Idol Chatter

President Ford’s death has set off a week of reflection and commentary regarding his presidency and predictions about his lasting legacy. I’m sorry that one of the prime stories about his life has not been overly reported, and I understand why.

Many of us depend on newsmagazines, short film, bites and comic relief for contributions to our culture’s understanding of the news events of our time. And before the bevy of newschannels and news comedy shows in existence today, the nation still depended on the major networks for most of its news, and just two shows—Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson–for their political comedy. President Ford was not served well by that.

I remember laughing my eyes out every time Chevy Chase would come up with some fresh way to fall, stumble, crash, stutter, or in some other way parody the occasional klutzy moves President Ford had made. Bob Hope used to joke at the Country Club (I was a guest hearing this, not a member) about finishing a round with President Ford and looking back to count the wounded. Everyone laughed because Mr. Ford had a reputation of hitting on-lookers with his wayward shots. Whether he was skiing or playing tennis or swimming or just climbing the stairs on Air Force One, there seemed to always be a picture of a President Ford gaffe on the network news (and not just the comedy shows).

The truth, though, was that Mr. Ford was an outstanding athlete. He was an All-American at Michigan University, and one of the more athletic and active presidents. He had to be, or else there wouldn’t have been the falls or wild shots to photograph or talk about. And, he had a strong self-esteem, such that he didn’t shy away from the sports he enjoyed, nor did he make efforts to restrict cameras.

I point this out in this week of mourning only to remind us that all that we see–and are trained to see–is not always accurate. The only thing we can trust is that an editor or producer thought it would garner ratings or improve the quality of the show. President Ford probably will be remembered by the typical American as somewhat of a clumsy guy, when in fact he was one of our greatest athletes as well as a spiritual man of inner strength in a time when our nation needed it. His thick skin withstood not only the criticism of his politics and policies, but the kind of false story telling (through images) that should have been reserved for The National Enquirer.

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