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Jerry Ford and His Flying Circus: A Presidential Diary

". . . Journalism has its limits. Do you write, 'President Ford had nothing to say and said it badly to a stunned crowd'? . . ."


From the November 25, 1974 issue of New York Magazine.

William Walter and David Hopkins, the Huntley-Brinkley of Grand Junction, Colorado, looked into the perfect blue sky above the Continental Divide as a dot of black expanded into a silver jet roaring over mountains, mesas, and, finally, silhouetted horsemen.

"There it is! There's Air Force One!" they told the listeners of KREX, the Voice of the Intermountain West. "Here it comes, landing full flaps. . . ." "It's touched down. . . ." "It's only, maybe, I would guess 300 yards from us, Dave..." "It's turning toward us...." "They're rolling up two ramps, one to the front and one to the back. We're walking toward the plane. We're walking toward the plane now. Which ramp will the president use?..." "Probably the back, Bill. . . ." "The president of the United States will be out any moment now. . . ."

Unfortunately for KREX fans, the president was already out. He had come down the front ramp, as always, and Walter and Hopkins had just walked right by Gerald R. Ford. Actually, Walter and Hopkins were not supposed to be out there on the tarmac, but then Gerald R. Ford was not supposed to be the president.

It was something like the joke the president tried to tell in Indianapolis. He began a speech there by saying that he was traveling around the country because his advisers said he needed more visibility. Then he was supposed to say he passed a lady in the hall who said, "You look familiar," and he helpfully answered, "Jerry Ford?" Then she said, "No, but you're close."

Unfortunately, what Ford told the Indianapolis crowd was that he answered, "I am Jerry Ford," and the lady answered, "No, but you're closer."

Oh, well. On to Grand Junction and the crowning of the Mesa College homecoming queen. "A college homecoming is a happy time and I wish Meesa College . . ."

Students and friends let out an embarrassed little gasp at the mispronunciation, but Ford recovered quickly, "Messa College." Oh! "Mesa?" the president said. "Well, we have some community names out in Michigan all of you could not pronounce, either. I love you, anyhow."

So it went as President Ford traveled 16,685 miles campaigning for Republican candidates in the month before Election Day, 1974. It was a big story—Nightly News, Page One!—with airport announcers parodying The China Trip at every stop. But journalism has its limits. Journalism is covering something, even when there is nothing. There is no accepted technique that deals adequately with the president's travels. Do you write:

Grand Junction, Colorado, Nov. 2—President Ford had nothing to say and said it badly to a friendly and respectful but slightly stunned crowd of 5,000.

It is not a question of saying the emperor has no clothes—there is a question of whether there is an emperor.

This, then, is one report of the last 9,545 miles of the travels of the president of the United States, from October 24 to November 2:

Des Moines, Iowa. Oct. 24.
The basic Ford message is delivered from the steps of the Iowa State House and at a Republican fund-raising lunch in the Val Air Ballroom, across the street from the national headquarters of Roto-Rooter:

"I know there are some so-called experts who say the president ought to sit in the Oval Office and listen to bureaucrats telling him what to do, yes or no, or sitting in the Oval Office reading documents that are prepared by people in Washington. I reject that advice. It is more important that I come to Des Moines. . . .

"I remind you a government big enough to give us everything we want is a government big enough to take from us everything we have. . . . What we need is not a veto-proof Congress. What we need is an inflation-proof Congress."

On the flight to Des Moines, the president's press secretary, Ron Nessen, tells reporters that Ford has no plans to visit Richard Nixon next week when he campaigns in California.

Chicago, Illinois. Oct. 24.
After being greeted by Mayor Richard Daley and Miss Teenage Chicago, Diane Weinbrenner, the president attends two Republican cocktail parties before sitting on the dais at the Illinois United Republican Fund dinner. He sits there an hour and thirteen minutes, smiling and applauding as a series of candidates predict that they are going to defeat the Democrats in Cook County.

Grand Rapids, Michigan. Oct. 29.
Breathes there a man with soul so dead who never to himself has said: "Someday I'm going to show them"? Today, Gerald Ford returns to his hometown for the first time as president of the United States.


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