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Looking Back and Forward PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 14:37

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

A record 30 million people were watching on television to General  Douglas MacArthur’s Farewell Address to Congress on April 19, 1951. President  Truman  had relieved him of his command in Korea. Truman feared MacArthur threatened a  wider conflict  by attacking China.

“In war,” MacArthur declared, “there can be no substitute for victory.” The general  was wildly cheered. For a time there was talk in Republican circles of running MacArthur for president. One  senator  confided in a reporter he had never feared more for his country than during MacArthur’s speech. “I honestly felt that if the speech had gone on much longer there might have been a march on the White House.”

In his Truman biography David  McCullough said Truman had not listened to MacArthur or watched on television. He kept busy at his desk. He did, however, read MacArhur’s speech. Privately, he said he thought it “A bunch of damn B.S.”  In time enthusiasm for the general  waned.

The invitation by Republicans in bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau of Israel to address Congress  was similarly an insult to a sitting president. As many as 60 Democrats boycotted the event, but that was not enough. All of them  should have left empty seats.

Now Netanyahu  is apologizing. Not for playing a key role in rudeness to the   president of three hundred and twenty million Americans, but to racist comments concerning the 1.4 million Arab citizens of his own country.  (In a nation  of 8.3 million, Jews are 75 %, of the Israeli population.)

On the eve of  the election Netanyahu said Arab citizens were going to the polls in large numbers. Many interpreted this as racist, a last-minute bid to win a close election. According to the New York Times, the White House remains furious with Netanyahu for appearing to turn his back “on a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.”

After the voting, Netanyahu said, as politicians often do when their remarks backfire, that he was misunderstood. He insisted he was the same fellow with the same convictions. He supported the idea of a Palestinian state, though now he equivocated – not under present conditions.

The Obama White House was not impressed. It said a two-state solution “remains our goal today, because it is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In his day, Harry Truman was snubbed by a Republican Congress by inviting MacArthur to speak; just as an invitation to Netanyahu was a slap at Barack Obama.

Today most people say Truman did the right thing by firing MacArthur. It made him unpopular, but not forever. Historians rank him today as among the near-great presidents. Who knows what history  will say about Obama but I have a hunch the Republicans will rue the day they insulted the office of the  presidency.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Life Lesson Learned From a Cat PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 19 March 2015 16:27

By Aracely Garcia • Special to the Times

How many times have we seen a cat or other small animal dead in the street? Perhaps we have swerved to avoid it and have gone about our business.

Perhaps the person who accidentally killed it quickly recovered from the momentary shock and denial of striking an animal to hurry on with their day without giving it another thought. What if that dead animal belonged to someone who cared for it?

These questions consumed me as I found the little stray cat we had been feeding dead in the middle of Pacific Avenue on the morning of Friday, March 13. I had been going about the routine of driving my daughter to school when I saw it.

I immediately pulled over to the side of the road weeping like a small child. I called the police to contact animal control to retrieve the small body. I informed them I could not leave the body until animal control could pick it up. I didn’t want to see it run over any further.

I wanted to believe momentarily that we lived in a cruel, uncaring world where lives, both human and animal, were utterly meaningless. That the onslaught of death in all of its forms was random and tragic. The life of this lovely little calico cat had been short  but I realized quickly that it hadn’t lived without any caring.

My daughter and I adored our moments feeding the small scrappy thing. I had planned to take it to a no-kill shelter just that Saturday, March 14. This brought me to another conclusion: that it was caring that made life bearable and gave it meaning. That it was in the stopping of our personal business and self-interests to take action for another: to make a report, to help, to show compassion was what life was really about.

It was a powerful lesson learned from tragedy as is so often the case, but I thought I would pass it along. Next time you see a dead animal in the street, or believe you have killed an animal or have struck an animal, please stop what you are doing to show some caring and call the police.

And if you do not do so, let the next witness do it.  That’s how we know we don’t live in a cruel world: because some of us, most of us, take the time to care.

Aracely Garcia is a resident of San Leandro.


 
Technology’s Gain is History’s Loss PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:28

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

There’s a twist or two since Hillary said that she had destroyed more than 30,000 emails about personal matters during her time as secretary of state.

Doris Kearnes Goodwin, who wrote  biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt and others, said, “They have marriages and children and rich private lives that are all mixed up with their public lives – as a biographer that’s what you want.”

Hillary said last week that  she  had turned over to the state department the 30,490 emails her staff judged to be related to her job. But more than half of the emails from 2009 to 2013 – some 31,000 – were personal and deleted.

“No one wants their personal emails made public, and  I  think most people understand that and respect that privacy,” Clinton told reporters.

Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, demurred. “If she becomes president, we would eventually want to have all the intimate details of her life before the presidency. It’s all part of the historical record.” There was the possibility that one day they would add  to the story of a presidency.

According to the New York Times, Dallek was the first historian to be given access to President Kennedy’s medical records in the late 1990s. From Dallek the world found out that Kennedy suffered from multiples health problems. It provided a new perspective on his llfe and his presidency, Dallek said.

For Doris Kearns Goodwin the problem goes deeper than the loss of email records. She fears technology is diminishing the human presence. “What will be missing in the future is the best of the material we have today which is handwritten letters and dairies,” she said.

Several of the important people close to Lincoln kept detailed diaries that were of  central importance in helping her write her 2005 book on Lincoln. In the 20th century  Harold Ickes’ meticulous diaries as secretary of the interior kept the New Deal years alive for many readers, including myself. An essential source for humanizing FDR and his own team of rivals.

For Goodwin’s  book on Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft (“The Bully Pulpit 2013), their thousands of letters, full of gossip and matters of state, enabled her to draw  profiles of human warmth.

“You feel like you’re looking over their shoulder as they write,” Goodwin told the Times. Emails, by comparison are shallow and less personal. “I would never write about a modern president,” she said.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Jeb Bush PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 15:11

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I was surprised when I caught Jeb Bush speaking on foreign policy the other day on TV and declaring “I am my own man.” It surprised me because he read the speech word for word from the paper it was written on; nothing stemmed from the heart, though it was his first major foreign policy speech in a dangerous world.

It was the opening shot in his prospective campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

In what I saw of the performance, he never looked up, his voice was flat. He might as well have been delivering the local weather report on a sunny, cloudless day.

Jeb is going to need  plenty of help. Starting with elocution and acting lessons. He may say he’s his own man, but the roster of advisers he’s brought on includes Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects for the invasion of Iraq.

As Maureen Dowd reminded us in the New York Times, Wolfowitz was “the man who assured Congress that Iraqi oil would pay for the country’s reconstruction and it was ridiculous to think we would need as many troops to control as Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, suggested.”

Jeb may say he’s his own man, but he’s also bringing back a whole crew of losers who advised his brother.

“I love my father and my brother,” Bush said in Chicago. “I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make.” It was then he declared, “But I am my own man.”

It was an effort by Jeb to step out from the Bush family shadow and keep the foreign  wars and economic collapse in the background.

A little background. Bush, who just turned 62, left Texas where he grew up and moved to Florida in the early 1980s, working as a real  estate developer and broker. He lost his first bid to run for governor in 1994. He won on his second try in 1998.

He was governor in the midst of the 2000 election controversy. The outcome of the election of a president hinged on the Florida results. In the end, the issue was decided  by a single vote in  the U.S. Supreme Court.

*   *   *

This year’s Oscars on ABC drew about 36.6 million viewers, down 14.9 percent from about 43 million last year. It was the lowest- rated  show since 2009. A better show was on “60 Minutes” on CBS. The work of the late correspondent Bob Simon filled an unforgettable hour of the world in our time.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Truck Day is the First Day of Spring PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 15:06

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

A few days ago at breakfast the Lady Friend asks, “What’s Truck Day?”

“Truck Day?” I say. “How should I know?”

“You should know. It has something to do with the Red Sox.”

“The Red Sox?” Now I’m wide awake.

“Look,” she says, and hands me the Chronicle comics. “Read `Non Sequitur.’”

I give it a look. The characters are in an offshore diner in a swirling snowstorm talking about Truck Day at Fenway Park. But they are talking gibberish until I realize it’s my own Boston English they’re speaking. Says one, “WELL, THAT’S IT. WINTAH IS FINALLY OVAH!”

”AH-YEA! HAPPY TRUCK DAY, EDDIE!” says another.

Someone speaks up, “UH, WHAT ARE YOU GUYS TALKING ABOUT?”

Another explains, “TRUCK DAY AT FENWAY. THE RED SOX HEAD OUT FAH SPRING TRAINING, WHICH MAKES THIS THE FAUST DAY OF SPRING.”

The guy who raises the question is nonplussed but the others are in a mood to party.

“HAPPY TRUCK DAY, EVERYBODY!” shouts one. “LIFE IS DIFFERENT HERE ON PLANET NEW ENGLAND,” declares a second. “AND WE WOULDN’T HAVE IT ANY OTHAH WAY, DEAH,” says a third.

I lay the paper to rest, and say, “Just what goes on on Truck Day?” As I ask the question I’m getting up to google for the answer when the Lady Friend wheels ’round and beats me to the punch. Two minutes later she returns with the dope.

Truck Day, I learn, is February 6. when  a moving van is loaded with equipment at Fenway for the trip to the club’s spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida. There’s a bit of hoopla to the occasion. The 18-wheeler is followed “in a procession by Red Sox staff, and Wally the Green Monster tossing gifts to fans from a flat-bed truck.”

“Tell me something,” I say. “Why have you gone to the trouble of letting me know all this?”

“Simple,” is the reply. ”Your mood changes drastically when baseball starts.”

This column originally appeared on Feb. 18, 2010.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Looking Ahead and Looking Back PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 13:02

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The 2016 Democratic National Convention will choose its candidates for president and vice president in July in Philadelphia. The Republicans have already picked Cleveland as the site for their convention. Philadelphia may be the more auspicious.

It was from Philadelphia that Roosevelt would lead the party to an historic landslide in 1936 after delivering one of the great acceptance speeches in history. It was delivered at a time when the world was teetering towards a Second World War. In the speech he famously proclaimed that “this generation of Americans has a ‘rendezous with destiny.’”

In 1936, the dominant issue was the economic recovery from the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s strategy was to ignore his opponent, Alf London, governor of Kansas. In defending the New Deal,  Roosevelt reminded voters that it was the New Deal that saved the free enterprise system. The election marked a decisive shift of the black vote with the endorsement of Roosevelt by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

*   *   *

The Lady Friend says she remembers a time when the outcome of conventions was exciting because the outcome was often in doubt. Probably Kennedy’s nomination in 1960 was the last. But then I looked it up and even then there was little doubt in the outcome.

Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was Kennedy’s  leading opponent. But Kennedy’s victories in primaries in Wisconsin and West  Virginia were crucial. Most critical was Kennedy’s showing in West Virginia. It proved that a Catholic could win in predominately Protestant states.

Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas was another name to reckon with as well as Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. He had lost two elections in the 1950s to Dwight Eisenhower. As Democrats convened in July 1960 in California, Kennedy was well ahead in the contest for delegates, and nominated on the first ballot with 806 votes to 409 for Johnson. Kennedy disappointed  many liberals when he chose Johnson as his running mate. But there was reason for doing so. It helped Kennedy to carry Texas, pivotal in the outcome.

*   *   *

One of the narrowest  races of the past century pitted Kennedy against Richard Nixon in the election for president in 1960. Nixon won the Republican nomination on the first ballot with 1,321 votes to 10 for Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. (Four years later Goldwater would be the Republican candidate for president and lose in a wipeout at the hands of Lyndon Johnson.)

Back again to the presidential election of 1960. The lead seesawed back and forth. The economy and communism were leading concerns. But the religious question was still hot. Kennedy put it to rest it in a speech before a ministerial association in Houston.

The central moment of the campaign was the first of four Nixon-Kennedy televised debates drawing 70 million viewers. The confrontation appeared to be a draw. But as William A. Degregorio pointed out in his book on U.S. presidents: “It was the physical comparison of the two men that most hurt Nixon.”

Kennedy looked to be in superb health; Nixon, having lost weight after spending  nearly  two weeks on his back in a hospital for treatment for an infection, looked “haggard and menacing.” Kennedy himself believed that without the debates he would have lost the election.

*   *   *

We’re getting closer to the primary season. They were designed as  the route to cleaner and more open elections as early as 1913. More than one hundred years later it still remains to be seen. Follow the money.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Does Memory Lie? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 February 2015 15:04

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I was distracted from the real news by the attention given Brian Williams for wittingly or unwittingly misleading the public when he said he was on a helicopter forced to land in 2003 after coming under fire in Iraq. Williams, who is under investigation by his network, was suspended for six months without pay from NBC News this week.

Last week, Williams apologized. He has been a target of easy criticism ever since. Some military veterans and critics have called for his resignation.

“Should Mr. Williams be forced out of the anchor chair it would be a major setback for NBC’s news division, which is in a fierce competition for viewers.” the New York Times said. “NBC has averaged 9.3 million total viewers for its nightly broadcast compared with 8.7 million for ABC and 7.3 million for CBS, according to Nielsen. Williams reportedly has been tied to a five-year-contract paying him $10 million a year.

In the Times’ weekly science section, Tara Parker-Pope wrote on Tuesday: “Mr. Williams has been branded a liar for embellishing his role in the event, with critics saying that as a newscaster he should be held to a higher standard. After apologizing, he temporarily stepped away from the nightly news. But memory experts see the issue differently, noting that the well-documented story, told differently many times by Mr. Williams, actually offers a compelling case study in how memories can change and shift dramatically over time.”

The Lady Friend has her own perspective on memory. “We recall, then embellish, and forget we embellished,” she said. “It’s not unusual to remember things differently than friends and family. And lest we forget, we embellish to make our stories better and more interesting.”

My father, who was wounded in World War I, was awarded the Silver Star for valor. He told war stories to my brother and me when we were growing up. My recollection is that the stories changed some in the re-telling.

“They got better?” asked the Lady Friend.

I couldn’t  remember, I said.

On the other hand, Maureen Dowd reported in her column in the Times Sunday that NBC executives had been warned for a long time that Brian was “constantly inflating his biography. They were flummoxed over why the leading anchor felt that he needed Hemingwayesque flourishes to pull himself up, sometimes to the point where it was a joke in the news division.

“But the caustic media big shots who once roamed the land were gone, and ‘there was no one around to pull his chain when he got too over-the-top,’ as one NBC News reporter put it.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Learning to Drive PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 February 2015 15:45

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I’m thinking of giving up driving. I haven’t told anyone because I’m not sure I’m ready to go through with it. But maybe it’s time. I was 87 in November.

The other day, I read in the New Yorker that a fellow in Canada who was turning 80 had been forced to take a driving test, but it wasn’t just a driving test but a vision test connected to a reading test and conducted in a friendly way. Another 80 year old had to surrender his license, never to take the wheels of a car again.

I got my first driver’s license in Massachusetts when I was 16. My parents sent me to a driving school to prepare for the test. My father was uneasy because I showed no flare for mechanics. He was nervous whenever I got near his car. The car was our bread and butter, he said time and again. My older brother was more welcome. As the younger sibling of seven or eight I was shooed away.

My father spent most of his time away from home on the road drumming up trade for his

flooring business. He did pretty well considering it was the Great Depression. There was always plenty of food on the table. Now and then, there was money for a maid.

I got my license at 16, but did little driving for many years. After the army and college, where I did almost no driving, I wound up in Eureka on the Humboldt Times. I bought a used car, a pre-war Chevrolet. In 1955-56 I spent a carless time working my way around the world. When I got back to Eureka the Chevvie was still parked at the paper where I’d left it.

A few years later, I took a job with one of the TV stations in town, where I did a lot of driving. In 1963, a fellowship in journalism got me to Columbia in New York where a car was a pain in the neck. For vacations, we rented.

When I took retirement and left New York in 1992, we returned to the Bay Area and drove a new Honda Accord off the showroom floor.

In the last year, the same Honda was stolen one early winter night by some jerks. It was recovered by the cops the next day. The car needed some fixing. The damage was repaired. But something else happened. I was furious and frustrated; I’d been assaulted, violated. There was nothing to do about it, just take it.

A few months later, I was backing out of my driveway in the Honda. Traffic was heavy. I was in reverse. Without putting it in drive, I hit the accelerator and smashed a car parked on the street. The car was totaled but the young woman at the wheel was wearing her seatbelt and escaped unscathed.

The experience gives me pause. Unlike the theft of the Honda, there is something I can do about it.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



 
Playing Politics with Congress PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 29 January 2015 14:26

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

House Speaker John Boehner, coming off Republican triumphs in the recent election, is carrying on as if he were president. He announced last week that he’d invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.

“Normally, the visit of a world leader would be arranged by the White House,” the New York Times said in an editorial. But in a breach of sense and diplomacy, Boehner  and the Israeli ambassador to Washington, have taken it as their own mission to challenge President Obama’s approach to achieving a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Netanyahu, facing an election in March, apparently thinks he’ll bolster his standing at home and win the loyalty of a Republican Congress by rebuking the president. As for the Speaker of the House, “he seems determined to use whatever means  available to undermine and attack Mr. Obama...”

As a rule, the visit of an important head of state  to the U.S. would be handled by the White House.

Boehner is playing high stakes politics of a kind that backfired in the early 1950s.

General  Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) was invited to address a joint session of Congress  after he was fired by President Truman, an unpopular president, for insubordination during the Korean War. (Truman relieved the general for fear MacArthur would set off World War 3 with China in 1951.) For a short time, MacArthur was perhaps the most popular American alive.

Truman’s approval  rating had fallen to 22%. (It has remained the lowest Gallup Poll approval recorded by any president. These days historians rank Truman among our better  presidents.)

During his 34-minute speech, the general was interrupted by 50 ovations. It concluded famously proclaiming “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” The speech aroused expectations he would run for president. It never quite happened although he was the keynote speaker at the 1952 Republican convention. Senator Robert A. Taft and General Dwight Eisenhower were the chief contenders for the presidential nomination. Eisenhower was nominated, and went on to win the ’52 election by a landslide.

Truman and his advisers  were gathered around a television set in the White House on the day MacArthur spoke before Congress , wondering whether they were already history. All, that is, except Dean Acheson, the secretary of state. He thought the speech was more than pathetic. In his first-rate biography, ”American Caesar,” a life of Douglas MacArthur, the late William Manchester quoted Acheson of saying the festivities “reminded him of the father who had zealously guarded his daughter’s chastity and who, when she announced she was pregnant, threw up his hands and cried, ‘Thank heaven, it’s over!’” Truman, less elegant, felt that his opinion of the speech had been confirmed; for all “the carrying on and the damn fool Congressmen crying like a bunch of women, it was a hundred percent B.S.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
In the Aftermath of the Terrorist Attack PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 January 2015 16:11

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

More than a million people from around the world gathered in Paris in support of freedom of expression. In a letter to the New York Times a woman in Phoenix wrote, “Was it wise to publish offensive cartoons? Probably  not.  If there is a judgment to be made, it is to maintain dignity as a nation, but not at the expense of liberty. If we stand by our values we will prevail.”

In a recent article the newspaper took the question further. It asked, “France finds itself grappling anew with a question the United States is still confronting: How to fight terrorism while protecting civil liberties?”

The New York Times which reported the massacre in detail did not print any Charlie Hebdo cartoons which triggered the rampage that killed 17 people, including Charlie Hebdo, the editor, and two police officers.

The attack is believed to have been carried out by Muslim extremists in response to the newspaper’s history of publishing caricatures that slandered the Prophet Mohammed.

The other day the  PBS News Hour spent much of its time  on the story but also chose not to show a cartoon. When Judy Woodruff raised the question with moderate to liberal Mark Shields and moderate to conservative  David Brooks, the broadcast’s pundits, both agreed the News Hour did the right thing by keeping the cartoons off the air.

But in a letter to the Times Floyd Abrams,  a First Amendment lawyer who represented the Times in the Pentagon Papers case, wrote: “The decision of the New York Times to report on the murders in Paris of journalists who worked for Charlie Hebdo while not showing a single example of the cartoons that led to their executions is regrettable. There are times for self-restraint, but in the immediate wake of the most threatening assault on journalism in living memory, you would have served the cause of free expression best by engaging it.”

Supreme Court Justice  Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. is one of our  most cited legal scholars on freedom of speech. In the early years of the last century he advocated judicial restraint. “If there is a principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other,” he wrote,  “it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.” He  also put a limit on free speech, famously saying “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing panic.”

His opinions were widely discussed and admired. Holmes, who fought in the Civil War, said the “Founders regarded the Constitution as an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” He favored efforts for economic regulation under the New Deal and advocated broad freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
A More Divided Country PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 15 January 2015 15:48

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In 1948 Harry Truman traveled 21,928 miles on his famous whistle-stop campaign across the country by train. “I want to see the people,” he explained.

“There were three major tours: first  cross-country to California for fifteen days; then a six-day tour of the Middle West; followed by a final, hard-hitting ten days in the big population centers of the Northeast and a return home to Missouri...for fifteen days,” David McCullough wrote in “Truman,” his biography of our 33rd president.

McCullough quoted an old Truman friend, Charlie Ross, who remembered, “There were no deep-hidden schemes, no devious plans, nothing that could be called, in the language of political analysts, `high strategy.’” The president took his case to the country in what seemed  a lost-cause against Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican candidate. In the end, Truman would defeat Dewey in the upset of the century.

In 1960 John Kennedy campaigned in 49 states, Richard Nixon in all 50 in a contest that Kennedy won with a razor-thin lead of 112,827 votes or 0.10% of the popular vote. Kennedy, however, won the electoral vote handily, 303 to Nixon’s 219.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Adam Liptak, who covers the Supreme Court for the newspaper, argues that in Tuesday’s presidential contest the race was viewed as just as close as in 1960 “but the candidates ...campaigned in only 10 states since the political conventions. There are towns in Ohio that had received more attention than the entire West Coast.”  In effect, the current system “disenfranchises most Americans.”

In more recent years, according to the research, the tendency for people with a similar outlook is to live near one another. Thus the country is increasingly split between  two Americas, the more conservative (Republican in the middle and south of the continent) and the more liberal (Democratic) on the coasts.

The notion of disenfranchisement is rooted “in the fact that almost every state chooses to allocate its electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. Thus, a candidate confident of winning or sure of losing a bare majority of a state’s popular vote has no reason to expend resources there.”

In 2008 voter turnout in the fifteen states that received most of the candidates’ attention was 67 percent. In 2012 the focus has been on even fewer states. The difference, says Liptak, increases the chances of one candidate carrying the Electoral College, the other the popular vote, making for a more divided country.

This column originally appeared on November 8, 2012.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Famous Lives PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 January 2015 16:48

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Long before there was a Barack Obama there was Edward W. Brooke III, the first African-American elected to the United States Senate by popular vote. A Republican, Brooke won in a landslide in Democratic Massachusetts in 1966. He was re-elected in 1972. According to the New York Times, he’s still the only black senator to have been returned to office.

Brooke took pains to avoid labels, but his positions were more liberal than those of the rising number of conservative Republicans joining the upper chamber. As the Times noted, he opposed the expansion of nuclear arsenals, favored more cordial relations with China and championed civil rights, the legalization of abortion and fair housing policies. He strongly supported programs to aid cities and the poor.

In a 1966 book, “The Challenge of Change: Crisis in Our Two-Party System,” he asked, “Where are our plans for a New Deal or a Great Society?”

A sharp critic of his party’s leader, President Richard M. Nixon, Brooke led the fight to deny two Nixon nominees  to the Supreme Court on grounds their positions on civil rights were open to question. When Nixon was ensnared in the Watergate scandal, Brooke called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. He was the first Republican senator to demand Nixon’s impeachment.

I’d long been gone from my native Massachusetts when Brooke was first elected, but I remember my mother, a Republican, and other family members, mostly Democrats, imagining Brooke’s one day becoming the first African-American president. It never happened but it was a glimmer of an America to be.

In 1974 when I was working for the Today Show there were rumors that Barbara Walters and Brooke were in a clandestine romance. Many years later, in 2008, Walters wrote about the affair in a memoir. Before the book was written Walters told Brooke in a letter that she would write about the affair. Walters said he wrote back “a very nice note.”  In the book, “Audition,”  she said “only my closest friends knew” of the relationship  which she described as “a long and rocky affair,” adding, “Oh, yes. He was also married.”

Edward Brooke, she said, “was simply the most attractive, sexiest, funniest, charming, and impossible man. I was excited, fascinated, intrigued, and infatuated.”

The story was bound to come out. Neither could afford the risk for their careers. “He was proud of being in the Senate and his future could only get better,” Barbara said. “I also could not risk my career, I had a child and my family in Florida to think about. We decided wisely but very sadly that we had to stop seeing each other. That was that. We stopped.”

Brooke, who lost his bid for a third term in 1978, died last Saturday at his home in Coral Gables, Florida. He was 95. Barbara is in her 80s but that may be as much as she is likely to say.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
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