Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Theodore Dreiser: Reporter

During the Christmas season of 1891, a young man from Indiana working as a bill collector for a Chicago installment-plan firm decided to seek employment as a reporter, conceiving of newspapers “as wonderlands in which all concerned were prosperous and happy.” He sought inspiration for his career change from the writings of Chicago Daily News columnist Eugene Fields.

Scanning the help-wanted advertisements in the Chicago Herald, the Hoosier spied a listing asking for a “number of bright young men” to assist in the newspaper’s business department during the holidays to distribute gifts to needy children. Hoping that the position might be an entrée into journalism, Theodore Dreiser jumped at the chance to work for the newspaper.

Although this initial step into journalism failed to lead to a reporting job with the Herald, Dreiser, then twenty-one-years old, remained determined to “shake off the garments of the commonplace in which I seemed swathed and step forth into the public arena, where I could be seen and understood for what I was.” To achieve this goal, he saw connecting himself with a newspaper to be “the swiftest” route to fulfilling his dreams. Eventually, Dreiser obtained work as a reporter with the Chicago Daily Globe, which, in turn, led to jobs with newspapers in Saint Louis, Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and New York.

Born on August 27, 1871, in Terre Haute, Indiana, Theodore was the ninth of ten surviving children of Johann Paul and Sarah Schänäb Dreiser. Before the family lived in Terre Haute, it had enjoyed some financial success in the wool business in Sullivan, Indiana, where Johann worked as a foreman at the Sullivan Woolen Mills. After an 1866 fire destroyed the mill, Johann was seriously injured by falling timber during construction of a new mill. The injury, coupled with an economic depression in America in the 1870s, resulted in long stretches of poverty for the Dreiser family. Theodore remembered his early years as “one unbroken stretch of privation and misery.”

Through the years, the Dreiser family lived in a succession of Indiana towns. While living in Warsaw, Indiana, Theodore attended high school and won the favor of a teacher, Mildred Fielding, who encouraged his fascination with books and writing. He left Warsaw at age sixteen for Chicago, where he found work in a variety of low-paying jobs, including dishwasher and a stock boy at a hardware company. His former teacher Fielding, who taught in a nearby suburb, found Dreiser and offered to pay for his education at IndianaUniversity in Bloomington. Dreiser enrolled at IU in the fall of 1889, but only stayed a year.

Dreiser returned to Chicago and worked driving a delivery wagon for a laundry at $8 a week and served as a bill collector before deciding he wanted to become a reporter. After his initial attempt at employment with the Herald failed, Dreiser began to haunt the various offices of the city’s newspapers seeking employment. Luckily for Dreiser, John Maxwell, a copyreader for the Chicago Daily Globe, gave the young writer a chance, making him one of the extra correspondents the paper used to cover the 1892 DemocraticNational Convention. Dreiser’s perseverance paid off with a full-time job with the newspaper following the convention.

Although he had at first anticipated “comfortable salaries” for his work, Dreiser learned that beginners “were very badly served” when it came to wages. Still, his early promise as a journalist—especially his colorful feature writing for the paper’s Sunday supplement on such subjects as the city’s slum dwellers—caught the attention of the newspaper’s editors. Daily Globe city editor John T. McEnnis urged Dreiser to seek advancement at a better newspaper. McEnnis recommended Dreiser to the Saint Louis Globe-Democrat, and in late October 1892 he left Chicago for Saint Louis.

A visit from his successful actor/songwriter brother Paul Dresser soon had Dreiser thinking of moving to New York. Leaving St. Louis, Dreiser worked his way across the country at various newspapers from Toledo to Pittsburgh. In Toledo, he made friends with Toledo Blade editor Arthur Henry, who later encouraged Dreiser to write his first novel, Sister Carrie. Covering a streetcar strike while in Toledo, Dreiser found his sympathies lay with the workers. He later used his experience reporting on the strike for Sister Carrie.

Arriving in New York, Dreiser found work with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, but discovered he was to be paid by the amount of copy he produced. Wandering through the city’s numerous boroughs on assignment, Dreiser observed that everywhere there seemed to be “a terrifying desire for lust or pleasure or wealth, accompanied by a heartlessness which was freezing to the soul, or a dogged resignation to deprivation and misery.” Although he wished to abandon journalism for the life of a writer, Dreiser still needed a dependable salary. His brother’s connection to a music publishing company helped Dreiser earn a job as editor of the firm’s monthly magazine called Ev’ry Month.

One of the contributors Dreiser used for Ev’ry Month was his old friend Henry of Toledo, who continued to pester Dreiser about writing a novel. Visiting Henry in Ohio in the summer of 1899, Dreiser produced a number of successful short stories. Henry also prodded his friend to begin writing a novel. “He began to ding-dong about a novel,” Dreiser recalled. “I must write a novel. I must write a novel.” Perhaps to silence Henry’s urgent appeals, Dreiser took pen to paper in September 1899 and wrote a title for the projected work: Sister Carrie.

Although it was through his work as a novelist that Dreiser achieved fame with such controversial, realistic fiction through the years as Jennie Gerhardt, The Financier, The Titan, and An American Tragedy, his journalism career proved to be crucial for his writing. Reflecting on time as a reporter for an interview in 1911 following the publication of Jennie Gerhardt, Dreiser indicated that his work on newspapers furnished him with a keen “insight into the brutalities of life—the police courts, the jails, the houses of ill repute, trade failures and trickery.” He added that the seamy surroundings were not depressing, but wonderful. “It was like a grand magnificent spectacle,” Dreiser said.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

War in the Ice and Fog: The Invasion of Kiska

As more than 30,000 American and Canadian troops prepared to take on the Japanese garrison of approximately 9,500 on Kiska in the Aleutian Islands in a campaign codenamed Operation Cottage, Robert L. Sherrod, a correspondent for Time magazine, recalled that the greatest puzzle on the eve of the scheduled August 15, 1943, landing was: Where were the Japanese?

On a July 22 bombing raid against Kiska, American pilots had drawn heavy anti-aircraft fire from the enemy and photographs they took while flying at “deck level” showed several Japanese soldiers crouching at their gun positions. After that mission, there had been several bombing raids, but not “a living soul has been seen (new [air]crews have reported seeing some figures, have also reported light ack-ack, but new crews always see things where veterans do not),” Sherrod said.

The absence of the enemy from aerial photographs drew quite a bit of amused speculation throughout the Aleutians. One American staff officer, according to Sherrod, said that Japanese officers on Kiska had shot all of their enlisted men and had been taken off by submarines, while others joked about enemy submarines with the capability of evacuating a thousand men at one time. Not-quite-serious rumors circulated that the Japanese possessed a secret weapon that made troops and equipment disappear. Some U.S. military officials gave the enemy credit for being experts at camouflage, figuring they had withdrawn to the mountains with their weapons to make a determined stand against any invasion. They were quick to point out that before the operation to retake Attu Island from the Japanese a pilot had returned from a flight over the island and confidently reported: “Everything has disappeared from Attu except one Jap and one blue fox.” The pilot had been very wrong—there were plenty of the enemy left on the island to oppose the American landings on Attu.

Sherrod traveled to Kiska with the invasion fleet, which consisted of more than a hundred warships, on the USS Pennsylvania. Also onboard the battleship was a U.S. Marine Corps officer Sherrod came to know well during the Pacific War, Major General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, an expert on amphibious warfare who had helped train the Seventh Division for its landing on Attu. Described by Sherrod as sometimes talking “like [actor] Wallace Beery in the role of a Marine general,” Smith was the father of modern U.S. amphibious warfare and had earned his nickname by being “always demanding and often profane.”

After a diversionary landing on Kiska’s Gertrude Cove at the island’s southern edge, plans called for the main landings to be on a beach at the far western end. Smith, however, was convinced that there were no Japanese on Kiska, and had called for a patrol to be sent prior to the invasion to see if he was right. The marine general had also arranged with a P-38 fighter pilot to remove the radio from his aircraft so Smith could “fly piggy-back with him from Amchitka to Kiska, where I could make reconnaissance of the island and ascertain the situation for myself.”

Unfortunately, the pilot backed out of the arrangement, and Smith never made his flight. En route to the island, said Sherrod, the marine general had kept “grumbling that the whole operation would turn out to be a farce because the Japanese had escaped. Else why didn’t they shoot at our B-25s [bombers] and PBYs [Consolidated PBY Catalinas] when they went over to bomb the island?” Smith remembered being the “object of ridicule” while on the Pennsylvania because of his belief that the Japanese had skedaddled. The “skeptical strategists of the mess,” said Smith, laughed loudest when he pointed out that sixty-five low, wooden structures used by the Japanese as barracks had disappeared, and he believed the wood had been used by the enemy to build boats and rafts to ferry the garrison to ships awaiting offshore Kiska.

Despite persistent fog, some 7,000 Allied troops—supported by five battleships and 262 land-based aircraft—were established on Kiska by the end of the operation’s first day. The only thing missing was someone to fight; Smith had been right—the Japanese were gone, leaving behind a few dogs and a container of hot coffee. “The Canadian and American soldiers found no Japs,” Sherrod wrote, “but they did get a good look at the installations our planes and naval guns had been shooting at.

What they found: gun emplacements, ammunition, living quarters and other evidence which indicated that at one time nearly 10,000 Japs had been on Kiska. There was a submarine base (evidently abandoned weeks ago) and a long-neglected seaplane base and hanger. Telephone lines strung around the eastern edge of the island led to a fair-size power plant.” Soldiers also discovered numerous caches of food, including five-gallon, wood-encased tins of kelp and hard crackers; one-hundred-pound bags of rice; and a variety of canned fish. “The Japs did not leave Kiska because they were in danger of starving,” said Sherrod. The enemy also left behind a few mongrel dogs. “We dropped 100,000 propaganda leaflets on Kiska, but those dogs couldn’t read,” said an American pilot.

The Japanese had also left behind some crude messages on the walls of an underground bunker taunting the enemy, including: “You are dancing by foolische [foolish] order of Rousebelt [Roosevelt]” and “We shall come again and kill Yanki-joker.” What Sherrod and U.S. military officials learned only later was that Japanese destroyers and cruisers had evacuated the bulk of the Kiska garrison on July 28. How had such an operation been conducted so successfully and without any notice by American planes or ships? According to Morison, the Kiska evacuation had been achieved through a combination of “Japanese savvy, American bungling, Aleutian weather and good fortune.”

In his article on the Kiska campaign for Time, Sherrod was able to laugh off the embarrassment felt by Allied forces at not finding any Japanese on the island, acknowledging the victory with wry humor by noting that among “the echoing cliffs of Kiska a new word was born: JANFU (“Joint Army-Navy foul-up”).” He also reported that the Japanese had left behind land mines and booby-traps. Although most of the booby-traps were “crude, such as a floorboard obviously raised to accommodate a detonator, and not at all up to the fictional standard of Japanese cunning,” a few men had been killed by them, including a Canadian lieutenant who had been blown to smithereens after turning on a booby-trapped radio.

Military censors, however, refused to allow Sherrod to mention in his dispatches the far larger number of troops, about twenty-five, who were “slain by our own trigger-happy soldiers,” while another thirty-one were wounded by friendly fire. Among those killed had been Lieutenant Wilfred Funk Jr. whose father, Wilfred J. Funk, the publisher of Funk and Wagnalls, had written to Time demanding to know why, if there had been no enemy forces on Kiska, his son’s Purple Heart citation said he was “killed in combat against the enemy”?

Months after the Kiska landing, Sherrod, through conversations with surgeons on a transport that had taken care of some of those wounded by friendly fire (soldiers of the Eighty-Seventh Infantry Regiment), had patched together a report on what had happened, although he acknowledged what he heard was all second-hand information. The weather on Kiska had been the “foggiest I have ever seen,” he said, “and I had been through some honeys in the three months I had spent in the Aleutians. Actually, it was impossible to see ten feet.”

Expecting heavy enemy opposition, the troops who had landed on Kiska had fanned out in every direction, “dashing up mountains, down gulleys, through fog, and every man had his finger on the trigger, waiting for the first shot at the first Jap that wiggled,” Sherrod noted. A marine observer, who before the war had worked for the New York Times, told the correspondent that the soldiers were trigger happy and “didn’t give a damn what they hit. I had a half a dozen bullets fly right by my ears.”

An outfit Sherrod had known on Attu, the Third Battalion of the Seventeenth Infantry Regiment, had been in the middle of the firing, between two patrols of the Eighty-Seventh, but had miraculously escaped with no casualties. “Not one of my men fired a shot,” the Seventeenth’s battalion commander said to Sherrod. “They had been in action before.”

Sherrod wrote a paragraph about the Eighty-Seventh soldiers killed by their own men for his Time story about the invasion, but censors cut it out, and he believed they were right to do so at the time. (Sherrod noted that the censor for Kiska had been Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, commander of the North Pacific Force, who “insisted on reading every line of copy” and had been a “liberal censor,” pondering over, but passing for publication, the reporter’s JANFU comment.”) However, months later, Sherrod could not understand why military officials in Washington, D.C., were still refusing to release any information about the incident. “It’s part of the facts of battle,” said Sherrod, “and I think we might as well face these facts.”

With the Aleutians secured from the Japanese, the American military pondered what to do next in the North Pacific. With the Aleutians only 700 miles from Japan’s Kurile Islands, Sherrod noted that some “zealots” saw the Aleutians as a “short cut” to Tokyo and also envisioned powerful swarms of bombers being able to conduct missions against the enemy. “The plain truth is that even seven hundred miles is too far for effective bombardment missions with present day planes,” he said. “And seven hundred miles through North Pacific fog with no guarantee that these planes will be able to find landing fields when they return, are not the same as seven hundred miles through sunny skies.” Sherrod’s best advice for the Aleutians: “Put them away for a while, but don’t forget them.” Some bombing raids were conducted by the Eleventh Army Air Force against Paramushiro in the Kurile Islands, and the Japanese made a few halfhearted attacks on Kiska and Attu, but the Aleutians faded in importance as American operations instead concentrated on a new arena: the Central Pacific

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Last Hurrah: John Bartlow Martin and the 1972 Presidential Election

In early September 1972 John Bartlow Martin, who had worked as a speechwriter for every Democratic presidential candidate since Adlai Stevenson in 1952, traveled to Washington, D.C., to offer his writing skills for his party’s new nominee for the nation’s highest office, George McGovern, U.S. senator from South Dakota, in his longshot effort to unseat incumbent President Richard Nixon.

In the early primaries leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, Martin, who had been teaching at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, had supported the candidacy of Edmund Muskie. “The thing I like about him is his thoughtfulness. He’s not erratic, not impulsive,” Martin said, and he sometimes traveled with the senator or went to Washington, D.C., to meet with Muskie’s senior advisers, including Clark Clifford, Jim Rowe, and U.S. Senator Al Gore Sr. Muskie had been an effective vice presidential candidate running with Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and, four years later, political pundits crowned him as the front-runner for the nomination.

Muskie had piled up endorsements from several of the nation’s leading Democratic politicians, who expressed admiration for his “Lincolnesque” calm and aura of electability. The man from Maine stood, they all agreed, as the only Democratic candidate capable of defeating Nixon. The early campaign failed to excite Martin, who wrote a friend that he believed the politicians were doing their best to “bore the people to death. I’ve never seen a year with so many candidates, so many primaries, and so much vacuity.”

The Muskie presidential boom imploded, however, after the crucial New Hampshire primary in early March. Muskie won the primary, but by a smaller margin than many had predicted, seriously damaging his stature as the inevitable choice of the Democrats for the November election; by late April he had dropped out of the race. In the end, Martin said that Muskie proved to be “a surprisingly weak candidate, and he was overwhelmed by the sudden surge of revolt and fragmentation that swept the Democratic party.”

The beneficiary of Muskie’s fall from grace was McGovern, the prairie populist described by Robert Kennedy as “the most decent man in the Senate,” whose strong showing in New Hampshire and straightforwardness impressed even conservative members of his party. He had articulated his campaign theme, “Come Home, America”— what he called a restatement of America’s treasured values—at a March 21, 1970, speech in Denver before a roomful of fellow Democrats. McGovern called upon the nation to “come home from the wilderness of needless war and excessive militarism to build a society in which we cared about one another—especially the old, the sick, the hungry, the jobless, the homeless.” Such a message seemed tailor-made for the huge influx of young voters now eligible to vote because of the passage of the Twenty-sixth Amendment adopted in 1971 that had lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.

With Muskie floundering, McGovern used his effective grassroots organization, drawn to his sincere commitment to end the Vietnam War, to achieve victories in such key primary states as Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and California. McGovern survived a bitter, last-ditch effort from Humphrey to deny him the presidential nomination at the convention in July. The GOP tried to win over the blue-collar, normally Democratic voters who had turned to George Wallace in 1968 by repeating the erroneous charge from his fellow Democrats that McGovern was the candidate of the three A’s—Amnesty (leniency for those who resisted being drafted to fight in Vietnam), Abortion (favoring legalized abortion before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision), and Acid (the legalization of drugs, in particular marijuana). As the son of a Methodist minister and a decorated World War II bomber pilot, McGovern disputed the notion that he was too militant to be president, noting, “Ordinarily, we don’t send wild-eyed radicals to the United States Senate from South Dakota.”

Just eighteen days after the Democratic convention ended on July 13, McGovern’s quest to topple Nixon suffered a fatal blow when his vice presidential running mate, Thomas Eagleton, a first-term, politically moderate U.S. Senator from Missouri, stepped down. The McGovern team had turned to Eagleton, a Muskie supporter, after their candidate’s other choices for the job, including Ted Kennedy, Humphrey, and Walter Mondale, had turned him down, and after Eagleton had assured them he had no skeletons in his closet that might come back to haunt them.

In the days before extensive background checks were a regular part of such decisions, McGovern and his staff were unaware that Eagleton had been hospitalized for physical and nervous exhaustion on more than one occasion and had twice received electroshock (today known as electroconvulsive) therapy. Reports about Eagleton’s medical problems began circulating among the national press. “I was not plagued with haunting memories of my medical past,” Eagleton later said, adding that he did not consider what had happened to him “as illegal or immoral or shameful.” He said his health problems were the furthest thing from his mind when McGovern asked him to be his running mate, and compared his health problems as nothing worse than “a broken leg that had healed.”

GaryHart, one of McGovern’s top advisers, noted that Eagleton’s health issues had even escaped the scrutiny of the senator’s home state newspapers, including the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, well regarded for its investigative journalism. “Those who claim the McGovern staff could, or should, have uncovered this kind of information about an individual not even under serious consideration prior to the convention don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Hart.

Before all the facts about Eagleton’s health had been presented to him, McGovern impulsively and unwisely told Dick Dougherty, his press secretary, to put out a statement that he was “a thousand percent behind Tom Eagleton.” Later, McGovern talked to Eagleton’s psychiatrists and learned specific details about his running mate’s medical history that he believed “raised serious doubts about his capacity to carry the burdens and responsibility of the presidency.” Calls were also coming from the editorial pages of major national newspapers, including the Washington Post and New York Times, for Eagleton to resign from the ticket.

On July 31 Eagleton finally agreed to do so, and a special session of the Democratic National Committee ratified McGovern’s replacement candidate, former Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver. McGovern’s reputation for competence and integrity took a major hit with the Eagleton affair, as the public sympathized with the Missouri senator, who had stonewalled any release of the most damaging details about his previous hospitalizations, making McGovern the villain in the affair in the eyes of the public. “I did what I had to do,” McGovern noted years later, “but the Eagleton matter ended whatever chance there was to defeat Richard Nixon in 1972.”

The fifty-seven-year-old Martin went to Washington in early September 1972 to start working as a McGovern speechwriter. From that point until Election Day in November, he traveled back and forth between the nation’s capital and his Illinois home so he could teach his classes at Northwestern. While in Washington, Martin stayed at the Hay-Adams Hotel and toiled out of offices on the seventh floor at McGovern headquarters at 1910 K Street, an eight-story former apartment building that had also once been Muskie’s campaign headquarters.

Several people asked him to assist McGovern, Martin recalled, and he could not resist helping anyone who ran against the one man he most despised in politics—Nixon. Headquarters had the uproarious and informal atmosphere of a college dormitory, with “scores of barefoot girls in blue jeans and boys in long hair and beards racing about mindlessly, taping up funny signs in the corridors,” said Martin. With affection, Hart described the offices as possessing an “exquisite madness,” and praised the “unbound enthusiasm and wry humor” possessed by the young staff and volunteers.

Martin possessed a more jaundiced view of the proceedings, recalling that if he left his desk unguarded at headquarters, he found upon his return that his pens, paper, and sometimes even typewriter had vanished. “The kids are rude, insensitive, heedless, discourteous,” he said. “Not all; but most.” His arrival had “raised the average age of the staff to 10 ½,” Martin said in a letter to his wife, Fran. Lawrence O’Brien, named chairman of the fall campaign by McGovern to ease the concerns of traditional Democrats, wondered what he might be getting himself in for when he noticed that the sign over the door at the headquarters did not include any mention of the Democratic Party. McGovern’s followers seemed to view the party as the enemy, “or at best as a slightly repugnant means to an end,” said O’Brien.

Latecomers to the McGovern cause were often treated harshly by those who had been with McGovern from the beginning. Robert Shrum, who had written speeches for Muskie before assuming the same role for the South Dakota senator, noted that “resentment toward those who hadn’t been with McGovern from the start were rife.” According to Martin, the “cocksure young staff” jealously guarded access to the candidate.

At McGovern headquarters, however, Martin worked with two men he knew from previous presidential contests—Ted Van Dyk, the director of issues and speeches, and Milt Gwirtzman, who parceled out assignments and transmitted speech material to the McGovern campaign plane by telecopier after Van Dyk had reviewed the text. The plan called to rotate speechwriters on the candidate’s Boeing 727 campaign plane, the Dakota Queen, named so in honor of the B-24 bomber he flew in World War II, with each of them spending a week with McGovern and then returning to headquarters. The rotation might never happen, Martin told Fran, something that was fine with him as he much preferred eating lunch at the Federal City Club in Washington than at, for example, the Ypsilanti, Michigan, airport.

In addition to Shrum and Martin, other speechwriters on the staff included Sandy Berger, Bob Hunter, and Stephen Schlesinger, the son of Martin’s good friend, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. “We had a good crew,” recalled Van Dyk. Shrum spent most of his time traveling with McGovern, assisting the candidate’s main writer, John Holum, his longtime legislative assistant. It proved to be a perplexing situation for Martin. “Having started out in this business 20 years ago with Arthur and now finding myself sitting next to Arthur’s son, doing what I was doing 20 years ago, I find myself wondering if there is a message I’m not getting,” he wrote Fran.

Martin praised Van Dyk and Gwirtzman as “able professionals,” but lamented that none of the young staff assembled at headquarters had ever before worked on a national campaign and, because they had won the primaries against phenomenal odds (early on McGovern had support from only 4 percent of the voting public) and faced strong opposition from the party establishment, thought they could do no wrong. Theodore H. White, the famous chronicler of presidential races with his The Making of the President series, described the attitude of McGovern’s young workers as not the politics of exclusion, but “the politics of the faithful few.” They had plunged into national politics, Martin observed, without understanding that a national campaign was “a vastly different exercise from a bunch of scattered primaries.” Some of the senior staff also seemed more interested in gaining publicity for themselves than working selflessly on behalf of the candidate, noisily resigning every few days and expressing their opinions freely to the traveling press corps. “The old tradition of the staff with a passion for anonymity was junked,” Martin said.
As nearly as he could figure out, Martin believed that the McGovern campaign’s strategy involved writing off most of the South, except for Arkansas and Texas, as well as the states west of the Mississippi River except for California, Minnesota, and South Dakota. The candidate planned on concentrating on the larger states in a belt from Illinois to Massachusetts, plus Wisconsin. “As to issues, forget credibility and trust—he [McGovern] destroyed that issue himself,” said Martin, especially with the Eagleton fiasco. “Instead, concentrate on the old Democratic bread and butter issues—jobs, high prices, populism, government for special interests vs. government for the people. . . . Plus Vietnam.”

By focusing on such tried-and-true Democratic issues, McGovern hoped to win back defecting blue-collar members of the party, as well as the still powerful figures who had opposed him at the convention, including Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago and former President Lyndon Johnson, paying courtesy calls on both men. As Van Dyk pointed out in a memorandum to key McGovern advisers in late August, traditional Democratic voters, located primarily in the big industrial states, needed to be reminded that McGovern and the Democratic Party “are good for ordinary people. They are good for them economically. They listen to them. They believe in them.” 

Unfortunately, Martin said, following this strategy hurt McGovern “heavily among the people who had supported him because he was anti-politician. He revealed himself as practicing the crudest kind of old politics—and doing it far more clumsily than Nixon or Daley.” Martin also questioned the staff’s initial decision to run what he called “a strictly TV campaign—they hit 3 cities a day in order to stage TV visual events, thus hitting the network news programs plus 3 local TV outlets.” On these stops McGovern or Shriver might eat with workers at a local factory’s cafeteria; visit a farm, supermarket or bowling alley; or tour an area in need of highlighting because of a specific social problem.

Animated by their opposition to the Vietnam War, the McGovern staff fought just as hard against uphill odds as the Humphrey campaign had just four years earlier, said Van Dyk. “I had great confidence in my policy and speechwriting staff,” he said. The few experienced professionals at headquarters were realistic about their candidate’s chances against Nixon. Only a major blunder on the president’s part or some “major unforeseeable outside event” could give McGovern a chance at victory, said Martin.

According to Van Dyk, possible setbacks for the Nixon administration included either a ghastly military setback in Vietnam or damaging details being uncovered from a scandal involving the June 17 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., then being seriously investigated by only a few newspapers, including the Washington Post. Such a miracle seemed more and more unlikely, especially given Nixon’s decision to do as little campaigning for his re-election as possible. Instead, he used his position as the chief executive to garner headlines, watching his approval rating steadily climb as a result of his foreign policy successes, including normalizing relations with China and easing tensions with the Soviet Union at a Moscow summit meeting.

The president sought to remain above the political fray, saying and doing as little as he pleased “without being held properly accountable” by the press, said Van Dyk. McGovern, however, faced daily scrutiny from a host of reporters as he barnstormed across the country. Late in the campaign Martin wrote a speech in which he pointed out that for the first time in American history the country had a presidential contest with only one candidate. “The whole speech elaborated that theme. It got a line or two in the paper,” he said. “Why? Don’t people care? Or when McGovern said it, maybe they didn’t believe it.”

Unlike his previous experiences with Democratic presidential candidates, Martin never really got to know McGovern, possibly because, for the first time, he did not have the opportunity to travel with the candidate; he could not remember even seeing McGovern in person since the 1968 Chicago convention. “Never before had I worked for a candidate I didn’t believe in,” Martin said. “I am afraid I don’t believe in him. He knows Vietnam and hunger; but that’s all. He’s not a national politician, has no national feeling.”

Martin compared McGovern unfavorably to the other Democratic presidential candidates he had previously worked for, faulting his leadership abilities and failure to make issues he talked about in his speeches resonate with the public. “Someone wrote that the words are fine but the tune is all wrong when he speaks,” Martin said. “When he showed anger, it came through as whining, complaining; when he showed compassion, he sounded like a hick preacher. He never sounded Presidential. . . . No eloquence. Nothing to inspire. No joy. No fun. No wit or humor.”

Despite all his criticisms of McGovern, Martin said there was something good and decent about the man. In October, when HenryKissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser, announced, falsely, as it turned out, that “peace was at hand in Vietnam,” Martin had been impressed by McGovern’s reaction to the news. He remembered that McGovern had been cornered by the press and given little time to reflect on Kissinger’s announcement, but had agreed with a reporter’s assertion that if Nixon ended the war it meant certain defeat for his presidential campaign. McGovern asserted, however, that losing the election would be a small price to pay for ending the bloodshed in Vietnam and finally bringing American troops safely home. “Furthermore,” said Martin, “he said it with conviction and force.” McGovern made many mistakes during the campaign, but also his luck had finally run out. “During the primaries,” said Martin, “he got every lucky break; but at and after the convention, he got every bad break.”

Martin had found it hard to be effective writing from McGovern headquarters in Washington. Staff on the plane with the candidate usually ignored what headquarters sent them and preferred to use the material they had prepared while on the campaign trail. The casual attitude displayed by some of McGovern’s writers also bothered Martin. He noted that during the Stevenson and Johnson campaigns, every time the candidate made a major speech, a number of drafts were written “amid much agonizing, and the final was polished and repolished endlessly—and the result was damn good. But McGovern’s writers seemed to dash off [a] major speech on the backs of old envelopes—and the results showed it.” Portions of the speeches he wrote did get used, but the material was never central to the campaign and “it never changed or sharpened” McGovern’s image for the voters, Martin said.

Scheduled to join the McGovern party on the plane near the end of the campaign, Martin, who had gone home so he could teach his classes at Northwestern, received a telephone call from Holum telling him there was no room for him on the plane. “So I stayed home, idle,” Martin noted. On Election Day, November 7, Martin voted, something he called a gloomy formality. In the election pool at headquarters, he had guessed McGovern winning 270 electoral votes—the bare minimum needed to win. He made a more realistic guess of 85 electoral votes in the pool at his class at Northwestern.

The voting results were a disaster for the McGovern campaign, as Nixon swept into a second term, winning 60.7 percent of the votes; McGovern only won one state, Massachusetts, and lost in the Electoral College by a 520 to 17 margin. By dinner time on election evening, Van Dyk and others at McGovern headquarters knew their candidate would lose in a landslide. Near the end of the campaign, McGovern also knew that defeat loomed ahead. Some of his advisers expressed worries that the candidate still harbored hopes of an upset, so Shrum decided to break the bad news to McGovern, doing so in a hotel room in an unnamed city near the campaign’s end. McGovern greeted Shrum, asked him to sit down, poured each of them a vodka on the rocks, handed one to him, thanked him for coming, and said, “Bob, I know, I know. But I just need to believe for one more day.”

McGovern may have suffered a humiliating loss, but other Democratic candidates running for office weathered the storm, and the party held on to its majorities in the U.S. Senate and House. Martin saw the results as an indication that there was a great deal of anti-McGovern voting rather than a pro-Nixon surge. “Then, having voted for Nixon, they split their tickets and voted for Democratic candidates for Senate, Governor, House, and local,” he said. Muskie or Humphrey might have managed to beat Nixon, and at least they would not have lost time in August and part of September trying to win back the support of labor unions and the Democratic organization, Martin said.

The most unfortunate outcome of the election for Martin was that “one of the worst, if not the worst, Presidents in American history now has the biggest mandate, or nearly the biggest, in history.” He worried that Nixon’s landslide gave the president the misapprehension that he had a “license to do anything. I really fear for the country.” Martin shared similar concerns to one of his classes at Northwestern, especially about where the Watergate scandal might lead. One day after class one of his students, Joe Gandelman, asked Martin in a private conversation to share his opinion about the Nixon administration. “He seemed truly frustrated and fearful,” Gandelman recalled.

Even before any evidence had been uncovered about the extent of the White House’s involvement in the break-in of DNC headquarters and the cover-up that followed, Martin had been convinced that Nixon and his advisers knew about the crime. Gandelman remembered Martin softly saying something that chilled him: “We’ve heard there have been people going through Larry O’Brien’s tax returns. This is a scary bunch. I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re thugs.” A little less than two years after the election, on August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned as the nation’s thirty-seventh president after congressional and media investigations had uncovered the extent of his administration’s crimes and dirty tricks—vindicating many of the charges McGovern had made in the campaign and confirming Martin’s darkest suspicions.

The McGovern campaign proved to be the last hurrah for Martin when it came to direct involvement in Democratic Party presidential politics. The experience proved to be “liberating” for him. When he had been on the plane with such presidential candidates as Stevenson and John F. Kennedy during an election, Martin had forgiven them when they made mistakes—after all, it was his candidate, sitting only a few seats away, who had made the error. “But if you’re on the outside, you see him for what he is, a blunderer,” he said.

The malaise Martin experienced during the McGovern campaign had not all been the fault of the candidate, but had reflected the fact that the country had changed and he had not. The increasing role of primaries in deciding presidential nominees troubled Martin, who thought it was foolish that a “few farmers in Iowa and New Hampshire should choose the leader of the Western world.” Control of politics had been reformed from the rule of party bosses and handed over to the people, as had been intended, but now lay with pollsters, advertisers, and television. Martin lamented the rise of “television consultants,” who instructed their candidates not only in what words and gestures to use, but concocted strategy and selected what issues to address. Television converted serious political questions into mere theater, and thereby killed the notion of “serious political speeches,” he added.

Remembering the colleagues he had worked with on presidential campaign staffs—Carl McGowan, John Kenneth Gaibraith, Schlesinger, Ted Sorensen, Kenny O’Donnell, Fred Dutton, Lawrence O’Brien, Van Dyk, and Gwirtzman—Martin said that none of them imagined they were molding their candidate’s image, “not one talked to the press much or leaked anything to the press that harmed the candidate; not one ever imagined that he was himself the candidate.” Martin viewed the well paid poll takers and image consultants dominating campaigns as “monsters” seeking to advance their own cause instead of that of their candidates.

Martin also believed that journalists had also grown too dependent on polls, spending far too much time in horse-race reporting, wondering who was ahead and if a candidate’s campaign might be headed for trouble if he or she failed to meet expectations created by the polls. “Why don’t reporters go out and report?” Martin wondered. “Reporters ought to be out in bars and union halls and places where people are and find out what they’re thinking instead of just taking Gallup’s word for what people think.”

The Hoosier Vagabond: On the Road with Ernie Pyle

Clem “Pop” Shaffer, the owner of the only hotel in Mountainair, New Mexico, was sitting in front of a fireplace in the lobby of his brick establishment in May 1942 when he noticed a slight, thin man walk into the room. The man, Ernie Pyle, joined him near the warmth of the fire and said he was looking for someone named Pop Shaffer. “You don’t have to go any farther,” said Shaffer, as the two men shook hands. Pyle had come to talk with Shaffer about his hobby of carving animal figures from wooden branches and roots.

As the two men talked, they discovered they both were from Indiana. After a tour of the hotel and lunch (a meal Pyle described as “the best food I have eaten since my mother’s”), Shaffer took the reporter to his ranch and showed him his collection of carved wooden animals. While there, Pyle asked Shaffer “so many questions” he could not remember all of them.

The interview ended back at the hotel, where Pyle inspected the first two silver dollars Shaffer had made when he opened his hotel in 1924. He then sat down with Shaffer to talk some more before leaving late that afternoon to write two columns based on his day with the hotel owner and artist.

Shaffer is just one of the thousands of unique individuals Pyle tracked down to talk with during his days as a roving columnist for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain from 1935 to early 1942. His job, as Pyle saw it, involved “just writing about anything interesting I bump into.” He proudly claimed that during his travels nobody ever turned down his request to talk to them. “Only one man has ever refused to let me write about him,” he wrote, “and even he was friendly and we talked for an hour.”

Published under the title “Hoosier Vagabond,” Pyle’s column became popular with readers looking for relief from such matters as the country’s economic struggle during the Great Depression and the possibility of war in Europe with the rise of dictators such as Adolph Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy. Readers longing to break free from their boring lives were thrilled to read about Pyle’s descriptions of exotic locations. They wished they could be with him on mornings when he and Jerry would pack their car, check out of their hotel, fill the car with gas, and “light out into open country.”

When the nearly thirty-five-year-old Ernie Pyle set out from Washington, D.C., on August 2, 1935, with his wife to tour the country and report on what he found, traveling by automobile proved to be a difficult and long task. “I have no home,” Pyle observed in one of his columns. “My home is where my extra luggage is, and where the car is stored, and where I happen to be getting mail this time. My home is America.”

The couple was well suited to life on the road. Neither cared much for dining on fine food, gathering material possessions, or owning the latest fashions. Their luggage consisted of six suitcases and satchels. The backseat of the couple’s Ford coupe became filled with books and copies of the New Yorker magazine, which both loved to read. As Pyle drove to his next assignment, Jerry, whom he identified in his column as “That Girl who rides with me,” worked on the crossword puzzles she enjoyed solving. “My arms never get tired, even on rough roads,” wrote Pyle. “But being a skinny fellow, I do get to hurting where I sit down, and I think I’ll have to get an air cushion to sit on.”

Tracking down possible stories in every state and such faraway places as Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, South America, and Central America, Pyle traveled by automobile, train, airplane, boat, and horse. In his travels, Pyle wore out two cars, five sets of tires, and three typewriters.

When he came to a strange town, Pyle, hoping to learn about possible subjects to write about, would visit the local newspaper office and ask editors and reporters about interesting people who lived in the community. Other sources of information he sought out included a town’s chief of police or a doctor. In addition, he took with him on his travels a small wooden box filled with index cards, organized by state and filled with story ideas sent to him by friends and fans.

Pyle seldom took notes when he interviewed a subject for his column. Instead, he relied on his excellent memory. On one trip to Maine, he unearthed a half-dozen stories in less than two hours. Visiting the state of Washington, Pyle worked an entire week on one story. More often than not, however, he gathered material for a number of columns and then retreated to a hotel room to write for a few days, pounding out his stories on a portable Underwood typewriter.

Once he finished his work, Pyle sent his columns back to the Daily News office in Washington, D.C., by first-class mail. In all the years he traveled throughout America, the postal service never misplaced one of his columns. Because he moved from place to place, Pyle had little chance to see his published work. “Once I went for five months without seeing my own column in print,” he said.

The hard work done by Pyle paid off. Fellow reporters and Scripps-Howard editors praised his writing. One Cleveland columnist called Pyle the best reporter in the United States. Walter Morrow, editor of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, said Pyle’s column was “without a doubt the most widely read thing in the paper.” Polls conducted by newspapers in Evansville and Pittsburgh indicated that the roving reporter’s work was popular with older readers as well as high school and college students. Lee Hills, editor of the Oklahoma News, said his subscribers often commented, “Ernie Pyle does the things that we ourselves would like to do.”

As Pyle had been traveling around the United States reporting on quirky stories of American originals, Europe became engulfed in another war. Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, had sparked declarations of war from the allied powers, Great Britain and France. After a period of quiet—a time that came to be known as the “phony war”—Germany had unleashed its powerful military machine, invading and taking control of Denmark, Holland, and Belgium. France finally surrendered on June 22, 1940.

Pyle felt the pull of war, as he had when his friend Thad Hooker had left Dana to join the army in 1918. There grew in the forty-year-old Pyle an “overpowering urge to be there amidst it all.” The feeling he had did not come from a curiosity to travel or a journalistic need to report on a story, but because Pyle “simply wanted to go privately—just inside myself I wanted to go.”

If he avoided the opportunity to see firsthand a nation at war and to share the experience with others, Pyle reasoned, it would mean he had become “disinterested in living.” With his decision made, Pyle consulted with Scripps-Howard editors in Washington, D.C., about his plans. They agreed to send him to England.

In addition to reporting on German bombing raids while in England, Pyle visited several air-raid shelters, spent time with a crew manning an anti-aircraft gun, and talked to ordinary British citizens about their responses to the bombing. Pyle became “terribly impressed” with the British people through these face-to-face meetings. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he wrote Miller. “The people are determined to win this war, and if they don’t it will be the leaders’ fault, and not the people.”  

Pyle returned to the United States in late March 1941, carrying with him in his luggage a dud German incendiary device and fragments from German bombs. After visiting with his father and Aunt Mary in Dana, he returned to his new home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hoping to relax and finish some final columns on his experiences in England. He had become so popular, however, that people from all over came to his home hoping to see him in the flesh. The racket grew so great that Pyle had to abandon his home and find a hotel room where he could write in peace.

Upon returning to his work, Pyle outlined a possible trip to the Orient to begin in December 1941, with stops in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Burma, China, and possibly Australia and New Zealand. Pyle’s journey, however, took a backseat to the developing tension in the Pacific between the United States and Japan. He had to give up a seat on a flight to Hawaii to make room for the transport of war materials to American forces there.

The tensions between the two countries flamed into war on December 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked the American naval base atPearl Harbor in Hawaii. The sneak attack achieved total surprise; nineteen U.S. ships from the Pacific fleet were either sunk or damaged, more than 250 planes were destroyed while still on the ground, and approximately 3,500 soldiers and sailors were killed or wounded. On December 8, Congress approved President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call for a declaration of war against Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. America had entered World War II.