Joe McGinniss John Osborne - Essay

John Osborne

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Selling of the President 1968] is the best thing that's happened to Richard Nixon since somebody told him to stop wiggling those fingers. The author, Joe McGinniss, has done the President the immense and obviously unintended favor of showing him to be the normal, temperish, profane, vulnerable adult male that his spokesmen at the White House keep insisting he isn't. They are under the illusion that Mr. Nixon is best served by making him out to be superhumanly calm, beyond disturbance—a Presidential potato…. Joe McGinniss informs us—and accurately, I am told by some of the men who figure in this book and who still work for Nixon—that he wasn't like that during the campaign last year….

[The] campaign staffers who managed the Nixon TV effort last year would have saved themselves a lot of pain and deprived us of the most interesting account yet written of the 1968 race for the Presidency if they had troubled to check on the beguiling young man (aged 26) who presented himself to them in June. As they recall it, he said that he wanted to research and write a studious, philosophic account of the role of the electronic media in modern Presidential politics. No quotes; nothing that would embarrass anybody; a book, they were led to expect, that would deal in soporific generalities and take them and their expertise with stultifying gravity. (p. 26)

I am supposed, I gather, to be frightened by the evidence … that enormous thought and effort went into remaking Richard Nixon for television and into projecting an image so different from "the real Nixon" as to constitute a massive fraud upon the electorate…. Well, after reading and rereading the McGinniss account, I am reassured. It didn't work. All of that effort, all of those millions spent for television accomplished—what? Essentially the same Richard Nixon whom I followed in person around the country came across to the country through the tube…. It is for the unobserved but overheard and intimately quoted Nixon that I value the McGinniss account. It is useful to know that the President has a horror of psychiatrists … and that he curses when he's angry. Whatever we have in the Nixon Presidency, we don't have a potato. Maybe Nixon should hire Joe McGinniss. (pp. 27-8)

John Osborne, "Nixon through the Tube," in The New Republic, Vol. 161, No. 15, October 11, 1969, pp. 26-8.