Commentary

44 Years Later, The Medium Is An Even More Powerful Message

In this era of virtually unlimited feeds of digital news and information -- both fake and real -- I’d like to suggest you step back and process the story of the day the old-fashioned way: in print. Or at least, in a digitized form of print: PDFs of the front page of a June 7, 1974 edition and today’s edition of the front page of The New York Times.

Both editions covered similar stories -- a sitting President of the United States being named an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal crime -- but the circumstances surrounding them, and the way the Times played them, are very different.

Using the the paper’s aptly named historic archives -- the “TimesMachine” -- you’ll see the paper played the news surrounding President Nixon as the right-hand lead story in what was then an eight-column front page. Today, the paper played Trump’s involvement in personal attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea as a banner across all six columns of its current front page.

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I’d need to speak to the paper’s Page One editors in both years to understand the difference in how they played those stories, but I’m going to infer that it is partly the difference in the nature of the two stories, as well as the difference in the times.

When Nixon was explicitly implicated in the Watergate cover-up it was new territory for a major national newspaper to cover news about a sitting President’s involvement in a federal crime. Forty-four years later, the memory of Watergate has been ingrained in our collective consciousness and has hung over the Trump Administration, at least since Robert Mueller was named Special Counsel to investigate the Trump Campaign’s role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

I’m not going to use today’s column to comment on the nature of those crimes, the legal merits or the politics. I’m just weighing in on a media experience of it and suggesting that if you simply filter the news from the vantage point of one of the most highly curated media experiences you can still experience -- the front page of the print edition of The New York Times -- you’ll get the message.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but when the picture is a four-color one on the front page of The New York Times showing the President’s personal attorney leaving a courthouse after pleading guilty and testifying that he was directed by the President to pay hush money to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with him, it’s got to be worth something more than that.

7 comments about "44 Years Later, The Medium Is An Even More Powerful Message".
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  1. Ken Kurtz from creative license, August 26, 2018 at 8:14 a.m.

    Interesting juxtaposition. Times have changed, that's for sure. Powerful men paying money to sick women with no compunction about sleeping with married men to encourage their silence? Same ol', same ol'. 

    Let's ride the DeLorean back another decade to those "frat-boy" Kennedy brothers. Our President, and Attorney General sneaking hundreds of women (including a mentally ill Marilyn Monroe who later took her own life) into the White House for adulterous purposes (Hey Bobby, me first then sloppy seconds for you!), and the lengths they went to keep it from the "the wives," and voters. Gotta keep up a good face for re-election, don't ya know?

    The print press then, with a collective wink, and nod... CHOSE NOT to devote a single column to these dalliances, and the "illegal" attempts to keep them secret.

    It's hard to tell what's fake and real any more. I've never known that a billionaire paying a mere pittance of his own money to porn stars (hard core like Stormy, or soft-core like nude model Karen... again, SICK women) in exchange for their discretion to be illegal.

    Does a shyster lawyer like Cohen stating that he was "directed to commit a crime" by transfering his boss's funds to these "ladies" to encourage their discretion actually make it a crime? The NYTimes clearly would like people to believe that a real crime was commited, but then, that's one of the primary differences between then, and now.

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, August 26, 2018 at 8:52 a.m.

    @Kenny Kurtz: interesting analogy, but your main point is the right one: times have changed.

    The reason the press turned a blind eye to the Kennedys and every President before, was because there was an implied respect for the Presidency, which changed with Richard Nixon. But it wasn't until Gary Hart's campaign that the media explicitly began exposing affairs. Our culture changed and the way the media cover it changed along with it.

    Re. your last point, a crime WAS committed, and Cohen has been convicted as part of his guilty plea. He also implicated Trump as a co-conspirator, but it's just the testimony of his personal lawyer. It will be up to our legal system, and more likely our political system to determine if Trump committed that particular crime.

    In the court of public opinion, it seems like you feel he is innocent.

    Re. the Times coverage, I don't think you can isolate it from eveything else Trump has done to date.

    The reality is the President's personal attorney pled guilty to a felony and implicated and provided evidence that he was directed by his client. Coming on the same day Trump's campaign manager was convicted by a jury, I think the Times played it right. But that's just me.

  3. Ken Kurtz from creative license replied, August 27, 2018 at 10:08 p.m.

    Hey Joe. Your contention that the reason the press turned a blind eye to the Kennedys was because there was some "implied respect" is woefully insufficient, and ignores things like today's "Me Too" movement, and certain transparencies that didn't exist back then. Add in the preponderance of men in the press six decades ago, and the fact that to them, illicit affairs/adultery did not constitute news, and I think we're making a start on a more complete, and realistic snapshot.

    Your contention also begs the question whether that "implied respect" was earned. I mean, the sheer number of women that John and Bobby were sneaking in, and fornicating with as married men? Men like them, holding two of the most powerful positions on Planet Earth? Were the tails wagging the dogs there (John and Bobby) on that "respect" thing? What did they do to earn any respect?

    As for whether of not Trump is innocent, I must plead ignorance. Honestly, I'm not even sure what Cohen was found guilty of (although I did read he pleaded guilty to eight counts of something). I've just never heard, or understood that paying for a lover's silence with your own money was illegal. Men have been doing it since the beginning of time, and will continue doing it until the end of time to keep a modicum of peace in their marriages, and other relationships.

    My bigger point is that I'm not particularly sure why I should care if Trump, or any other President throughout history attemped to keep indiscretions like these secret, or use their money to buy silence. Especially when the affairs took place while a private citizen.

    Again, look at JFK. Sex addict, sex with dozens upon dozens of women while President in the White House, straight-up dope addict, on so many pills that he makes today's opiod crisis look like a garden party. WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT EVEN THAT? He was a pretty good President... that's what I care about! How about Slick Willy, the grandfather of the ME TO movement? Sexual harassment against a fresh out of college intern in his employ. The left keeps insisting that it was a consensual relationship, ignoring the fact that Clinton occupied the MOST POWERFUL OFFICE on Planet Earth, and he seduced a recent college graduate three decades his junior that was working for him which, by definition, takes "consensual" OFF THE TABLE, and makes anybodt that presses it appear terribly ignorant. BUT EVEN THAT! Why should I care? Clinton was a pretty good President, that's what matters in that job that, even today, deserves respect.

    Which brings me to Trump. Why does the left think I should be so outraged by yet another President that's doing a pretty damn good job, is a broken, pathetic, egotistical liar like so many Presidents that came before him?

  4. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, August 28, 2018 at 9:54 a.m.

    @Kenny Kurtz: You woefully ignored what I said in my first reply: "Our culture changed and the way the media cover it changed along with it." That includes many things, including #metoo, etc., but I was focusing on why the media's deference to the Presidency has changed over time, and Nixon was the inflection point, though I think Lyndon Johnson's handling of the Viet Nam war played a role too. Up until that point, the White House Press Corps, especially, would turn a blind eye to Presidential indiscretions. And a President like JFK could literally call up The New York Times and ask them to sit on the Bay of Pigs invasion story, because they had that much respect for the office. Trump didn't break that, he's just brought the level of disrespect to another strata.

  5. Ken Kurtz from creative license replied, August 28, 2018 at 1:55 p.m.

    Hmmmm Joe. Your first reply? Your first reply to me unequivocally states "The reason the press turned a blind eye to the Kennedys and every President before, was because there was an implied respect for the Presidency" and pointed to none of those other things. You provided a singular, blanket "reason" and I'm "woeful" for pointing out the many other factors? Was I supposed to read those other things into your singular reason for "the blind eye" pre-Nixon?

    You conflate "respect for the Presidency" with respect for the fallen, and broken men that have held the office (and there has been a laundry list of them, including Obama who lied about the degree to which he would reach across the aisle, and paid that lie off by becoming quite imperial throughout his eight years, and doing ZERO "reaching across the aisle" in bi-partisan fashion). Part of the reason Obama got so little done, rode herd over such a laggard recovery, and wound up with his "signature" accomplishment being partially unconstitutional, and misnamed (the "Affordable" Care Act actually made healthcare far more unaffordable)...

    These things said, as a registered Independent, I voted for Clinton in '92, and Obama in 2008. Clinton was a very flawed man that was a pretty damn good President, Obama a cool and cerebral candidate that was perhaps less flawed, had his own peccadilloes, but was a pretty bad President that got little done. He earned my vote in 2008 because he was the anti-Bush (again, cool and cerebral as opposed to Dubya's Alfred E. Neumann personna).

    Point is, people earn respect, or disrespect. Not offices. The respect for the President of the United States will remain intact regardless of what flawed, broken, egotistical buffoon sits in the office because of what the United States of America is, and what it will always represent in the world. People either earn, or do not earn respect... not "offices" or "positions" like POTUS.

    Nixon? Agreed. Horrible human being. BUT WHY SHOULD I CARE? He, again, was a damn good President that got lots of good things done. We are NOT electing altar boys, or choir boys. Never have, never will. And thank God, because attempting to do so would be ignorant.

  6. Ken Kurtz from creative license, August 28, 2018 at 2:03 p.m.

    The patriarchal nature of the press back then had more to do with "blind eye" than anything else. Men love to keep their secrets. Look at the catholic church. Speaking of altar boys, and choir boys... think of all the young boys that were being raped by priests back when the similarly patriarchal press, was doing its collective "wink wink, secret secret" on those rapscallion catholic Kennedy boys. Think about pope john paul, recently RUSHED to "sainthood" before too many people got wind that he knowingly assigned pedophile priests to new unsuspecting parishes, thereby guaranteeing the rape, and molestation of thousands of additional boys throughout the world. Oh yes... men love their secrets. 

  7. Ken Kurtz from creative license, August 28, 2018 at 2:21 p.m.

    My grandfather was a crime reporter at the New York Times for three decades before passing away TOO SOON while in the employ of "The Gray Lady." Boy, did he have secrets.

    My dad started his career at the same "Gray Lady" and retired decades later from The Newspaper Advertising Bureau. Good God, the secrets.

    I'm sorry Joe, but the notion that such secrets were kept at that time by the patriarchal press of that time because there existed respect for the office of POTUS that doesn't exist today doesn't hold much water.

    My Uncle Jack was Director of Nixon's White House Security team. I'm still amazed that after being grilled at the Watergate hearings, he was the only "player" that didn't wind up doing jail time, but he paid in other ways. I remember our family driving from NY to Florida late in the sunmmer of 1972 when I was 13 years old. We stopped in Virginia to caravan the rest of the way down to Florida with our Caulfield cousins, and I remember asking my dad why Uncle Jack had to keep pulling off the road, and pump coins into pay phones, and engage in such heated conversations. My dad lied to me.

    Oh, those dirty men, and their dirty secrets. As dirty as it all is, utterly incapable of diminishing the office of POTUS. That office has always commanded respect, and always will, regardless of the endless succession of flawed, broken men that occupy it.

    As dirty as Nixon was, he only brought shame, and disrespect upon himself.

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