Weekend Reading: Teddy White’s View of Poilticians
Jon Schwarz: Legendary Journalist in Private: “It Is All Fraudulent, All of It, Everywhere”: “Politico recently ran a fantastic historical profile…
…of journalist Theodore H. White by the writer Scott Porch. White invented the genre of modern presidential campaign books with The Making of the President, 1960 (and then 1964, 1968 and 1972). The 1960 version, which won a Pulitzer Prize and sold four million copies, describes John F. Kennedy as a ‘forlorn and lonesome young man … lithe as an athlete … handsome and tired, with just a fleck of gray now in his glossy brown hair’ who ‘baffled’ the ‘old-line politicians of Tammany.’ Then after Kennedy was assassinated, White helped Jackie Kennedy create the ‘Camelot’ myth of his presidency.
In other words, White publicly took the stance that U.S. politicians and politics were just super. This is from the first pages of The Making of the President, 1960:
“I owe two general acknowledgments: First, to the politicians of America — men whom I have found over the long years the pleasantest, shrewdest and generally the most honorable of companions.… Second, I must thank my comrades of the press — whose reporting at every level of America politics purifies, protects and refreshes our system from year to year…”
But what did White think about U.S. politics in private? See if you can spot the subtle difference between White’s public statements and this letter he wrote to a close friend on August 31, 1960 during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign:
“…it is all fraudulent, all of it, everywhere, up and down, East and West. The movies, radio and state and books and TV — all of them are fraudulent; and the foundations and universities and scholars, they are all fraudulent too; and the executives and the financiers … and the Commissars and the Krushchevs and the Mao Tze-tungs, they are fraudulent equally; it is all a great game; and there are two dangers in this great game: first, the fraudulent people come to believe their own lies, they come to have faith in their fraud; and second, underneath it all, because people are fundamentally good, they come to realize that we live in lies and the people get angrier and angrier and they may explode.
“The scenery of politics is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. Yet I must report all this as serious. This is the strain on me. That I must be serious, and I must exhaust myself trying to find out what is true and what is fraud and yet, even after I know, I must take them both seriously and write of them both as if I did not know the true distinctions between them…”
(Thanks to Porch, who quotes some of the 1960 letter, for sending me the whole thing.)
Originally published at www.bradford-delong.com.