Looking back at previous elections and the people who helped shape them, or at least make them unforgettable. Spiro Agnew, vice-President to Richard Nixon had a legendary disdain for the Press. His dislike probably went deeper than his disdain for anything hinting at being Left.
Famously referring to the Press as “nattering nabobs of negativity”, Agnew painted the news media as a cabal of impudent intellectual snobs, living in a rarified air. It made for good news copy and created a persona for Spiro Agnew which didn’t help him any when trouble came marching through his window in the form of Tax evasion less than a year later.
But this was Agnew during a re-election campaign. And his bristling broadsides at commentators and journalists was in full bloom. If anything, Agnew was thought of as Nixon’s hatchet man; the guy who said what was really on Nixon’s mind, but was too much of a politician to say it himself. Agnew was characterized by some voters as “plainspoken” and “telling the truth” about the “left-wing press”, and Agnew was still a vigorous supporter of the War in Vietnam, even though the tide had turned overwhelmingly against continuing our role in it.
In this episode of the Sunday Political talk program Meet The Press, Agnew is grilled about his views on the Press, his position on the War in Vietnam, the election, urban unrest, problems of poverty and social programs. Agnew doesn’t disappoint – he refers to the panel as “interrogators” and the interview is contentious from the start.
It’s ironic that Agnew’s delivery and disdain of the Press is reminiscent of events happening now. Not to lump Spiro Agnew in the same camp as the current Republican frontrunner – there is that uniform anti-intellectual stance and the appeal to those who have universal disdain for “them” which makes this interview seem eerily familiar to current affairs.
The only thing that seems to be different between 1972 and 2016 is the attitude and makeup of the Press. In 1972, Journalists took issue with statements and positions and called out untruths. In 2016, the Press appears to have forgotten its core values; to report the facts, to question positions and to call out untruths. The ensuing circus atmosphere can only have a detrimental affect in the long run – and even though this election may spell the end of a political party, it certainly spells the end of the Fourth Estate, and that is the most troubling aspect of all.
It’s ironic that Agnew’s political and vice-Presidential career ended as the result of Tax evasion and that he quietly vanished from the scene until his death in 1995.
Here is that Meet The Press episode, as it was broadcast on August 27, 1972.