US Presidents

President Reagan Survives Assassination Attempt by John Hinckley (March 30, 1981)

President_reagan_shot It was a gray, showery Monday afternoon and I was in a meeting in a conference room at my office, ad agency Scali McCabe Sloves, where I was a media planner on the Volvo auto account.  This was my first job out of college and I was coming up on my 2-year anniversary.  The last person to enter the room before the meeting started reported that President Reagan had been shot, but she had no further details. 


President_reagan_recovering I don't recall anyone acting overly concerned - I suppose we were a room full of Democrats.  And I wasn't alarmed over this news, perhaps because it seemed too shocking to comprehend something as bad as this happening so early in his presidency - and I thought back to the two attempts made on Gerald Ford's life which he survived (but no bullets hit him).  Also, I was still in disbelief that Reagan had been elected president, so I rationalized that if he didn't pull through Vice President George Bush would be more suitable.  But Reagan lived - the first president to survive after being struck by a bullet.




The biggest impact for me was that the Academy Awards were delayed one day out ofr respect fo the former actor.  (Up until 1999 the Oscars were handed out on a Monday night.) 


Dan_rather Reagan's shooting would be Dan Rather's first big news event since replacing Walter Cronkite as anchorman of the CBS Evening News three weeks earlier.  And at the end of the week my life became upended when my loft space in Tribeca was burglarized.  By coincidence, my friend Marina's apartment on the Upper East Side had been burglarized almost one year to the date of my burglary.  (Back then it seemed your first burglary was a right of passage when you lived in Manhattan.) 


I've written six other blog posts about U.S. presidents:

The Sudden Death of FDR

President Kennedy Assassinated

Nixon Resigns the Presidency

Carter Elected Over Ford

Gore vs. Bush: Too Close to Call

Barack Obama Elected President

President Clinton & OJ Simpson Share Center Stage (February 4, 1997)

1995_stateoftheunion_address The verdict in the civil suit brought against OJ Simpson for the wrongful deaths of his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman coincided with President Clinton's State of the Union Address on the night of February 4, 1997 (the first of his second term).  Word that a verdict had been reached came shortly before 7PM but the reading of it was delayed for more than three hours until all interested parties arrived at the courthouse in Santa Monica. 


It was Tuesday night and I was preparing dinner after doing a weight workout at the gym.  Since both events were of high news value NBC resorted to a split screen to show both unfolding.  And although it seemed somewhat disrespectful to the President, truth be told, the verdict was largely the reason I switched on the TV.  Finally, at the conclusion of the President's address the verdict came in.  Reporters inside the courthouse signaled to the crowd gathered outside that the verdict was - guilty!  On one side of the split screen President Clinton was shown shaking hands while and on the other side a defeated Simpson was show leaving the courthouse followed by the triumphant Goldman and Brown families.  I let out a cheer.


Fred_Goldman_PeopleMag For me, this verdict took some of the sting out of the contentious not guilty verdict reached in the criminal trial in 1995.  Shortly afterward I called my friend Marina down in Baltimore to share the news.  She had passed the Maryland bar six months earlier so I asked her to explain why this type of suit could be filed after a verdict had already been rendered in the criminal case, in other words a do-over.  (I still don't understand the legal reasoning.)  Thus ended a tragic case that had been part of the nation's zeitgeist for nearly three years.  (However, it wasn't the last we'd hear from OJ.)


Remembering the Day President Kennedy Was Assassinated (November 22, 1963)




The assassination of President Kennedy is the first vivid memory I have of any historical event.  In the fall of 1963 I was six years old and in the First Grade at Fenton Elementary School in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKees Rocks.  Nov. 22 was a Friday and early that afternoon I had just returned to school after having lunch at home.  My classmates and I waited for our teacher, Mrs. Foley, to arrive but for some unknown reason we waited an unusually long time for her (this was too good to be true!).  Finally, she walked in and told us the news that the president had been shot and that we could go home.




It seemed fitting that the afternoon was overcast, which added to the somberness of my walk home (and Saturday would be dreary and rainy).  Although I was aware this was an awful event I don't recall feeling any strong emotions.  While waiting for my father to return from work I sat on the sofa in the living room and paged through my mother's December issue of Good Housekeeping that arrived in the mail earlier that afternoon (pictured).  On the cover was a little girl holding a large Santa lollipop.  Although its festive nature was incongruous with that day's tragedy, it was a nice escape for a young child.  And the next day my brother and I spent much of that rainy Saturday afternoon at the movies.



Another thing I remember about this day was my surprise at the word "assassination", which I had never heard before.  Although I quickly learned its meaning, I found it somewhat amusing/shocking because it had the word "ass" in it - twice - yet everyone was saying it, which my six-year-old self found curious and amusing.  After all, back then words like that weren't spoken in polite company.


Just two days later the nation witnessed the shooting death of accused assassin, 25-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV.  It was just past noon and my family was eating Sunday lunch.  The TV was on in the background in the living room because my father, a football fanatic, insisted on watching the NFL game that was being broadcast.  The telecast was interrupted by coverage of Oswald being brought into police headquarters in Dallas.  As he was being walked in, surrounded by detectives, a man named Jack Ruby jumped out of the crowd and shot Oswald in the stomach.  I didn’t see the shooting because my seat at the dinner table was obstructed by a wall that blocked my view.  But I heard the commotion and saw the reaction of my parents.  This was very likely the most shocking event ever seen on live TV until 9/11 when millions saw the second plane (United Flight 175) crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center.




Because of these events, for a long time I viewed Dallas (and Texas in general) as an evil place, not unlike enemy territory such as Red China, and it took a long time for me to shake this feeling.


In 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, journalists Guy Russo and Harry Moses asked a cross-section of Americans to share their memories of that tragic day, and turned it into a book titled Where Were You? 






President Bush Forces Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Step Down (November 8, 2006)

Donald_rumsfeld The morning of November 8, 2006 was dreary and rainy but I was in good spirits for two reasons.  First, the results from yesterday's mid-term elections were very positive as both houses of Congress returned to Democratic control.  Second, I was getting paid for a research project I had recently completed about the U.S. Hispanic market.  I went up to Chelsea at around noon to pick up my check from the research company I did the project for.  From there I walked over to my bank to deposit it and while standing in line at HSBC I heard the surprising news on CNN that irascible Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was stepping down. 


Singin_in_the_rain This news bulletin was like a beam of sunshine breaking through that day's clouds.  Even better was the fact that for some reason the president decided to wait until after the election to make this announcement.  Therefore, it was of no benefit to Republican candidates.  This news made the day's pouring rain (the most of any day this year, a record-setting 3.60") more than bearable.  In fact, as I walked home I felt lighthearted, just like Gene Kelly in his famous rain-splashing scene in the the movie Singin' in the Rain.  At long last there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel - and in two more years we would be delivered from evil. 


Gore vs. Bush: Too Close to Call (November 7, 2000)



In the early evening of Election Day, Nov. 7, 2000, I was running on the treadmill at the gym (Crunch Fitness) watching news coverage as I warmed up for my weight workout.  The early returns looked promising for Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate (and my choice).  In fact, NBC had just projected him to be the winner in Florida.  This encouraging news gave me a lift during my workout.  However, by the time I returned home an hour later the state's 25 electoral votes had been taken from his column as Florida was now "too close to call".  This was quite an unusual development.



Voting results 2000 election


I stayed up until nearly 2 AM, and then for whatever reason I chose to keep the TV on as I slept.  (At least I was able to lull myself to sleep knowing that former First Lady Hillary Clinton had won her race in New York for the US Senate.)  I awoke to the same uncertainty as when I crawled into bed - the race had yet to be called.  And this is how it would stay for the next five weeks until the Supreme Court decided in Bush's favor - thus beginning an 8-year nightmare for the nation.  (Books by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and renowned Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz discuss the standoff in Florida.) 




The craziness in Florida, with its confusing variety of ballots, caused me to reflect on how those in the advertising research field (my profession) so often disparage Nielsen for its measurement of TV audiences - using techniques which go through rigorous methodological review.  How curious that its methods are held up to such greater scrutiny compared to the jerry-rigged system used to elect the President - undoubtedly the most important individual in the world.   








Barack Obama Elected President (November 4, 2008)

Timecover_obama_elected History would be made regardless of who won the 2008 presidential election, held on November 4.  Either the US would have its first African American president, Barack Obama, or its first female vice president, Sarah Palin.  I voted before going to work and waited in line for a little more than an hour at my polling place at an NYU dorm in Greenwich Village, which was across the street from Washington Square Park.  Happily, the sun was shining and the line of voters was buzzing with anticipation.  And although I had been a supporter of Hillary Clinton during the primaries I was happy to cast my ballot for Obama. 





I watched election coverage on CNN when I got home from work that night.  I planned to go to the gym but got caught up in the very encouraging returns, especially from traditional "red" states such as Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina.  Later in the evening I called my mother in Pittsburgh to talk about the impending good news.  Then as soon as the polls closed in California (11PM in the East) CNN declared Obama the winner.  The streets in my Greenwich Village neighborhood erupted in wild cheers as if the Yankees or Mets had won the World Series.  And the partying atmosphere continued all night.





Obama's acceptance speech in Chicago was somber but inspiring.  A few minutes earlier he and his family had walked onto a large stage in front of one million ecstatic supporters, a setting that seemed almost European in style with its pomp and pageantry.  At one point a crowd shot showed Jesse Jackson wiping away tears.  Meanwhile Obama's opponent, John McCain, gave a very gracious concession speech.  As usual his wife Cindy, looked stunning in a chic yellow-gold outfit (and likely thrilled that the campaign was over) - in contrast to the peculiar choice of a dress that Michelle Obama wore. 



 Obama elected usa today


Previous blog posts I've published about two other presidential elections:

Jimmy Carter Elected Over Gerald Ford (Nov. 2, 1976)

Gore vs. Bush:  Too Close to Call (Nov. 7, 2000)

Jimmy Carter Elected President Over Gerald Ford (November 2, 1976)

Carter_vs_fordSince 1960 there have been four very close presidential elections*.  One of them - 1976's race between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford - happened to be the first I voted in (but I voted by absentee ballot since I was away at college at Penn State).  Ford was the incumbent, immortalized by Saturday Night Live's Chevy Chase for his clumsy (albeit congenial) nature.  Meanwhile Carter came out of nowhere (nowhere being Plains, Georgia) - trailblazing a path that future Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama would also take.   


Jimmycarter_1976campaign A month before the election Carter made a campaign stop at the Beaver Valley Mall which was adjacent to campus.  It was Saturday morning and a group of us walked there to see if we might catch a glimpse of him.  I got close enough to snap the photo to the right (as you can see, of poor quality), but a bit too close for the Secret Service agents when I ducked under some barricades.  I'm sure if it had been 30 years later I would have been tackled and 'cuffed rather than just pushed back.   






Donkey_elephant The autumn of '76 was also memorable because I had my one - and only - girlfriend at that time (I came to the realization that I was gay the following summer).  And what sticks with me about this election was that Carrie was a Ford supporter.  This was hard for me to reconcile because I had the naive notion in my head that everyone in my circle of friends would have similar political leanings.  After all, how could someone I enjoyed being with have such a different view when it came to politics?  (I had a similar feeling when I joined Facebook and was taken aback by troubling political comments made by some of my "friends".)  It just so happened that ours was a short-lived relationship and this would be one of the final nails in the coffin.  





Carter_mondale On Election night I had sign-in duty at my dorm, a co-ed building in which girls lived on one side, guys on the other.  Members of the opposite sex were required to sign in to visit the "other side" after 8:00.  I heard election returns in piecemeal fashion and was in bed long before Carter was declared the winner at 3:30 AM (I had to be up early for my 8:00 philosophy class.)  His victory was delivered by Ohio, which he won by just 0.27% - beating Ford by 11,000 votes out of four million cast.  Of course, I was delighted - even more so because it gave me bragging rights over Carrie and her vexing choice.  (Post script: 33 years later Carrie and I became reacquainted on Facebook).


To read more about their respective presidencies two books to consider are The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. and Gerald R. Ford.


*The other elections were 1960 (Kennedy vs. Nixon), 1968 (Humphrey vs. Nixon) and 2000 (Gore vs. Bush).      

Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)


Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  




In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.






As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.






Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)




A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:





Time_magazine_ ojsimpson






Richard Nixon Resigns the Presidency (August 8, 1974)





I was a teenager at the time of Richard Nixon's resignation and had yet to develop much in the way of a political consciousness.  Sure, I knew my parents were registered Democrats but I didn't really have an opinion about President Nixon (although I had some initial misgivings when he was first elected because the scuttlebutt on the playground was that he was going to institute Saturday classes).  And although the televised Watergate hearings had been a constant presence, and part of the background "noise" at home during the preceding 12 months, I watched tonight's presidential address to the nation with no feelings of triumph or vindication.  Rather, it was a somber occasion and I thought how lamentable it was that Nixon had let his presidency unravel.  (For background on the Watergate affair you may find Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward's acclaimed book The Final Days helpful; or perhaps the Oscar-nominated film from 2008 Frost Nixon.) 


It was just me and my mother watching; Dad was outside puttering in the garden.  And although I knew I was witnessing an event unmatched by few others in US history, I had other pressing concerns on my 17-year-old mind -  I was editor of the yearbook and had plans to make as my senior year in high school approached.  (I also hoped that Nixon's resignation wouldn't cast a pall on the upcoming school year.)






Speaking of the yearbook, I had just returned the day before from a workshop for yearbook staffs from high schools throughout Western Pennsylvania.  It was held over the course of three days at Seven Springs ski resort, about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh.  My ascension to the post of editor (at Sto-Rox High School) was a bit unconventional because I hadn't been part of the yearbook clique.  A new yearbook advisor decided to select the editor based on who wrote the best essay - and I was chosen. 





The next morning, a Friday, I watched as Nixon and Pat Nixon, now private citizens, left the White House and boarded a helicopter for San Clemente, CA.  Newly sworn-in president Gerald Ford and the new First Lady Betty Ford saw them off.  However, I was preoccupied with my morning paper route (I delivered the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) because I had one paper left and I didn't know who I had missed.




My interest in politics would begin in earnest two years later when Jimmy Carter ran against Ford and I voted in my first presidential election. 





U.S. Bombs Libya in Retaliation for Various Acts of Terror (April 14, 1986)

Los_angelesThe U.S. bombing of Muammar Gaddafi's headquarters in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in the spring of 1986 triggers memories of my first visit to Los Angeles.  The day of the airstrike, April 14, was a Monday and my first full day playing tourist there.  I was staying with a former colleague from ad agency Young & Rubicam who now worked for McCann Erickson on Wilshire Boulevard.  Elsa lived in Sherman Oaks, which was over the Hollywood Hills in the San Fernando Valley. 


Us_airforceI rented a white Dodge Colt from Rent-A-Wreck and drove to Venice Beach in the morning.  Later I walked around West Hollywood, visited a few stores on Melrose Ave. and stopped by the International Male store on Sunset Boulevard before heading over to the Beverly Center a few blocks away.  It was there during the early evening that I came upon a group of shoppers milling about in front of an electronics store watching President Reagan's address to the nation.  He explained that our surprise attack was in retaliation for a bombing at a German disco a week earlier linked to Libya that killed one American soldier and injured hundreds of others.  




(Unfortunately, Libyan sponsored terrorism would continue and culminate in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotand two-and-a-half-years later.)


Because of the military action I had some concerns about the security of my return trip to New York at the end of the week.  It turned out my worries were justified as my red-eye flight was delayed by five hours due to a bomb threat.  This included an hour delay after boarding as our luggage was taken off the plane and searched again.  We didn't take off until 4AM.