Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Prez Aspirants: Beware of Journalism Past

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Prez Aspirants: Beware of Journalism Past

Article excerpt

A word of warning to Al Gore: Don't go there. The less you remind people about your newspaper background the better - if we take the history of journalists in politics seriously.

A recent New York Times article suggested that presidential candidate Gore reminds audiences about his now distant career in journalism "to provide a sheen of authenticity to an otherwise uninterrupted political biography." This may be ill-advised, since reporters challenge politicians for the label "most mistrusted" in American life.

Gore needs to be reminded that even back in the days when the public held journalists in higher esteem they still refused to put them in high office. In fact, the one former newspaperman sent to the White House is often called the worst President ever.

At least 14 publishers, editors, columnists or ex-reporters like Gore have conducted serious campaigns for president. For the 2000 election we've witnessed what must be a record batch of such candidates, with the usual results (so far) - only one of them, Gore, still has a fighting chance.

Along with Gore, who claims a total of seven years in journalism as a New York Times copyboy, as an Army reporter in Vietnam, and as a reporter for the Nashville Tennesssean , this election's journalistic aspirants for President included:

Dan Quayle, who was an associate publisher of the Huntington (Indiana) Herald-Press before being elected to the U.S. Senate and vice-president; Steve Forbes, millionaire publisher of Forbes magazine; and Patrick Buchanan, who once wrote editorials for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before going on to be a speech writer for Richard Nixon and a newspaper columnist.

There's even less comfort for Gore in the track record of other former journalists who became vice president, and then made a run for president. There's Quayle, of course, and Henry Wallace, vice-president with FDR from 1940-44, who lost a third party race in 1948 to Harry S. Truman. Journalists even have troubled getting elected to the number two spot. Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune ran and lost as Benjamin Harrison's running mate in 1892; and Chicago Daily News editor and publisher Frank Knox went down with Alf Landon as the Republican nominee against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 (but later served as FDR's secretary of the navy).

The "glory year" for journalists in politics had to be 1920. That year Republican editor and publisher Warren G. Harding defeated Democrat newspaper publisher (and later radio chain owner) James M. Cox of Ohio. Harding, had blatantly used his Marion Star as a stepping stone to lieutenant governor and the U.S. Senate. After a short, scandal-plagued term as President-ending with his mysterious death in office in 1923-it didn't take long for Harding to make the top of some "worst-ever" lists, and stay there

Unlike Harding, all other journalists have lost in their efforts to win the presidency. Most of them have not only been defeated. They have been beaten badly, some even thrashed.

One of the better-known losers was Horace ("Go West, Young Man") Greeley, famed editor of the New York Tribune, who lost to General U.S. Grant in 1872, concluding a dismal career in politics. Except for gaining a seat in the New York constitutional convention in 1867, Greeley never won an election, losing races for the U. …

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