Attitudes of the Press toward Kennedy and Nixon Swearing
by Ron Kurtus (revised 22 June 2008)
John F. Kennedy was the United States President from January 20, 1961 to November 22, 1963. Richard M. Nixon was President from January 20, 1969 to August 9, 1974.
The news media had different views toward the men, such that Kennedy was the darling of the new media, while Nixon was disliked. ("You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more.")
Kennedy was charming, while Nixon often seems dour.
The difference in attitude of the press can be seen in the reporting of the use of profanities by the men.
During both John F. Kennedy's and Richard M. Nixon's terms in office as President of the United States, Time Magazine published articles that stated how each used profanities in the White House. The articles handled the fact quite differently for the two Presidents, showing a bias that reflected a general attitude toward the men.
Questions you may have include:
- What did the press say about the profanity?
- Why was there a difference between the two?
- What can be learned from this?
This lesson will try to answer those questions.
When Kennedy swore
When Kennedy was President, Time Magazine ran a feature on him that explained something to the effect that "although Kennedy was of aristocratic upbringing, he was still down-to-earth. In fact, he would often swear like a sailor."
The article was upbeat and presented using profanity in the White House in a positive or admirable light.
When Nixon swore
About nine years later, during the time of the Watergate scandal in the Nixon administration, Time Magazine reviewed the transcripts of tapes that Richard Nixon made of his conversations in the White House. Time reported that the President actually used profanities and even said "(expletive deleted)" and other such words.
They were shocked at this type of behavior in office.
Why the difference in attitudes?
The reason for this difference in attitudes certainly had to do with the fact that President Kennedy was a graceful, charming man, with a good sense of humor. Who could criticize him for a little profanity or off-color humor?
Kennedy was charming
On the other hand, President Nixon was a serious fellow, who gave the impression of being very straight-laced. He also alienated many of the press, as was shown in his sour remark to the press, during his concession speech after losing the gubernatorial race in California several years before becoming President: "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more."
If you compare the reporting of what Nixon did in office compared to what Kennedy did, you will see this type of bias throughout.
Both President Kennedy and President Nixon used profanities while in office. Because Kennedy was more likable to members of the press than Nixon, the swearing was considered acceptable.
Note: I have been unable to validate the referred to Time Magazine article on Kennedy's use of profanity in their archives. Although Kennedy did occasionally swear, his use of profanity was nowhere near that of Nixon.
Some lessons learned here are:
- A good sense of humor is better than a dour personality
- Don't alienate the press
- The history of a person often depends on his personality
Look at the good side of other people
Resources and references
X-Rated Expletives - Time Magazine article stating that various U.S. Presidents used profanities while in office.
Biography of John F. Kennedy - from the White House site
Biography of Richard M. Nixon - from the White House site
Questions and comments
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When Kennedy and Nixon Swore