CBS Nightly News tonight featured a short snippet from a series of interviews reporter Phil Jones conducted with Gerald Ford in 1984 — interviews granted on the condition they not be shown until after Ford’s death. They talked about Ford’s first speech as president, in which he declared, “Our long, national nightmare is over.”
Ford hadn’t wanted to use that line. His speechwriter, Bob Hartman, insisted on it. It’s the line that is quoted most — but at the time it set the tone that Ford was a straight talker.
Hartman himself is 89 now. CBS tracked him down, too. His memory of Ford’s not wanting to use the phrase correlated exactly. Hartman said that Ford did not want to say anything that reflected badly on anyone, not only then, but any time. Referring to the Watergate scandals and crises as “a nightmare” could be interpreted negatively on President Nixon or any number of other people. Ultimately, Hartman’s judgment of what needed to be said prevailed.
Hartman had something else to say about Ford, which is also quotable:
Gerald Ford had only one fault.
He was too nice a guy.
Mark that one down; it should be in the next Bartlett’s, or the next Yale collection. Should be.
- Post script: It was nice to see our old friend Phil Jones again. He was the Capitol Hill correspondent for CBS for much of my time on the Hill, a man of great patience, great insight, and solid reporting.
- More CBS coverage: Here.