By Eric Anderson
The press has always shaped the way the public has viewed the presidency, especially over the last century with the emergence of the television and the depth of investigation into the presidency. Not only has the scope of reporting on the president become more in-depth, but the media’s ability to scrutinize the president has greatly increased over the years; “in August 1945, only 15 reporters were present as Truman disclosed the use of atomic weapons to be used in Japan – as of 1990, there were over 1,800 reporters that had passes to the White House Press Room” (source). While I cannot find a more recent number of reporters with White House access, I feel it’s safe to assume that it has only increased over the years.
Every president since the age of the household television has faced the light cast on them by the media, each has fallen on a different part of the spectrum ranging from hatred to adoration. I could systematically go through every president of the last 60 years and look at how the press has either helped or hurt their role in office, however that would be long and arduous so instead, I will be specifically looking at President Nixon in part one and Obama in part two (yet to come).
Looking at Nixon, we see a president who was hated by the media, having done very little to deserve such distaste. When looking at his accomplishments, it is astounding that he doesn’t receive more positive attention. Nixon was arguably the biggest “peacekeeper presidents” seen in recent history, Nixon had one of the most influential foreign policy implementations ever; not
only did he end the Vietnam war, but he also almost completely diffused the Cold War – he participated in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, both of which diplomatically reduced Cold War tensions between the U.S.S.R and the U.S.A., he was the first president to travel to and normalize relations with the Peoples Republic of China, taking power away from the U.S.S.R., and established a relationship with the Middle East, eliminating Russia’s hold over the region as well as sending a “massive amount of aid” to Israel in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. While Nixon’s domestic policy generally falls second to his foreign policy, many of his accomplishments are still worth noting: ending the draft, creating the EPA (and overseeing the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Et Al.), signing title IX, reducing the voter age to 18, and he “ended the policy of forced assimilation of American Indians, returned sacred lands, and became the first American President to give them the right to tribal self-determination” (source).
Looking at all of his accomplishments, why would the media dislike Nixon so much?
Ben Stein, Nixon’s speechwriter and friend attributes it to him not having a thick enough skin. “He was vulnerable and showed it when attacked…Like the schoolyard bullies they are, the media went after him for his vulnerability” (source). Pat Buchanan also believed that Nixon was unfairly represented by the media, considering the cries coming from the media to be “arrant nonsense” and bringing up the surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. by the FBI under the Johnson administration, saying “What did Nixon ever do to anyone, compared to what the liberals did to Dr. King?”
Did Nixon misuse the power of the Oval Office? Of course he did.
Did he deserve the systematic chastization from the media? Of course not, Nixon was not the first president to overstep the boundaries of his office, and he most certainly was not the last. Not even taking all of his political accomplishments into consideration, the justification for the destruction of the Nixon administration is thin at best. Which leads me to conclude that the media can have a serious negative impact on the presidency. But how can the influence of the media cast a president in a favorable light? Find out in part two, coming out soon.