When Republican presidential candidate George Bush announced last month that his running mate would be Indiana Senator James Danforth Quayle, a funny thing happened in the press.
Somersaults on the part of print and broadcast journalists as they tried to define the guy.
They began with his movie star looks. Moved on to his background as a member of one of Indiana’s most affluent families. Stabbed at a weekend golfing rendezvous with a lady lobbyist who happened to pose for Playboy. And finally landed—on their backs—with his service in the Indiana Army National Guard.
Quayle served in the Guard during the Vietnam War. He was what the armed forces term a public affairs man. That means he spent his time writing news releases about the Guard, somewhat of a blend of public relations and journalism.
Acrobats such as columnists Mike Royko of the Chicago Tribune knocked Quayle for wimping out of Vietnam by serving in the Guard, especially as a military journalist. Accusations arose that Quayle side-stepped combat by hiding behind a typewriter in his home state, that he shirked his responsibilities as an American by enlisting in the Guard.
These journalists were attacking a man who did for the National Guard what they do for their communities, writing and reporting.
What the media folks seldom mentioned was that the Army National Guard of any state is a legitimate branch of the armed forces. Service therein legally meets federal requirements for military obligaton. Period.
While Quayle’s methods of entering the Guard during the war are questionable—and will probably remain so—he did serve. To see reporters tumble over themselves to make something of this item is a sad sight indeed.
When Quayle delivered his acceptance speech for his nomination as the Republican candidate for vice president, one was reminded of G.B. Trudeau’s cartoon portrayal of George Bush as an invisible man in the daily comic strip Doonesbury. Quayle was hollow. He had little to say, and said that poorly. Had the media not dogged him about his service in the National Guard, he might have gone away. Had they not climbed over each other to ask the same questions and receive the same answers, Quayle might still be the obscure senator from Indiana whose daddy and grand daddy made billions of dollars in the newspaper business.
The journalists, however, created a figure to be reckoned with. It’s not that Dan Quayle is any more dynamic than he was a month ago. It’s not that his votes on Capitol Hill are any more important than when he cast them. What’s made Quayle a larger-than-life figure is the repetitiveness of clumsy questions posed by throngs of reporters. The public tired of the questions and finally sided with Quayle, rooting for the underdog. Had they concentrated on his lack of experience instead of affording him the chance to fend-off their relentless questions, many of us might still think he spells his name like the game bird.
Quayle’s media advisers were probably ecstatic that he was the brunt of such silly attacks. After all, he received huge amounts of air time as well as coverage in both news and editorial pages of newspapers and magazines. And the questions were always the same: Why the National Guard?
He also displayed his poise while dealing with his inquisitors; defense of a legitimate military record is much easier to accomplish than explaining his philosophy on defense, economic or social issues.
It’s ironic that Quayle, the descendant of one of the most powerful families in printing—owners of the Indianapolis Star and Phoenix Gazette[[ex]]—was attacked by the media. The press has thus made Dan Quayle much more than he really is, more financially in the case of his family, with inheritance money no one has confirmed a value on yet, and more politically in the case of recent events.
The jounalists’ awkward somersaults left them sprawling at Quayle’s feet, creating the impression that the candidate is an agile politician.
But who knows? Dan Quayle might be similar to a hollow-point bullet, his substance mushrooming once he hits his target: The White House. Then we’ll see if the same journalists come tumbling from the sky to uncover more non-issues.
My God, the humanity!