Posts Tagged ‘JFK’

How I Came to be Called an ‘Enemy of the American People’

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

By Jeffrey Page

The Fake President

The Fake President

In late 1963, I was working a go-nowhere job for an airport shipping firm when I got an important phone call from George Trow, the night managing editor of the New York Post, telling me that the copyboy’s position I’d applied for was available.

Was I still interested, he inquired.

“When should I report,” I asked. Easy answer, my having been raised in a newspaper-reading family and believing that newspaper reporters and editors were important people.

Thus, a career began in those hazy distant days.

And oh yes, Mr. Trow said as he cleared his throat, the shift began at 1 a.m., and the pay was $48 a week. I was getting $65 at the airport. I took the job at the Post. One a.m.? $48? My father was aghast.

This was two months after the JFK assassination. The work at the Post was menial: I re-filled paste pots, I took coffee and sandwich orders from the night staff, I kept the reporters well-supplied with copy paper for their stories and the copy editors well-supplied with sharp pencils to edit stories and write headlines. I ran galley proofs and page proofs back and forth between the composing room and the copy desk.

Menial yes, but, it turned out, the start of a 42-year adventure. I worked for several dailies. At each of them we delivered to readers the information they needed, the scores of the sports events they had bet on, the features they enjoyed, some columnists they admired and others they loathed.

In my newspaper decades I covered some presidential campaigns. I wrote a great deal about transportation. Late in career, I got a general column. I interviewed the great Cesar Chavez. I went to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Once, I found myself sitting across from Ray Charles who was in town to publicize a singing jingle promoting a new game in the New Jersey Lottery. Charles looked miserable and I had no idea what to ask this genius now reduced to singing commercials late in his career. I filed four dull paragraphs; it was enough.

There were thousands of other stories about politics, about people with interesting careers, about crime. I even found the abandoned creamery in the Catskills where Patricia Hearst spent a year in hiding.

Nowadays the voice in the Oval Office refers to what he has determined to be “Fake News,” which, if I understand it, means any news our Fake President doesn’t care for. An example: He really doesn’t like to be reminded that he drew nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in last year’s election.

In addition to slandering the press as a purveyor of “fake news,” Trump maligns the entire news industry by labeling the press “enemies of the American people,” which is a lie.

By attacking American news gathering this way Trump forgets where he gets the right to speak his own fake mind in any newspaper he might someday choose to publish. He seems to forget a lot, such as the fact that the press is one of only two occupations specifically protected in the Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, it says in the First Amendment. (The clergy has such protection as well.)

The need for a vibrant First Amendment has become more and more apparent in the months since Trump took office. Perhaps more than ever it has become clear that our democracy’s survival depends on a free and unfettered press.

A lot of people have fought to defend the United States Constitution. The Fake President was not one of them.

Would Trump dismiss Jefferson as a fake revolutionary? After all, it was Jefferson who uttered the familiar line that if forced to choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without a government he would prefer the latter.

Happy Birthday to Me, Dylan and JFK

Monday, May 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

The headline tells the story. Well, at least the premise. Bob Dylan and I both turn 76 today (May 29). Funny, I can almost believe it about myself, but not about Dylan, even though he’s literally been around my whole life. But while I appreciate his contribution to music, which won him a Nobel Prize for its poetic, lasting message, it’s not the sound of Dylan’s unique voice that I carry around in my head every May 29.

That would be Kennedy’s, with his distinct Boston accent. I’ve been aware of sharing a birthdate with the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of The United States, considerably longer than I’ve known the Dylan connection. That’s because Kennedy, who would be 100 today, was president at a time when I first became intimately aware of how a president could have a profound impact on my life, personally.

That was in October of 1962, the Cold War was heating up. I was a senior in college, with a draft deferment and Kennedy was telling Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to get his nuclear missiles out of Cuba or else. When Khrushchev refused, JFK ordered a blockade of U.S. Navy ships around the island to prevent delivery of any further missiles or equipment from the Soviet Union. As Soviet ships steamed towards Cuba, I waited nervously with the rest of the world to see if nuclear warfare would break out. Kennedy refused demands from other world leaders to back down.

Eventually, U.S. sailors boarded one Soviet ship and looked around. Then the Soviet fleet turned around and sailed back to Russia. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missiles. Kennedy in return agreed that the U.S., having been humiliated in a failed invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs a year earlier, would attempt no future invasions of Cuba.

A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as I awaited reporting to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate (synchronicity?) would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

Some 34 years later, much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

After considering a career in journalism, he decide on politics. Good choice. But as president he courted the news media, including initiating regular White House press conferences. He connected with people.

If Dylan’s message was often one of rebellion, Kennedy’s was unfailingly one of of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent, the highest in the history of Gallup. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.

Four years ago in this blog, writing “The Measure of the Man II,” I recounted my history with JFK and wrote, “The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?’’ That was on the 50th anniversary of his death.

I also wrote, “I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

So happy 100th, Mr. President. And Bobby, stay forever young and keep on pluckin’. I’ll meet you at 100.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Syria Conspiracy: One I Can Believe

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump, Assad and Putin

Trump, Assad and Putin

I have never been a fan of conspiracy theories. The JFK assassination? No. The 9/11 building collapse? No. The DNC plotting against Bernie Sanders … Well, OK, two out of three.

To my thinking, most conspiracy theories require: 1) a predetermined attitude on the motive behind the conspiracy (“the government doesn’t want us to know because …”); 2) the willingness to disregard facts (or lack of facts); 3) the belief in the absolute commitment of lots of people over a long period of time to keep a secret; 4) the further belief that the people involved in the conspiracy are actually capable of pulling it off, or at least trying to.

So here’s my conspiracy theory: Trump, Putin and Assad set the whole thing up. The chemical attack, the missile attack, the denials, the warnings from Trump, the threats from Putin. All according to script. Yes, it’s a morbidly depressing theory and so, in some respects, I hope I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m right.

To hatch any sort of conspiracy, there must be something to gain for each of the conspirators. Each must also be able to lie with a straight face, over and over and over again. Being a pathological liar helps. Also, the conspirators must be willing and able to carry out whatever deeds, however unseemly, that are required to promote the fiction they are trying to sell. People will be hurt. Being self-absorbed and demonstrably unconcerned about the welfare of others is also a useful characteristic.

That sounds like Trump, Putin and Assad. In this case, it’s not even hard to believe, let alone conceive of such a chilling conspiracy.

Trump’s motive? Pick one:

  • He doesn’t how how to be president.
  • People think he stinks at the job and he can’t stand rejection.
  • He couldn’t close the deal on the health care plan.
  • People mock his tweets.
  • Judges keep rejecting his executive orders.
  • Even Republicans in Congress couldn’t avoid investigating links between a growing list of Trump campaign aides and Russian hackers to sway the election in his favor. It would be good to get people’s minds off that.
  • People think he’s Putin’s puppet.
  • He likes to act tough.
  • It sounded like a good idea at the time.

OK, so Trump is not the brains behind the plot. Putin is. To get Americans, especially American TV news outlets, to stop focusing on the FBI and CIA and Congress probing whether Trump and Putin are in bed together and, you know, maybe someone committed treason, have Trump order a military strike that has humanitarian justification written all over it, even though it probably won’t accomplish much militarily. A feel-good military action, like attacking someone who has just used chemical weapons against unarmed civilians.

Putin: “Whaddya say, Assad, are you willing to do it again? I know the press will be bad, but that’s nothing new for you. Trump will just mess up one of your airfields with a picturesque nighttime missile strike. TV will eat it up. You’ve got plenty of airfields and we can get your troops and mine out of harm’s way ahead of time. We’ll deny you did it. I’ll talk tough to Donald. He’ll talk tough to me, or better yet, have my buddy, Rex Tillerson, talk tough to me and you.

“Everyone will get nervous. I get to stay in Syria and help you keep your job and the world forgets about Ukraine. My people see me showing a tough Russian face. They can’t earn a decent living in Russia, but they like that image. Meanwhile, your people are even more frightened, convinced that you’re a maniac, willing to kill them in the most horrible ways to retain power. I admire that in you, by the way.

“Americans, of course, will see a bold, decisive president. When Rex comes to see me next week, it will be like old times, in more ways than one. Somehow, we will strike a diplomatic deal. Put down the knives, so to speak. Maybe talk about lifting sanctions in the future. I agree to focus more on fighting ISIS. You agree to a safe zone. ‘Well done!’ the headlines will say. A lot of Americans will believe that Trump has changed overnight from an uncaring, bumbling narcissist to a bold, compassionate leader.”

Assad: “You really think people will believe that about him?”

Putin: “Look, we have to help him. He’s too valuable an asset. Besides, they believed him when he said he’d make America great again. Launching missiles always sends that message.”

Far-fetched? I truly hope so, but all conspiracy theories worth entertaining are. All you need for such an outrageous plot to succeed is three men who have shown no compunction about harming people if it makes them feel more powerful, who have demonstrated a disregard for international law, who possess an uncanny ability to lie, and who have incredible power at their disposal. Also, a public eager to let the story line reinforce their view of how the world is supposed to work.  That is: The good guys win, and we’re the good guys.

Now let’s talk about those contrails.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

The Measure of the Man, II

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

The first editorial I wrote for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., appeared on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I wrote the headline, too: “The measure of the man.”

Trying to “measure” the meaning of the life of a man who was literally loved and idolized by millions of people is no easy task, especially for a rookie editorial writer’s debut effort. But that’s what newspapers do and, in truth, I took it as a good omen that remembering JFK was my first assignment. He was a hero to me as to many young men my age when he was elected president. It was a combination of things: his youth, his wit, his easy-going style, his intelligence, his words, his sense of justice. Plus, we shared the same birthdate: May 29.

As fate would have it, JFK would come to be remembered, not on his birthday, but on the anniversary of his death. And not so much for what Americans received for having him as president for 1,000 days, but rather for what we lost by not having him much longer.

That first editorial said, in essence, that it would take more than 20 years to measure the meaning of the man. It acknowledged the things we had learned about JFK in the years since the shooting in Dallas — the flaws that made him human — as well as what I felt were his positive contributions.

Thirty years later, no longer a rookie editorial writer — indeed, retired after 23 years of writing editorials — with Nov. 22 approaching, I realized I had to write about JFK 50 years after his death (because that’s what old newspaper guys do). Before I started, I asked one of my reliable sounding boards, my son, Zack, what he knew about JFK. Zack is 19 and better informed than a lot of young people his age, so I figured his answer would provide me with a fair sense of what our education system had been telling kids about Kennedy.

“He was the first Catholic president,” Zack said. Correct. “He had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.” Uh, correct. ‘There’s still some theories that there was more than one shooter.” Right. “Do you think the Kevin Costner movie (“JFK,” directed by Oliver Stone) was true?” Well, the people portrayed were real. “The Bay of Pigs didn’t go too well.” No, it didn’t.

I took the opportunity to point out that Cuba was the site, not only of Kennedy’s biggest failure in global affairs, but also his biggest success. I was a little older than Zack is now when the world stood at the brink of a nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missile-launching sites in Cuba, aimed at the United States. I was a senior in college and knew full well, as did all my classmates, than no 2-S deferment was going to exempt me from what might happen if the Soviets did not — as Kennedy demanded — remove their missiles.

Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade Cuba to prevent the shipment of Soviet missiles and equipment. Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet president, who had initially denied the existence of the missile sites, sent a naval fleet to Cuba, loaded with supplies and armed for battle. As the world watched and waited and prayed, Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged messages. Kennedy prevailed. The Soviet fleet stopped short of Cuba and turned around. I lived to write this remembrance. Kennedy was dead not long after.

So here I am 50 years later, still looking to take the measure of the man and still wondering how that is possible. Kennedy had the gift of engagement. He appeared to be comfortable with whomever he was speaking. He had tremendous appeal to young people, being so different from the older, stodgier presidents who preceded him. He created the Peace Corps — a legacy that continues to this day with not enough fanfare. He made many Americans — and this is not a small thing — truly proud to be Americans. Not in an arrogant, flag-waving, we-know-better-than-you way. Just proud.

And he cheated on his wife and kept his serious health problems a secret from us and sometimes needed to be prodded by his brother, Bobby (another tragic loss) to take the proper (courageous) stand on issues. So the question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer? What did we lose at Dealey Plaza?

Certainly, whatever innocence we still possessed. The wind was sucked from our sails as a nation and our domestic politics have slowly and steadily deteriorated into such partisanship that is virtually impossible for any president to speak to the minds and hearts of a majority of Americans the way Kennedy did. Maybe it would have happened even if Kennedy had lived a longer life and gone on to be an ambassador to the world of what America stands for. Or maybe not.

It dawns on me in writing this that it is an ultimately frustrating task to try to take the measure of another man or woman. I know what JFK meant to me personally. I know a lot of others feel similarly and others do not. I know what history has recorded (he was also the youngest man to be elected president) and what the tabloids have told us. I have a sense of what I would like to think Kennedy would ultimately have meant had he not died so young. But it’s only speculation.

The only man I can truly take the measure of is myself. It is 50 years since that morning when I was waiting at home to go to Fort Dix, N.J., to begin six months of active duty training. How do I measure up today? That’s a question I work on every day. It wasn’t always thus, but the years have a way of insisting on perspective. Maybe the answer will appear in some other writing. I have neither the space nor the inclination to do so here. I will say that, on balance, I’ll probably give myself a passing grade, but there’s still some stuff I’m learning.

For now, I’m through trying to take the measure of JFK, as man or president. Let the historians have at it. I’m going to try to take his advice and ask not what life can do for me, but what I can contribute to life. And I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.

bob@zestoforange.com

Wanted: Heroes for the 21st Century

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Anonymous

By Bob Gaydos

A couple of months ago, I watched a documentary on PBS: “Simon and Garfunkel, Songs of America.” In addition to being a musical tour de force, it turned out to be a moving history lesson of the turbulent times in which it was made, the 1960s. Interestingly, the film, tame by today’s standards, was shown only once by CBS-TV, in 1969, because its strong anti-war sentiments apparently offended too many sponsors. So kudos to PBS for rescuing it from the dust bin.

But my goal here is not to relive the ‘60s. There have been much more enjoyable decades to appreciate. Rather, it is to take something from that era and try to figure out its equivalent today: Heroes.

Watching the film and the footage of John F. Kennedy, I was instantly reminded of his powerful influence on America’s young people. We know today that JFK was, like all of us, a flawed human being. But he was an undeniable inspiration to tens of thousands of young people, who took heart and hope from his words and vitality. He connected with us. In similar, if less encompassing ways, so, too, did Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

And so I wondered, who do kids look to today for inspiration? Who are their heroes? I came up with next to nothing and set the idea aside until I could ask my own sons. Max, 20 and Zack, 18, if they had any heroes.

“Anonymous,” Zack said, without missing a beat. Max agreed immediately.

Having now confused many of my readers over 50, maybe even 40, I must explain that Anonymous is a loosely connected, international group of Internet communities that opposes efforts at Internet censorship and surveillance as well as taking on other causes its anonymous members agree is of benefit to the overall group. It hacks government and corporate web sites and delights in exposing the lies and abuses of the people in power in the corporate, political, military, media, you-name-it world. Members have been described as anarchists and freedom fighters. Its symbol is the famous — and now, ubiquitous — Guy Fawkes mask. Time magazine has named Anonymous one of the most influential groups in the world.

My response was almost as swift as Zack’s. Of course, Anonymous. It speaks to the voiceless millions of young people who feel they have been, to put it delicately, screwed by their elders. A generation that has been told there are no jobs for you, going to college anyway will leave you in debt for decades to come, and we don’t want to hear your whining so get out of the streets with your signs and out of the parks with your tents because we now outfit our police forces like small armies and they are permitted to use tear gas, peppers spray, rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, and clubs, if necessary, to make you stop reminding your elders of what a mess they have made of the world. Throw you in jail, too, because that’s where smart aleck, unarmed protesters like you wind up today in America.

End of speech. But to the point — today’s heroes will, of necessity, be different from yesterday’s I will allow for one possible exception, that being President Barack Obama. When he ran for the presidency in 2008, he inspired millions of young people. Some of that attraction has been lost in the subsequent four years, but Obama remains, and always will, a source of great pride and inspiration to millions of young, black Americans. History cannot erase his achievement, nor yet predict its impact on this nation’s future leaders.

But there have to be more. My sons also came up with TV personalities, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, also untraditional and altogether fitting in the expose-the-rascals genre. I also asked some friends who offered the likes of author Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and former congressman Dennis Kucinich, all worthy nominees.

I have more names, but I’d like to hold them for awhile. Compiling such lists is a process and one for which the Internet and social media are especially well-suited. I would really like to hear suggestions from you. dear readers. Truthfully, I’m even more interested in suggestions from your children and grandchildren who are in their mid-teens through twenties. Who are their heroes? Not sports or entertainment idols; heroes. If the kids are not at home, post this on Facebook or email them and ask them to respond. This is an interactive medium, remember?

I’ll come back to this topic with more names and, I hope, a better understanding of what it means to be a hero to today’s youth. Who knows, maybe that will contribute in some small way to a better understanding of how we can work together for a world that embraces all generations.

bob@zestoforange.com