Once upon a time, I was nineteen. (No comments, please.)
I have related part of this story in a speech a few months back at my alma mater, Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the wake of what has become a controversial CNN Townhall meeting on the Florida shooting, there is a media aspect of my tale that I neglected to relate --- and the reaction to the Florida CNN Townhall reminds.
It was April 30, 1970. President Nixon had just announced to the nation that night that he was sending American troops into Cambodia as part of his strategy to defeat the Communists in the Vietnam War. He was hardly gone from the airwaves when protests broke out --- and not just at my own college in the middle of bucolic South Central, Pennsylvania. Across the nation students in colleges and universities erupted in protests. There was violence in some places, notably at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The Ohio National Guard was sent on to the Kent campus to restore order. There was chaos, and in that chaos the Guard fired, killing four kids and wounding nine others.
Now it got really crazy. Some 500 colleges and universities shut their doors. Between 75,000-100,000 angry kids descended on Washington to protest. Photos of the dead and wounded Kent State victims were everywhere, such as “everywhere” in the media of the day meant. Specifically the broadcast news shows, the covers of newsmagazines and the front pages of newspapers ran with pictures like this one that ran on the cover of Newsweek.
The pictured featured a horrified female student kneeling at the side of a dead student. The words Newsweek featured: “My God! They’re Killing Us!”
The Secret Service, alarmed to say the least, evacuated the President to Camp David and threw a cordon of buses around the White House. Nixon White House aide Charles Colson would later recall walking from the White House to the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House and part of the larger White House compound. Recalled Colson:
“The 82nd Airborne was in the basement of the executive office building, so I went down just to talk to some of the guys and walk among them, and they're lying on the floor leaning on their packs and their helmets and their cartridge belts and their rifles cocked and you're thinking, 'This can't be the United States of America. This is not the greatest free democracy in the world. This is a nation at war with itself.’"
A few days before the Kent State shootings as the protests built Nixon had referred to the protestors as “bums.” Now, the words came back as an incensed father of one of the dead Kent state students, a young woman, told the media in a comment spread far and wide: “My child was not a bum.” Nixon himself made an unannounced pre-dawn visit to the Lincoln Memorial to try and talk to some of the sleepy protestors. To no avail. He was mocked for talking football and surfing.
There was, it should be noted, no such thing in the day as cable news. But the media coverage was as close as one could get to a saturation of anti-Nixon coverage in the day.
Suffice to say the liberal media of the day delighted in featuring anti-Nixon coverage.
In the fourth in his classic Making of the President series --- The Making of the President 1972 --- the Pulitzer Prize-winning Theodore H. White would write this about the aftermath of Kent State and all the protests that sought to savage Nixon, wreck his presidency and target him for defeat in 1972. White cites a memo to Nixon written by his then-aide and later Democratic US Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan, of course, had been a Harvard professor and knew his subject well. Writing after Nixon’s 1968 election but before he had taken office Moynihan said this:
“The leading cultural figures are going-or have gone into-opposition. … they take with them a vastly more numerous following of educated, middle-class persons, especially young ones, who share their feelings and who do not need the ‘straight’ world. It is their pleasure to cause trouble, to be against.” (Note: In 1968 the term ‘straight’ was not in wide use as a term describing heterosexuals. It referred instead to mainstream Americans.)
White went on to say this of Moynihan’s point in the aftermath of Kent State: “The opposition of what Moynihan called ‘the leading cultural figures’ had now, by early 1971, proven irrevocable.”
And so it had. All those angry, passionate kids joined hands, as it were, with the “cultural figures” - AKA what we would now call “media elites” - to target Nixon. The political result in 1972 was the upset of the Democratic Establishment candidacy of Maine Senator and 1968 Humphrey vice presidential running mate Edmund Muskie. The kids and the elite media put forward the virulently anti-war South Dakota Senator George McGovern. The media elites lavished attention on McGovern and the Hollywood figures of the day flocked to him.
And…it backfired. Big time. When the 1972 election rolled around, the man who had to be evacuated from a bus-surrounded White House while the 82nd Airborne bunked in the basement of the EOB won re-election in a massive, record-shattering 49-state landslide. The American people had seen and heard everything, and what Nixon called “the Silent Majority” showed up en masse to reject what they were being shown in the elite media of the day.
Which brings us back to that CNN Townhall meeting the other night which featured kids and adults all too reminiscent of the kids I saw close-up and personal on my college campus and in the streets of Washington in that furious spring of 1970. And it raises an obvious question
Is CNN on President Trump’s payroll? Is no one at CNN even slightly aware that all this relentlessly negative Trump coverage --- as personified in that CNN Townhall - can and, one suspects based on experience, will - boomerang? The clip of a student haranguing the decidedly mild-mannered Florida Senator Marco Rubio, with the audience shrieking at the NRA’s Dana Loesch --- a woman and mother --- as a “murderer” have doubtless already been stored by some 2020 Trump operative.
Ready to be used and re-played again and again and again to underscore the mind set of an elite media that, as with its predecessors in 1970’s Nixon America, self-portrayed themselves as condescending haters of average Americans.
Theodore White wrote at the conclusion of that 1972 campaign that the “music” of the McGovern campaign and all those elitists in and out of the media had come to “frighten” average Americans. He wrote of the struggle between the liberal media of the day and Nixon of what were the real questions that so many Americans had come to understand. Asked White:
“Who controlled what went before the American people? ….Who chose? Who decided what truth and news were, what people would talk about?”
The answer then in the 1970s and even more so now in the close of the 21st century’s second decade is: the media. It is the media that chooses. What gave Nixon his advantage in 1972 and one suspects what Trump will have acting to his advantage are the choices made by the mainstream liberal media. Culturally and politically liberal, they could not then and cannot now help themselves as they go about their work. There is no one there to say: there are lots of Americans who have a different view.
So based on the evidence from that CNN Townhall in Florida - not to mention so much more after the last couple of years - one can be forgiven for asking that all too obvious question again.
Is CNN on President Trump’s payroll? Because if CNN was looking for a way to help Donald Trump get re-elected, the network may just gave it to him. Again.