When a presidency ends, the campaign for history’s approbation begins. The battleground is often the president’s official library, according to Benjamin Hufbauer, the author of Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory (2005). In the library devoted to his life, Richard M. Nixon seems to be losing this final campaign. Forty years after the break-in, Watergate remains the decisive, divisive issue.
When it opened in 1990, the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, was funded and operated by the private Richard Nixon Foundation. Bob Bostock, who helped Nixon research two of his post-presidency books, wrote the text of the original Watergate exhibit in the library, and the former president gave it his blessing: “Bob—A brilliant presentation.” The exhibit was unapologetically partisan, declaring that “even complete disclosure would not be enough to satisfy those who wanted Nixon’s head.” Then, in 2007, the National Archives took over the library. Bostock’s handiwork was removed, and an extensive new exhibit opened in 2011. In The Journal of American History (December 2011), Hufbauer lauds it as “the most detailed account ever given of a scandal in a presidential museum,” one that makes “a significant original contribution to scholarship.”
To Bostock, the new exhibit is not only “very biased against President Nixon,” but also contravenes the spirit of... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
The Periodical Table
Ron Unz, Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, former candidate for governor of California, and publisher of The American Conservative, has started a new venture: a prodigious online library, featuring works by some 400,000 authors. Along with books and videos, unz.org has about 25,000 issues of 122 different periodicals. Some, such as The American Spectator and The Washington Monthly, still appear on newsstands. But most are no longer published, including Saturday Review, Scribner’s, Collier’s, Encounter, The Reporter, I. F. Stone’s Weekly, and H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury.
A browse through The Bookman, a New York-based journal published from 1895 to 1933, unearths some astringent literary pronouncements. Of the second installment of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, published in French in 1919, the reviewer declared that he was “a little surprised to find any but the professional student of letters reaching more than his first half-dozen pages.” In 1922, the novelist and critic Arnold Bennett said of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “As I finished it, I had the sensation of a general who has just put down an insurrection.”
Unz’s library has plenty of politics, too. Sounding like an Occupy Wall Street manifesto, an 1890 article in The North American Review refers to “gigantic corporations, whose greed and cupidity have extended all over the country, fleecing the poor of millions of dollars... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
The Debate Debate
The campaign for this year’s Republican presidential nomination has featured some two dozen debates. Have the real winners been the American people, as the bromide insists? Far from it, according to two new studies—and journalists are to blame.
In a paper issued in January by Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, political consultant Mark McKinnon argues that the debate moderators of 2011 sometimes seemed more interested in stoking conflict than in eliciting meaningful answers—and the candidates weren’t given enough time for meaningful answers anyway. In addition, the surfeit of debates cut into candidates’ time with voters. McKinnon quotes Howard Fineman, editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group: “Debates have allowed the press to elbow their way in front of voters for commercial purposes.”
Complementing McKinnon’s research, media scholar Jay Rosen and his students at New York University analyzed the questions journalists asked at debates. During the 20 debates between May 5, 2011, and mid-February 2012, the NYU team counted 46 questions about social issues (abortion and gay rights), four about the Arab Spring, two about climate change, one about small business—and 113 about campaign strategy and negative advertising.
Of the 12 questions categorized as fluff, seven came from John King of CNN, who said he wanted to illuminate the personal side of... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
The Spirits of Independence
Few history books mention Mrs. Clappams in Boston, Tondee’s Long Room in Savannah, or other 18th-century taverns. Baylen J. Linnekin wants to change that.
Taverns were the era’s “most essential” public spaces, Linnekin argues in The Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly (Spring 2012). Colonists may have come for the booze—before independence, the typical American drank the equivalent of some six ounces of strong liquor a day—but they stayed for the ideas. Over whiskey, rum, claret, and hard cider, they made history.
When a tax dispute prompted the royal governor to dissolve the Virginia assembly in 1765, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and other assemblymen hied to a tavern, where they agreed to boycott British goods. Similarly, in a New York City tavern, some 200 merchants pledged to stop buying anything British until Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. And by one account, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in a Philadelphia tavern.
In Linnekin’s view, the authors of the First Amendment guaranteed “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” partly because of their experience with tavern gatherings. He believes that other parts of the Bill of Rights also reflect concerns about food and drink. For example, the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment protects hunting. On occasion, the Founders explicitly linked comestibles and liberty. In the early 1780s, Jefferson... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Spreading the Word, Bit by Bit
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is burnishing its brand. Since 2010, the church has spent millions of dollars on cheery TV ads and billboards featuring diverse Americans—a surfer, a veteran of the Iraq war, a black woman who’s the mayor of a Utah town—with the tag line “I Am a Mormon.” Scott Swofford, one of the architects of the campaign, told The Los Angeles Times that the goal is to show that “Mormons are not that strange.”
With less fanfare, backers of the church are promoting it online, too. A prominent role is being played by the More Good Foundation, launched in 2005 by David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, and James Engebretsen, an associate dean at Brigham Young University.
One of the objectives of the foundation is to make it more likely that people looking for Mormon-related information via Google or another search engine will end up on church-friendly turf, rather than on hostile sites run by evangelical Christians, ex-Mormons, and others. Search engines evaluate a Web site’s importance based partly on how many other sites link to it, so the More Good Foundation creates networks of pro-Mormon sites.
As a consequence, the top-ranked results of Mormon-related searches increasingly reflect the church’s perspective, Chiung Hwang Chen writes in The Journal of Media and Religion (November 2011). She compares the top 20 results of various Google searches in 2005 and 2011. A search... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
The Volstead Act of 1919 served to bring Americans closer to God, Daniel Okrent reports in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner). The ban on intoxicating liquor included an exemption for religious uses. In Napa Valley, California, the Beaulieu Vineyards netted over $100,000 a year by selling sacramental wine to the Catholic Church. Some priests bought 120 gallons at a time, which Okrent figures is enough for 46,000 Communion sips. He suspects that quite a few bottles got diverted to parishioners.
Rabbis diverted, too. Some opened stores selling kosher wine “for sacramental purposes.” A customer could sign up as a member of the synagogue and buy a bottle of wine, all in one visit to the store. The rabbi might be a new convert himself, according to Okrent. In Detroit, Rabbi Leo M. Franklin claimed to know of at least 150 men who, “without the slightest pretense at rabbinical training or position,” were claiming to be rabbis in order to market liquor. Franklin charged, “They simply gathered around them little companies of men; they called them congregations; and then, under the law as it now exists, they were privileged to purchase and distribute wine.”
The abuses prompted some embarrassed rabbis to advocate repealing the religious exception altogether. Congress didn’t act, but in 1926 the Prohibition Bureau began enforcing the rules more rigorously. After that, shipments of wine for Jewish ceremonies dropped by 90
The energy drink called Cocaine got off to a rocky start when it went on the market a few years ago. As we reported (Summer 2007), the Food and Drug Administration sent a menacing letter to the manufacturer, Redux Beverages. Illinois and Connecticut threatened to sue Redux, and Texas barred the company from selling Cocaine there. In Dallas, agents of the Department of State Health Services raided a warehouse full of Cocaine. Street value: $200,000.
Now, Cocaine is back. California-based Redux tweaked the typeface for the name on the cans—the original looked too much like white powder for regulators—and got rid of the slogan “The Legal Alternative.” In a disclaimer printed on the cans, Redux now declares, “This product is not intended to be an alternative to an illicit street drug, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot.” These changes satisfied the FDA, though not Texas, which still bans the beverage.
Peru won’t allow it either, according to Jamey Kirby, president of Redux. Peruvian officials maintain that the name is misleading. To market the drink there, Redux would need to add extract of coca leaf.
In games of skill, a near miss can mean you’re improving. Not so with games of chance. At a slot machine, almost hitting the jackpot doesn’t increase your odds of cashing in with the next push of the button. Our brains, however, may not recognize the distinction.
For gamblers and nongamblers alike, the same region of the midbrain is activated by both near misses and jackpots, Henry W. Chase and Luke Clark report in The Journal of Neuroscience (May 5). The strength of the near-miss response in the brain correlates with the degree of gambling addiction—that is, problem gamblers exhibit a stronger response to near misses than casual gamblers do. The researchers speculate that the neurotransmitter dopamine gives gamblers a jolt of pleasure when they come close to winning. So they keep playing. And hoping.
Spiro Agnew famously derided reporters and commentators as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” David Broder, Helen Thomas, Tom Wicker, and countless other journalists have cited the quotation as a classic example of the Nixon administration’s assault on the press. But they’re all wrong, Norman P. Lewis writes in American Journalism (Winter 2010).
Vice President Agnew did give two speeches in 1969 that condemned the national press as biased and error-ridden. President Richard Nixon fine-tuned the language in one of them and declared proudly, “This really flicks the scab off, doesn’t it?” “Nattering nabobs,” however, came in a 1970 speech in San Diego, when Agnew was campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections. The “nabobs” were opponents of Nixon administration policy, especially in Vietnam.
“You have it right—the Agnew speech in San Diego, which I wrote, criticized the defeatists in general rather than the press in particular,” speechwriter-turned-columnist William Safire e-mailed Lewis in 2006. (Safire died in 2009.) “I suppose many in the media delighted in being attacked by Agnew and so assumed they were his target in that speech. Over the years I would occasionally point this out, but it’s tough to go up against a myth.”
Press coverage at the time of Agnew’s speech placed the phrase in its correct context. But less than a year later, a Newsday
The most trusted man in America had little affection for his successor. When Dan Rather replaced him as anchor of The CBS Evening News in 1981, Walter Cronkite planned to appear in CBS documentaries and news specials. But his appearances soon dwindled. The network canceled the series Walter Cronkite’s Universe in its third season and made little use of him on the Evening News.