That's one man's opinion but no one man not Richard Klein not Herbert Klein nor Richard Nixon. Is responsible for Nixon's communication policies as Joe McGinniss points out in his bestselling book The Selling of the president the Nixon program is basically a team
effort. It is precisely this kind of team operation the organization man operation the production by committee that makes the current administration a mass media phenomenon. Well what strategies have been followed by this team during its first two years in office. If we examine the history of communications strategies in American government we can identify at least six major communication tactics and of these six the Nixon administration has concentrated on specialized aspects of three let's set forth the broad picture first of all and look at these six tactics. First of all we have what we can call the use of legal restraints to control the mass media and to
force the media to carry the views of the party in power. Well laws and legal restraints are widely used in all totalitarian states as a way to control the press. But if this is largely impossible in American democracy simply because the Constitution protects the press the press and prevents laws which would coerce the press. As a consequence the next administration like all other administrations has done little legally to restrain the press with one single misbegotten exception of its efforts to tighten the smut and pornography laws. For the most part. The Nixon administration like other administrations
has wisely urged laws creating more freedom of the press rather than less. And this is always a diversionary tactic and a good tactic in a democratic society. The second strategy is the use of the withholding of information restricting that which is damaging to the party in power. Eisenhower made considerable use of this strategy freely exercising his executive privilege to classify information as confidential secret or top secret. The mosque committee a committee congressional committee headed by Representative John Vause from California which investigated government information practices estimated that by the end of the Eisenhower years information in the Defense Department alone was being classified at the rate of a stack of papers as tall as the Empire State Building every week.
Well all presidents have withheld information to some extent. Eisenhower exaggerated this tactic. Nixon on the other hand I think has wisely not made any important strategy out of withholding information during the Nixon administration thus far I think perhaps more information is available to the press and to the public than has been normally available in administrations in the past. The third strategy is the strategy of releasing information strategically laying out that which is useful to the party through press releases press conferences interviews publications broadcasts or Productions. Here again every administration has needed to resort to this sort of tactic. Increasingly as the mass media themselves are
incapable of gathering and processing all the information that is necessary for the citizen to know some administrations have emphasized press handouts some have emphasized press conferences interviews some productions. FDR for example used radio to great advantage particularly in his famous fireside chats radio was uniquely fitted to FDR because it allowed him to project his powerful voice without betraying his crippled body. And few people during the FDR administration realized that he was a man who could not get around on his own two feet. Radio allowed him to hide that fact for Richard Nixon the important
way to release information to the public is through network television. It will come back to this point the fourth strategy of government in communicating is the use of staged events to create interest in the party in power. Some presidents have been particular masters of this tactic. For example John F. Kennedy. Whose televised press conferences in the State Department auditorium were among the most popular shows of all time. Even LBJ could stage an event sometimes in a somewhat clumsier fashion than the more stylish JFK but LBJ for instance could rush off on a trip to the South Pacific and East Asia at precisely the moment that Senator Fulbright was
staging an event of his own a congressional hearing on Vietnam and LBJ. The US took the spotlight of publicity away from Fulbright hearings. While Richard Nixon has staged some events of his own his administration has not gained great reputation for the use of this tactic possibly because his team is a more conservative group of individuals that lacks the imaginative stuntmen and creative showbiz promoters that for instance JFK had the fifth tactic is the use of persuasion to pressure the press into sympathetic coverage. There are many avenues to human persuasion. One is out right arm twisting or bribery to get somebody to agree with you. Another is another form of bribery bribery or friendship. A
third might be rational argument. A fourth might be coercion in the form of bullying or intimidating and it is this particular tactic that is Richard Nixon's strong tool in his communication arsenal. His specialty is intimidation and his weapon is Spiro Agnew. And Sixth we have the strategy of the use of feedback to formulate policies which can be communicated and accepted. Now all politicians have to be responsive to their constituencies. That's what politics is all about. But it is only been in the last two or three administrations that the science of polling and public opinion analysis has provided a hard statistical base for what was
formally political intuition. This tactic has become another of Richard Nixon's main strategies. Allow him to shape his policies and to seize upon those issues which will be acceptable to the electorate who place and keep him in power. In sum then looking at the range of communication tactics available to the politician today the Nixon team has concentrated on a program which provides a variation on three themes one the use of television as the dominant medium for the strategic release of information and secondly the use of public opinion analysis as feedback to shape the message. And third the use of persuasion through intimidation. With Spiro Agnew as the arm twister of the enemy let us
look at each of these tactics in a little bit greater detail. First of all television recently Life magazine noted that during the first 18 months of Richard Nixon's administration he spent more prime time on the nation's TV screens than did all his predecessors combined. Of course only a few of his predecessors had television to deal with so that this isn't as damning a statistic as it seems. However it is ironic especially in view of the fact that most experts felt that Nixon was not a natural TV personality. And most people harken back to his 1960 campaign where they gave television credit for allowing for losing the election to John F. Kennedy
in his 1964 book Understanding media Marshall McLuhan refers to Nixon as a hot TV property with a hot TV image as opposed to Kennedy's more comfortable cool. It's McLuhan's they says of course that television is a cool medium and that only a casual informal cool personality types can use the medium. But Nixon has had careful advice since 1964 including memos from staffers who have read Marshall McLuhan. The president used two techniques in employing television. First the prime time crisis speech and secondly the televised press conference. In neither situation does he confront an adversary directly as he did in the Kennedy debate in 1960
and in both situations he comes to the eye of the camera with a calm steady low keyed approach. The crisis speeches are usually a half hour in format on a national or international crisis. Vietnam for instance can't state the Middle East airline hijacking. Since the issue is an emergency one. Nixon asks for prime time on nationwide television and the networks have to provide it because the issues are a stance of play newsworthy not political. And since they are news speeches the opposition cannot ask for equal time according to a recent FCC interpretation of its equal time and fairness doctrine regulations. Of course not all agree that these speeches are apolitical. CBS television news recently asked the FCC to reconsider its ruling
and in its petition it cited extensive statements from Nixon's own TV crisis speeches that sounded rather political. For example and I quote We have heard a great deal of overblown rhetoric during the sixties. One quote or quote the previous administration tried to jawboning on quote or quote this Congress has the worst record unquote etc. etc.. Life magazine observed that the televising of his veto of the congressional education appropriations bill was a slanted self-serving and utterly unnecessary use of the public airwaves. The second television technique is the press conference. Actually Richard Nixon has held relatively few press conferences so
fewer As a matter of fact that the press corps in Washington has officially lodged a protest asking for an extended hold more press conferences. Now what a switch This is from the past when the press corps criticized presidents for holding too many press conferences. But when Nixon holds a conference for a newsman it is almost always a formal televised affair. Unlike Johnson or Cannady he does not like to meet with newsman casually or spontaneously. In these press conferences Nixon has mastered the use of television. That came so naturally to Kennedy Ray Shero of NBC calls his performance cool and courteous. Eric Sevareid calls him Chris. These are the kinds of adjectives precisely that Marshall McLuhan suggests ought to describe the kind of character that comes across well on television.
The president has carefully rehearsed on all possible questions and it isn't too important whether questions are planted with newsmen or not. Some of them certainly are. But the issues themselves are fairly obvious and the interests are similar on both sides. Doesn't Mac make too much difference. And when he has been asked a tough hot controversy all unexpected question thus far he's managed to maintain his cool his dignity in fielding the question with humor or turning it aside with a non-answer. But most important has been the staging of both the crisis speeches and the press conferences since so many experts felt that Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow and his beady eyes would cost him viewer sympathy in his TV appearances. But the new Nixon team is conquered this problem largely through staging
techniques. First of all the president keeps a regular deep tan. That may be one of the reasons he goes down to Florida and California regularly. Although you can also get this hand out of a bottle these days. His 10 is augmented with make up for the telecast. Secondly lighting experts have a range to Bank of flood lights and spotlights in such a position in front and below the president that there are no shadows under his chin or under his eyes might seem like an obvious thing if you're theatrically inclined certainly it is obvious. They put a light blue drapery behind the president replacing the old gold colored drapes. And this brings out the flesh tones and Nixon's coloring. Even more important with color television in addition they've removed the podium. They don't have a big heavy thing like this up
front of the president and instead have provided him with one slender microphone stand much as a comedian in a nightclub would have. And this obviously increases the direct intimate quality of the telecast. Well Nixon is no nightclub performer but. And television is not natural to him. But he seems to have mastered the techniques of being a television performer and he has gathered around himself a team of men who can provide him with expert advice on the subject. Now the second main strategy in Nixon's communication tactic is polling. Nixon also understands the role of polling in modern political communication as he understands television. His team understands that the
basic the basis of political power in democratic societies is the acceptance of the people with the electorate on your side. You can do anything without it. Nothing. LBJ understood this very well. When the handwriting of the polls indicated he had little option but to decline another term of office his power to act had already been reduced by a low popularity rating. Well even before the 1968 political convention in Miami nominated Richard Nixon his team had been employing the Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton to undertake issue polling across the country to learn what the people were thinking and what stand Nixon should be taking done or bador for a Washington Post reporter call this Nixon effort quote the most complex sophisticated and expensive private
polling effort in American political history. That was before Richard Nixon was even nominated to the presidency. These polls told the Nixon strategist that law and order was a prime issue. So this became a major Nixon campaign theme. Public fear of communism was also revealed in the polls. So this became a campaign issue. Even the choice of a vice presidential running mate Spiro Agnew was dictated in part by the polls. Again quoting down or bador for of the post. Quote. Opinion Research Corporation reported that Nixon would run better with a blank beside his name than with any of the leading possibilities and throughout the campaign the Nixon polls indicated that Agnew was less an issue with the public than he was with the press. End of quote.
Well in the meantime that blank has become a famous household word. The use of polling to determine political position has been outlined in a new book by Richard Scammon and Ben J Wattenberg called the real majority. This book gives scientific credence to the tactic followed by Nexen namely that by careful attention to the wishes and desires of the public one can fashion a political platform to win the Central majority of American voters. As a matter of fact to Scammon in Wattenberg the typical American voter is a 47 year old wife of a machinist living in suburban Dayton Ohio. If you can reach her you can win the election. And this is the person to whom the Nixon administration communication is directed. You have been listening to Dr. Ray Hubert director of the Washington journalism center at the
- Special of the week
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Identifier: 71-SPWK-507 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: Special of the week; Issue 1-71 "President Nixon and the Media". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-nk36588d