Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Water Pants and Kennedy Candidacy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Water Pants and Kennedy Candidacy

Article excerpt

Once again I find myself turning to Helen Thomas's "Front Row at the White House." She stirs up so many memories of the days when the presidency was my beat. Often as I read her book I chuckled to myself - as I did when I came upon this: "(President) Ford did a lot of traveling in his short time as President, sometimes making more headlines for the gaffes than the policy. On a visit to Japan he wore formal attire of striped pants and a cutaway coat for his meeting with Emperor Hirohito, but the pants stopped somewhere around his ankles."

Well, right here is my opportunity to claim a minuscule place in history: I was in the small pool of reporters covering that early- morning Ford-Hirohito get-together and I was the first to note Mr. Ford's embarrassment and shout to my colleagues, "Hey, the president is wearing short pants today!" We laughed all the way back to our hotel. And the picture showing Ford's shortcomings made page 1 in papers all over the world, completely overshadowing the president's diplomatic activities on his trip to Japan.

That's really not so funny after all - and nothing to boast about. It's a good example of how the press, by playing up a trivial incident sometimes unintentionally diverts the public's attention from important news. I didn't think of that back then. And, after all, Ford did it to himself. A president or presidential candidate can't let himself look ridiculous without drawing a lot of attention. Remember Coolidge and his Indian headdress and Dukakis driving that tank. Ms. Thomas writes about another presidential embarrassment, this one to President Carter. It was 1980 and the scene was the Democratic National Convention after Mr. Carter had fought off a challenge from Sen. Ted Kennedy during the primaries. "I will never forget," she tells us, "that sad and humiliating moment on the big stage when Carter went over to shake Kennedy's hand and Kennedy turned away from him." I recall it well too; I was watching from just a few feet outside the stage. …

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