Yesterday’s post about journalists often not being good at predicting the outcome of presidential elections focused on 1992, when many journalists thought that President George H.W. Bush would easily defeat Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and the third party candidacy of Ross Perot would be close to irrelevant. The actual vote in 1992: Bill Clinton, 44,909,899 votes, George Bush, 39,105, 545 votes, Ross Perot, 19,743,821 votes. Clinton got 43 percent of the vote, Bush 37.4 percent, Perot a surprising 18.9 percent. While Perot didn’t win any states of get any electoral votes, his strong popular vote showing likely affected the outcome in some states.
1992 had some echoes of the 1968 election when Richard Nixon defeated Vice President Hubert Humphrey with a third party candidate, George Wallace, affecting the outcome. The popular vote: Nixon 31, 783,783; Humphrey 31,271,839; Wallace 9,901,118. Nixon won 301 electoral votes. Humphrey 191 electoral votes, and Wallace 46.
Gallup was close to predicting the 1968 results exactly: Nixon won 43.4 percent of the popular vote while Humphrey won 42.7 percent (Wallace finished with 13.5 percent). Nixon’s 110-vote Electoral College margin (301–191). . .was just 31 above the bare majority necessary to win (Wallace had 46 electoral votes from the five southern states he carried). As Michael Cohen noted in American Maelstrom, a shift of 42,000 votes in three states (Alaska, Missouri and New Jersey) from Nixon to Humphrey would have thrown the election into the House with its Democratic majority.
The numbers from 2016: Donald Trump won with 3o4 electoral votes and a popular vote total of 62,984,828 while Hillary Clinton had 227 electoral votes and 65,853,514 popular votes.
In 2020, could a third party candidate help elect a president who gets only 43 percent of the popular vote? It happened in both 1992 and 1968.
In 1992 President George H.W. Bush was running for reelection and Democrats didn’t have a high-profile candidate to challenge him. California governor Jerry Brown and Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas were the strongest challengers with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey also running. Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, was relatively unknown but running as a centrist Democrat he swept nearly all of the Southern Super Tuesday primaries and then defeated Brown in the California primary, clinching the nomination.
So it was George Bush vs. Bill Clinton. A third party candidate, Ross Perot, known only for founding a computer company, seemed irrelevant.
What did the pundits think? From the December 1992 Washingtonian:
Fred Barnes in a New Republic cover story: “One of Clinton’s supposed assets is that as a Southerner he’ll shatter the GOP’s presidential lock on the South. Dream on….He’s yet to face the potent Republican party machine that crushed Dukakis….Clinton’s a goner.”
Carl Rowan on Inside Washington: “I think Clinton’s a goner….He might have survived the infidelity charge, but in this country you just can’t have back-to-back scandals.”
Ken DeCell, co-author of The Thirteen Keys to the Presidency, “One think for sure: Forget the polls. Whatever they show between now and election day, George Bush will be re-elected on November 3.”
George Will on This Week With David Brinkley: “We’re going to have a normal year of politics.”
Ross Perot—how many votes? The McLaughlin Group: Fred Barnes—Six percent; Eleanor Clift—Five percent; Jack Germond—I’ll say five and a half; Morton Kondracke—With all that money nine percent; John McLaughlin—The answer is four percent; Chris Matthews—By November people will be thinking of Perot as one of the extras on Gunsmoke.
Results of the 1992 election: Bill Clinton, 44,909,899 votes, George Bush, 39,105, 545 votes, Ross Perot, 19,743,821 votes. Clinton got 43 percent of the vote, Bush 37.4 percent, Perot 18.9 percent.
At the Washingtonian magazine we had 15 editorial interns each year. Most came from relatively upscale families and had impressive resumes. The tiebreaker for me in picking interns was what did you do during your high school and college summer breaks?
I looked for interns who hadn’t had what amounted to fake summer jobs (being a lifeguard at the country club pool) but who had worked at real jobs with people different from their friends and their parents’ friends.
What brought this to mind were this week’s stories about parents bribing coaches to buy admission for their kids to top colleges.
What now seems even worse was looking back and having seen high school kids being encouraged by their schools and parents to create fake lives.
One girl I know went to a highly regarded private high sch0ol where getting into an Ivy League school was the goal for the school and for most of the girls and their parents. In ninth grade the girls began talking about what can we do this summer that will look good on our college applications.
For the kids, not what do we want to do this summer but what will impress others.
For the parents, not what will be help our daughters learn and grow but will get the attention of the admissions committee at Yale or Harvard.
Helping a 14-year-old to begin to live an inauthentic life or bribing a college coach—children should not have to bear responsibility for such sins of their parents.
Though I have been busy, perhaps overbusy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matters, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards—the comfortable income, the public notice, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees—have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with.
What ever happened to the passion we all had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute. We did not care about the rewards. We were young and earnest. We never kidded ourselves that we had the political gifts to reorder society or insure social justice. Beyond a basic minimum, money was not a goal we respected. Some of us suspected that money wasn’t even very good for people. . . .But we all hoped, in whatever way our capacities permitted, to define and illustrate the worthy life. With me it was always to be done in words.
John McIntyre, an editor at the Baltimore Sun, posted this on his blog, You Don’t Say, on May 2, 2018.
I saw a tweet this morning from the proprietor of an editing service who said, “Editing should be a positive experience! Never settle for less.” A prompt response came from @paulwiggins: “Never hire me if all you seek is a positive experience.”
I agree with Mr. Wiggins. Nobody enjoys being edited. You don’t enjoy being edited. I don’t enjoy being edited.
It is maddening when you are badly edited, and there are people out there who purport to be editors who have no ear for register or cadence, who mulishly adhere to bogus rules, who will slice and dice and recast and reshape and writer be damned.
But being well edited is worse. It is humbling, and you can’t indulge in righteous anger.
In Here at The New Yorker, Brendan Gill describes a New Yorker writer’s reaction to receipt of galleys “with scores, perhaps hundreds, of penciled hen-tracks of inquiry, suggestion, and correction.” The article will be improved, but the writer “will be pitched into a state of graver self-doubt than ever. Poor devil, he will type out his name on a sheet of paper and stare at it long and long, with dumb uncertainty. It looks — of Christ! — his name looks as if it could stand some working on.”
We are all mortal, and a good editor will identify the marks of our mortality, our typographical errors, our lapses of grammar and usage, our wordiness, our irritating tics, without posting them in the public square. But a great editor will go beyond the small change of micro editing and shine light on larger issues as well.
The late Dudley Clendinen once gently posed a series of questions to me about material I had written for an in-house newsletter. What was exactly did I mean there? What was the reader supposed to understand by that? Why did you do that? And as his smooth baritone queries continued, gently, relentlessly, it came to me that he was showing me that I was not as funny as I thought I was. The newsletter got better, but those questions are green in memory.
For some writers, working with an editor is like going to the doctor. The doctor can see that you’re cheating on your diet, you’re drinking too much, and you don’t get any more exercise than a three-toed sloth. And you knowthat the doctor sees all of that. You don’t have any secrets from your editor, either.
If you have a good editor, you won’t be savaged. You will benefit. You may even find some satisfaction in collaborating with someone who sees what you mean to do, sometimes more clearly than you yourself do, and helps you to get there.
But just as Dorothy Parker is supposed to have said, “I hate writing. I love having written,” you will not love being edited as much as you will having been edited.
Wyatt imparted to his outgunned team three guidelines: One was to try to politely reason with a man, because he was not as dangerous when in the middle of a conversation. The second was if a deputy had to shoot, do it deliberately and accurately, because often the quickest man was off the mark. Third, don’t shoot to kill, because wounding a man usually disabled him enough and he would be worth more money that way.
“My grandmother bought me a typewriter,” he told The Post in 1984. “It sat on the kitchen table. I would take the paper every day, put a piece of paper in and start copying the newspaper story word for word. One day, I started trying to improve on it. I thought, ‘This guy’s an idiot. I can do better than this.’ It hasn’t stopped since.”
“My advice doesn’t change with electricity. Be accurate first, then entertain if it comes natural. Never sell out a fact for a gag. Your job is to inform above all else. Know what to leave out. Don’t try to force-feed an anecdote if it doesn’t fit your piece, no matter how much it amuses you. Save it for another time. Have a conviction about what you cover. Read all the good writers that came before you and made the profession worth being part of—Lardner, Smith, Runyon, etc. Don’t just cover a beat, care-take it. Keep in mind you know more about the subject than your readers or editors. You’re close to it, they aren’t. I think I can say in all honesty that I’ve never written a sentence I didn’t believe, even if it happened to be funny.”
Trump fixer Paul Manafort has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison, provoking outrage that he should have been sentenced closer to the 19 to 24 years recommended by special counsel Robert Mueller. How much prison time did the Nixon fixers serve after Watergate? Attorney General John Mitchell 19 months, White House aides H.R Haldeman and John Ehrlichman 18 months, White House lawyer John Dean 4 months, Vice President Spiro Agnew no prison time.
Will Manafort and others close to President Trump now targeted by Mueller get the special prison treatment received by the Nixon people? Here’s a look back at how former Attorney General John Mitchell spent his 19 months in the Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama.
John Mitchell went to prison for conspiracy,
perjury, and obstruction of justice.
From “In Prison With John Mitchell,” a 1979 Washingtonian story by Ronald James (the pen name of a television news producer serving time for cocaine trafficking), who was in prison with former Attorney General John Mitchell.
Shortly before noon on June 22, 1977, a chauffeured Cadillac edged up a shrub-lined road toward the inevitable….John Newton Mitchell—former attorney general of the United States—prepared to enter the Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama.
The highest-ranking official of the American government ever to be sentenced to prison was embarking on a four-to-eight year term of confinement, imposed by Judge John Sirica. The crime: the Watergate cover-up—conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice….
Mitchell’s first hour in prison was spent following the routine of the Receiving and Discharge process at Maxwell. He was registered under his new identity—#24171-157. Then he was fingerprinted four times. “In case we make a mistake,” the receiving guard told him. He was photographed for prison files a dozen times. “Different copies for different offices,” he was told. “I’m sure you know all about it.”
After having his clothing measurements recorded, Mitchell was issued a temporary prison uniform—a faded khaki shirt and trousers….Mitchell’s watch and ring were taken from him. (“You can’t have a watch worth over twenty bucks and we don’t allow jewelry here.”) The cash he carried in with him was credited to his commissary account (“Inmates aren’t allowed to have any money at all”)….
For his first meal in prison, Mitchell was taken to lunch by an inmate from the Receiving and Discharge office. His first confrontation with one of his fellow inmates took place in the chow hall. Making his way through the cafeteria-style food line, Mitchell waited his turn like all the other convicts. He was conscious that all eyes were on him. Moving down the line he came face-to-face with Bobby Lawson, a con who was dishing up soup.
“Welcome to Maxwell, Mr. Mitchell,” Lawson said. “You put enough of us here.”
“You sonofabitch. I didn’t put anybody here,” Mitchell said, looking Lawson straight in the eye before moving on down the chow line.
Lawson had more reason than most to feel bitter toward John Mitchell. His case was one of four in which the former attorney general claimed to remember having authorized a federal wiretap that ultimately resulted in a bookmaking conviction for Lawson.
Later, Mitchell and Lawson became close. When the federal parole board turned the bookmaker down, even though Lawson met all the guidelines for parole, Mitchell helped him file a writ of habeas corpus with a federal judge in Montgomery. When the judge denied the writ, Mitchell told Lawson, “Now isn’t that a damn shame. I appointed that son of a bitch. I didn’t realize I appointed such a bunch of idiots.”
Like most who undergo the prison experience for the first time, Mitchell appeared pale, apprehensive, and a bit afraid during those early days. He simply did not know what to expect.
Inmates weren’t sure how they should treat this man, this celebrity criminal who had been thrown into their midst. At the beginning, most tended to maintain an attitude of casual aloofness toward Mitchell.
There were those who attempted to gain Mitchell’s confidence and friendship, either for what they hoped would be personal gain or to enhance their self-images through their association with the man.
“A hellluva lot of ass-kissing and boot-licking going on around that man,” an old con said one day after no fewer than four inmates had popped into Mitchell’s cubicle to deposit an assortment of newspapers and magazines for him to read.
Another inmate who had opposed having anything to do with Mitchell prior to the former attorney general’s arrival quickly changed his tune. After being introduced to Mitchell, the inmate spent an afternoon talking with him about their separate experiences in Washington, DC.
He’s polite, intelligent, and the victim of a raw deal,” the con said. That con was the first to begin leaving the Washington Post on Mitchell’s bunk each day. Mitchell later began receiving his own newspapers via the mail, taking the Washington Post and New York Times. Both arrived two or three days after publication.
“I never know whether to call him John or Mr. Mitchell,” the con said, “and he doesn’t seem to want to let you know which he prefers.”
Most of the inmates who met Mitchell were courteous to the point of being almost reverent in his presence. Mitchell, with his stone face and ever-smoking pipe, seemed to have an aura about him that commanded respect, even in prison.
Rarely did he watch television. While dozens of cons crowded around the television on successive nights to view ABC’s fictionalized Watergate saga, “Washington: Behind Closed Doors,” Mitchell never ventured an interest in the program.
For several weeks, Mitchell was able to enjoy his cubicle in privacy. He occupied the lower bunk in the two-man cubicle and had no roommate. Then a huge black inmate was moved into Mitchell’s cube and assigned the top bunk. It became immediately apparent that Mitchell would not warm up to the idea, or the reality, of having a man bunked above him. The new con’s skin color seemed to have less to do with it than Mitchell’s desire for privacy.
That afternoon, when Mitchell arrived for what had become the daily bull session with his clique of friendly inmates, he was more than a little angry. He knew that the Maxwell administration was in violation of the law by cramming two inmates into one of those cubes. He didn’t like this new roommate arrangement and was damn well going to do something about it.
“Ah, John,” said Maurice “Blackie” Malaway, one of those who had taken a shine to the camp celebrity. “You can’t do anything about it. You’re just a convict now, like the rest of us. They can do anything they want.”
Mitchell rested his gaze on Blackie and took a deep draw on his pipe.
“Well,” he said, “I’m going to see Warden Grunska about it and if I don’t get some satisfaction there, then I’ll call Norm Carlson [director of the United States Bureau of Prisons] and see if he can do something.”
“Carlson? Really?” asked Blackie. “Do you really think he’ll do anything for you?”
“Are you kidding?” Mitchell said. “I appointed him.”
With that, John was off to see the warden. The following day Mitchell’s new roommate was transferred.
In 1983 I read Frames of Mind, a book about multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner. He was mostly interested in how a better understanding of intelligence could improve schools but for me, an editor, it opened up new ways to see the strengths and weaknesses of writers. Gardner listed seven intelligences; the one schools focused on and rewarded was logical-analytical. But Gardner felt the other intelligences also were important to success.
He had visual-spatial intelligence–people who probably would be good at architecture, art directing a magazine. There’s bodily-kinesthetic intelligence–athletes, dancers, surgeons. Musical–good at sounds and rhythms. Linguistic–good at making up stories, doing crosswords, reading. And then there were the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences. Intrapersonal is understanding yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your goals. Interpersonal is how you interact with people, how good you are at understanding others.
In the 1980s Gardner came down to DC from Harvard to talk about the book and after his presentation I talked with him and suggested that Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were good examples of different intelligences. He agreed and talked about what Carter was good at (logical-analytical) and Reagan was good at (intrapersonal and interpersonal). Which was more successful in the political world? Reagan—not even close.
In 2011 came Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. He has two ways of thinking: System 1 and System 2: System 1 operates automatically, impulsively, and quickly, with little or no effort. System 2 gives attention to effortful mental activities and can override the impulses of System l.
As an editor, I found that fast-thinking caused a lot of problems in journalism. At The Washingtonian, I often found that fast talkers and fast thinkers were good at selling a story but then couldn’t deliver anything resembling good journalism. One of the smartest writers I worked with was a slow talker. In discussing a story, he sometimes talked very slowly as he organized his thinking. But he wrote stories that had depth and made an impact.
Slow and fast thinking ties into one of my favorite quotes from the late Phil Merrill, longtime publisher of The Washingtonian: “A lot of damage in Washington is done by bright, articulate people with very bad judgment.”
Listen to and vote for fast thinking politicians and you get a Donald Trump, not a John Kasich or Jeb Bush. Listen to fast thinking journalists, those who dominate cable TV and digital journalism, and you see why more and more people don’t trust the press.