Tuesday, October 20, 2009

delanceyplace.com 10/20/09 - nixon masters television

In today's excerpt - Nixon masters TV as part
of his successful 1967 presidential campaign,
and as part of that his staff invents the
completely staged "impromptu" encounter with

"The idea for Nixon's new approach to
television had come of an appearance the
previous autumn on Mike Douglas's afternoon
chat show. As Nixon sat in the Douglas show's
chair he chatted perfunctorily with a young
producer about how silly it was that
it took gimmicks like going on daytime talk
shows to get elected in
America in 1968. The producer, a twenty-
six-year-old named Roger Ailes,
did not come back with the expected
deferential chuckle. Instead he lectured
him: if Nixon still thought talk shows were a
gimmick, he'd never become
president of the United States. Ailes then
reeled off a litany of Nixon's TV
mistakes in 1960, when Ailes had been in high
school-and, before he knew
it, had been whisked to New York and invited
to work for the man in charge
of the media team, Frank Shakespeare. ...

"His young confederate Ailes was a
TV-producing prodigy, transforming
Douglas from a local Philadelphia fixture
into a national icon of square chic:
'Each weekday more than 6,000,000 housewives
in 171 cities set up their
ironing boards in front of the TV set to
watch their idol,' said a feature story
in Time. Ailes was perfect to execute the
newest Nixon's new idea, the most
brazen in the history of political TV. Ailes,
Garment, Shakespeare, Ray Price,
and a young lawyer [named] Tom Evans, met in
a CBS screening room. Like football coaches,
they reviewed game film: seven hours of
Nixon TV appearances. As a stump speaker, the
medium could make him
look like an earnest, sweaty litigator. He
did better on camera in informal
settings, looking a questioner in the eye.
They decided that this would be
how they would make sure Nixon was seen - all
through 1968.

"But Richard Nixon had enemies. Genuinely
impromptu encounters - the
sort that were supposed to be the charm of
New Hampshire campaigning -
had a chance of turning nasty. Thus the
innovation. They would film
impromptu encounters. Only they would be

"Shakespeare brought on board a TV specialist
from Bob Haldeman's old
employer, J. Walter Thompson [Advertising].
Harry Treleaven was a TV-obsessed nerd
who perennially bored people by rhapsodizing
over the technical details of
his craft. Militantly indifferent to
ideology, his last triumph was rewiring the
image of George Herbert Walker Bush, the new
congressman from Houston who'd lost a Senate
race as a Goldwater Republican in '64.
street in Houston had thought George Bush
likable, though 'there was a
haziness about exactly where he stood
politically,' Treleaven wrote in a
postmortem memo. Treleaven thought that was
swell. 'Most national issues
today are so complicated, so difficult to
understand,' he said, that they
'bore the average voter.' Putting 85 percent
of Bush's budget into advertising, almost
two-thirds of that into TV, he set to work
inventing George
Bush as a casual kind of guy who walked
around with his coat slung over his
shoulder (he was actually an aristocrat from
Connecticut). Since the polls
had him behind, Treleaven also made him a
'fighting underdog,' 'a man
who's working his heart out to win.' His
ideology, whatever it was, wasn't

"Nixon gave this team carte blanche: 'We're
going to build this whole
campaign around television. You fellows just
tell me what you want me to
do and I'll do it.'

"On February 3, he was slipped out a back
door in Concord and spirited
to tiny Hillsborough, where an audience of
two dozen townsfolk handpicked by the local
Nixon committee sat waiting in a local
courtroom. Outside were uniformed guards to
keep out the press - the men to whom Richard
had just pledged his most open campaign ever.
Lights, camera, action; citizens asked their
questions; cameras captured their man's
answers; then, Treleaven, Ailes, and Garment
got to work chopping the best bits into TV
spots. ...

"The reporters threatened mutiny. Ailes
offered them a compromise: from
now on they'd be allowed to watch on monitors
in a room nearby and interview the audience
after the show. If they didn't like it,
tough. A man who
raged at what he could not control, Richard
Nixon had found a way to be in

Rick Perlstein, Nixonland, Scribner,
Copyright 2008 by Rick Perlstein, pp. 233-235.


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