Television – it’s become almost a staple part of our lives. But what happens when TV goes rabid? What happens when all those normally tedious, vapid interviewers go on the attack? It’s carnage.
Over the years, powerful men and women from every hue of politics have gone head to head with the power of mass media. Some, those with a lucky charm or an almost sycophantic following that comes with a landslide win at the polls, have done well. Others have seen their political lives crumble as their world is ripped apart by badly timed gaffes.
Richard Nixon Gets Crucified… Twice
It would be unfair to say that Nixon’s downfall was all a part of some dirty media plan to topple the legally elected President of the United States. We’ll leave those fun and games to the Mafia!
Nixon successfully engineered his own downfall. Yeah, that’s right – in an era where the human race obsessed over Mutually Assured Destruction and giant killer ants Tricky Dicky was plotting to have his entire Presidency consigned to the ‘naughty corner’.
The origin of this spectacular fall from grace goes a little something like this: US Democratic National Committee HQ is broken into. Five men arrested and jailed. Ensuing investigation uncovers secret slush funds and illegal White House recording being used to undermine the Democrats election campaigns. Things get hot and Nixon resigns (while claiming ignorance of any underhand goings on).
Ordinarily, this kind of scandal would be the final nail unless you’re called Richard Nixon (or Tony Blair).
Three years after his resignation, Nixon decided it was time to the tell the world the truth of Watergate. Now, if you’re serious about getting people to sit up and take notice then you choose a Rotweiller to interrogate you not David Frost.
The interviews were the kind of laid back, smoke filled interactions you’d expect to see in a jazz club which is nothing like the brutal arena of politics.
Over the course of 4 interviews, Frost attempted to tease out details of those dark days back in 1972 but Tricky Dicky was ever evasive. Questions about the legality of Nixon’s actions were met with answers such as, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
So did Nixon manage to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the public? No. In fact, any affection the public may have had left wrapped up in a damp handkerchief in their trouser pocket was seen moving rapidly into the distance followed by a cartoon dust cloud.
Only after he died did Nixon get any kind of absolution. Which is great if you’re planning on getting into Heaven but means nothing if you’re just plain dead!
Harold Wilson’s Personality Failure
Wilson, Labour Prime Minister between 1964 and 1972 was one of the first leaders of the country to really use the power of television. But, in the cult of personality, Wilson lacked the killer punch needed to succeed – personality!
Harold Wilson was one of the cleverest men to ever grace the halls of British politics. At 21 years old he was already a Don in Oxford university. For the tasteless amongst you that’s the equivalent of winning 200 Burberry track suits in a raffle – epic!
To say that Wilson’s rise to power was unexpected is comparable to the shock seen on the faces of Russian office workers caught up in the showers of glass as the Cherbarkul meteorite exploded. The Labour party of 1964 was not seen in the same winning light as, say, Usain Bolt. In fact, with it’s tired image and blind faith in the unions the party was staring into oblivion (kind of like the 7th level of Dante’s inferno but worse).
But Wilson had a trick up his sleeve – television.
Every aspect of the electoral campaign was carefully staged – images of Wilson standing alongside miners, debating with Vanessa Redgrave and walking the great city of Liverpool were transmitted around the country – and worked like a dream.
In fact, so successful was the Wilson campaign that, for a time, Socialism in Great Britain took on a rose tinted hue (unlike the blood red hue seen in Stalin’s version of Socialism).
But the winning margin was narrow: Labour only came out with a three seat majority in the House of Commons.
So what went wrong with Wilson’s mastery of the airwaves? How did his innovative use of mass media fail him? Well, like any luminary, you have to be able to shine a light deep into the dank hole that is the analysis of the crumbling remains of your country’s failing economy. This is where Wilson fell flat on his face.
Great Britain was in decline. National strikes were looming. Japan was rapidly rising as the new power house of the world. Britain had become the sick old man of Europe and Wilson had nothing to offer.
In fact, he didn’t even have anything remotely interesting to say about this fall from the heights of imperial power to a patch of unsightly vomit floating off the West coast of Europe. Wilson and the Labour party rapidly learned that only the likes of Marilyn Monroe can earn a living from making vacuous comments!
Neil Kinnock’s Big Day At The Beach
Neil Kinnock – Welsh firebrand and flame haired antagonist of then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. But, in 1983, the former leader of the Labour party revealed hidden powers of comedy that would have the Keystone Cops crying with envy.
Kinnock’s rise to power was fast. His political demise was even faster but we’ll go into that shortly. The Labour leaders political career was defined by a long running series of infighting with members of the hard Left. His political instincts were that of the Centre Left. Battle between the two factions commenced. In the end, Kinnock overcame the more lunatic socialist fringes of the party and set about preparing for power.
But, like Wilson before him, Kinnock had an ace up this sleeve – public buffoonery.
In the 18 month run up to the 1992 election, it was widely expected that Labour would win the election. After all, the party had the dream ticket of Kinnock and ‘drooling’ Hattersley at the helm – what could possible go wrong? Actually, there was only one thing but Kinnock insisted on blaming the newspapers. Following his exit from mainstream politics, the bitter former politician, accused the press of ganging up on him and supporting the Conservatives election campaign.
So what was the real reason for Kinnock’s failure to take the political crown from Maggie? The hard truth is that Kinnock’s seaside antics were his undoing. In 1983, whilst attending the Labour conference in Brighton, the head of Labour party did what any savvy politician of the day would do – take part in a carefully staged show of affection for their loved one. But the devils in the detail.
Whilst enjoying a romantic moment on the windswept shores, an unusually large wave was approaching the beach. Sensing an imminent, and very embarrassing wetting of the shoes, the Kinnock’s beat a hasty retreat. Here’s where fate intervened.
Neil and his wife, Glynis, didn’t quite make it. Both collapsed in a heap whilst trying to evade a soaking. So history was written. Even though the event took place in 1983 Kinnock was marked out as a Labour’s answer to a circus warm up act rather than an effective politician.
Sadly for Kinnock, he left mainstream British politics in 1992 and went on to become a pretty powerful MP in European parliament and become obscenely wealthy. Life’s a bitch.