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August 31, 1972 – Washington Week In Review – NET – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
August 31, 1972 – Senator Thomas Eagleton, the vice-presidential choice for Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern found himself knee-deep in controversy almost the second he stepped off the stage at the Miami convention.
Surfacing were undisclosed revelations based on a tip from The Detroit Free Press that Eagleton had undergone several shock therapy sessions and had been hospitalized on at least three occasions with severe Depression over the years; a set of revelations not disclosed to the McGovern campaign during the vetting stage of the potential candidate. Adding further fuel to the already developing bonfire were unsubstantiated allegations by none other than Washington columnist Jack Anderson that Eagleton had, among other things, numerous arrests for drunk driving.
The ensuing firestorm forced McGovern to ultimately summon his running mate to his home in South Dakota, and the candidate conceded that he had hospitalized himself three times between 1960 and 1966 for “nervous exhaustion and fatigue” and on two of those occasions had received electric shock treatment and psychiatric care.
In a joint news conference called by McGovern, Eagleton detailed his hospitalizations at the Mayo Clinic and at a hospital in St. Louis and said that he had not told McGovern about them when offered the vice presidential nomination.
McGovern initially said he supported his running mate, applauding Eagleton’s “good judgment” in seeking medical attention when he needed it. He also said he was “1,000% for Tom Eagleton and I have no intention of dropping him from the ticket.”
The public’s view of the matter was mixed. In a Time magazine poll, 76.7% of respondents said the revelations would not affect their decision. But over the next few days, divisions in the party emerged as various media outlets, including the New York Times, urged Eagleton to withdraw. McGovern finally withdrew his support, and Eagleton, citing the need for party unity to battle Nixon, left the ticket.
In his place, McGovern settled on R. Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps and Kennedy’s brother-in-law, to complete the ticket. McGovern and Shriver went down to one of the most lopsided defeats in the history of presidential races, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. McGovern supporters blamed Eagleton for the overwhelming defeat. For his part, Eagleton said McGovern’s loss was due to a series of factors.
On this episode of the NET program Washington Week In Review, the issue is discussed at length by several correspondents covering the McGovern campaign. And even though there was considerable other news happening on this particular August 31, 1972 – the revelations over Senator Thomas Eagleton grabbed the spotlight and held it for the better part of 18 days.
Such is the nature of politics and what has become a cautionary tale in the world of campaigns and arm-twisting.