Friday, January 4, 2013


I need your opinion on something.  I have a question about a network news choice last night.  I'll ask at the end of this blog piece which involves two politicians who were married and reportedly had affairs.  One was the late President John F. Kennedy and the other is former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Like Ronald Reagan, Schwarzenegger was a Republican actor who threw his hat into the political ring and became Governor  of California.  Kennedy, a Democrat, made history as the first Catholic elected Commander-in-Chief.  There'd been bigotry against Catholics in America.  When the young, beloved president was assassinated while in office in 1963, he passed into legend.
For us babyboomers, President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy were two of the most globally famous and charismatic people of our lifetime.
Last night, I watched NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.  The edition of the prime time news show was devoted to a Meredith Viera interview of Mimi Alford.
Ms. Alford, a very poised and attractive woman, wrote a book about an affair she claims to have had with President Kennedy when she was a White House intern.
In her book, "Once Upon A Secret:  My hidden affair with JFK," she reveals that the sexual encounters were consensual and occurred only when First Lady Jackie Kennedy was traveling.  Ms. Alford spoke of his charisma and magnetism and his shyness with her.
She was a privileged 19 year old when the affair began.  JFK was 45.  In the NBC feature, historians and authors were asked if the revelations change their image of JFK's legend.
Apparently, this was a repeat broadcast that originally aired several months ago in 2012.  To me, it felt like a 10 minute package that was stretched into a half-hour because of the famous Kennedy clan and the JFK myth.  Also, journalism changed after the Monica Lewinksi scandal during the Clinton administration.  It's not enough to say "You had an affair."  Nowadays, reporters practically delve into what positions and sexual acts you performed.  There was bit of that in the Meredith Viera interview.  It's implied that the late Teddy Kennedy may have been up for some sexual recreation too.

As an average viewer, I didn't feel that this story was worthy of being the whole show.  Other news items could have been investigated or highlighted.  And I know it was a repeat, but here's an example.  A friend of mine in Long Island opened his home to a single mother and her child who were stricken homeless by Hurricane Sandy.  He works with special needs children.  That single mother has a special needs child.  Disasters such as that hurricane also affect the disabled and physically challenged.  People are still suffering on the East Coast in the wake of Sandy.  There's a good story in there to cover.  That feels more newsworthy to me.  Think about it.  The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center was lit up before many residents of Long Island got their power restored days after the storm.  This all happened during a brutal economic recession and right before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Later last night, after Rock Center with Brian Williams, former California governor-returned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was Jay Leno's guest on the Tonight Show.  While Arnold was married to Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan, he had a child out of wedlock with another woman.  The woman was the family housekeeper.  So, when he was sworn into office, the family man had a secret son.  On Leno's show, Schwarzenegger took a comedy poke at NJ Gov. Chris Christie with the gag that Christie "has a water retention problem."  This week, the Republican top man of NJ took Congress to task for dragging its heels on getting help to his hurricane-ravaged state.  I'm a Democrat and I feel Gov. Christie had a right to do that.  I got the feeling Arnold's gag was scripted. Leno set him up for the punchline.  I wouldn't have make that crack out of respect for Christie and the disaster victims in his state.

A couple of other things.  Years ago, entertainment news buzzed that Arnold was considering a run at politics.  A major press conference was scheduled.  The news services were on alert online and they expected the actor to announce his gubernatorial intentions.  Online came the bulletin that the expected press conference had been called off.  This gave brief speculation that he had changed his mind. The Terminator action movie star and box office champ hadn't changed his mind.  He announced that he was running for Governor of California.  He made the announcement -- to Jay Leno on NBC's Tonight Show.  Also years ago, there was a book out that had compiled love letters from Ronald Reagan written to Nancy Reagan during their marriage.  When Katie Couric was the co-host on Today, there was a sentimental 2-part feature on the book.  The first half aired one day, the second the next.  If I recall correctly, actor Hal Linden did the voiceover reads for the letters from "Ronnie" to Nancy.  In the intros to the segments, it was mentioned that their's was a long, long love affair that continued into the White House.  But, at no time, was it ever mentioned that their love affair was his second marriage.  Reagan's ex-wife wife wasn't exactly a nobody.  Jane Wyman won a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in Johnny Belinda (1949).  In fact, two of her Oscar-nominated performances air today on TCM -- The Yearling and Johnny Belinda.
Jane Wyman racked up four Best Actress Oscar nominations in her film career.  She and Ronald were contract stars for Warner Bros.  They made movies and raised a family.
After their divorce, actor Ronald Reagan worked onscreen with actress Nancy Davis in Hellcats of the Navy before making her the new Mrs. Reagan.  The rest is history.

My question:  IF someone wrote a memoir claiming that Ronald Reagan had been...indiscreet during his marriage to Nancy and before he was elected President, would the network have given that story the same kind of half-hour prime time coverage in a news program?  Would historians have been asked how the revelations change their image of Reagan's legend? Or would it have been treated as a minor story?  Let me know what you think.  Have a good weekend.


  1. Remember the CNN journalist who dared ask GWH Bush about his affair? It cost her her career. I can't even remember her name because it happened 20 or so years ago. Great piece, Bobby

  2. I just read this - surfing for another story. The answer to your query is, such an affair isn't an apples-to-apples comparisons. It from what JFK did on several levels, not least of which was that he had multiple affairs *in the White House!* But, there are four factors - all of which account for greater significance of this reporting (though all such reporting on whomever it may be is over the top these days): a) the girl was a staff employee of the president - it would be viewed as sexual harassment today (basically, that's what it was given the extreme power differential); b) she was a teenager! (19)! - The age factor also comes into play with (a); c) He was then sitting President of the United States! It's not at all like it was an affair he had with a friend when he was in his 20's (not that such would be a good thing, if he were married, but it is very different given his position and the circumstances). His actions reveal an abuse of employees while President! That's a big deal, frankly. And, d) The Kennedys have long been viewed by the media and political supporters as 'American Royalty' - They even called the Kennedy White House years, "Camelot." So, when news comes out on a Kennedy - of this magnitude, during the alleged "Camelot" years in the White House - it becomes a big deal. Those factors all play into this. A Reagan affair before he was governor or president would change some views on him and be covered by the media fairly extensively; but it does not reach the level of this due to all four of those factors. All that said, there is a reality here: there are no real paragons of virtue in the world. Sure, there are faithful husbands and wives (fewer than one would like), but everyone has a darkness within them.


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