Skip to main content

Listen: Josh King '87 on Elections & Political Campaigns in the Age of Optics

Josh King '87 on Elections & Political Campaigns in the Age of Optics

Audio Player Controls
0:00 / 0:00

This fall, Josh King '87 delivered a lecture on "Elections & Political Campaigns in the Age of Optics." In his talk, he examines the current U.S. presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. King is the author of Off Script: An Advance Man's Guide to White House Stagecraft, Spectacle, and Political Suicide, and founder of Polioptics. He has worked on numerous political campaigns, written for television, and has published extensively on campaigns and stagecraft. 

King graduated from Swarthmore with a B.A. in political science. Read his essay in the Fall 2016 Bulletin

Audio Transcript

Speaker 1: So, we are really pleased to have Josh King, class of '87 with us today. Josh, after you graduated in '87, moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for a really incredible string of Presidential campaigns. Which started out, I guess, then went under and you would move on from one that was Paul Simon, Bob Carey, eventually Dukak ... Mike Dukakis. Yeah

Josh: Yup.

Speaker 1:  Yeah. I left out. Who did I leave out? Paul, [crosstalk 00:00:22]. Paul, Paul Si ... ultimately Clinton right. So finally, you got with

Josh: Got with one of the winners.

Speaker 1:  Yeah, yeah, with one of the winners, right. Josh has worked for television and wrote a T.V. series, the original "West Wing". Which wasn't the one that we all know as the "West Wing". 

Josh: Sadly, it died in [inaudible 00:00:38].

Speaker 1: Uh but, they took ... There should be a footnote in the eventual long running "West Wing" series to you for having done the first version of that! He's worked for television, political magazine for men's Vogue. For, was it ... subbed for MSNBC too, right and CSNBC ...

Josh: Yup

Speaker 1:  All kinds of T.V. and print outlets. And has this terrific new book out! Mine is upstairs, I'm going to bring down and get you to sign it afterwards. The book is called "Off Script" - An advanced man's guide to; let's see if I remember it correctly, it's,  [crosstalk 00:01:14] I remember political suicide. Oh, right ....[crosstalk 00:01:15]. See I remember the political suicide, I liked that line so much. I'm seeing so much of it around these days[crosstalk 00:01:23]

Josh:  Now a days, you just turn around

Speaker 4:  Yes!

Speaker 1:  Perfect. You know I didn't need that whole ... [crosstalk 00:01:26] There you go. Stage craft campaigns spectacle and political suicide. And that is so completely timely now to be able to ... for us to understand more of. A little [inaudible 00:01:37] perspective too. Because you have really, before I guess it's Reagan as maybe one of the first really telegenic campaign right?

A bit about this; It's a great front page bulletin article that you write that describes some of the arc we are seeing. And I guess, I was a student of; didn't study with him, but Brad Neil Postman's work on Reagan too as this person who is some ways, changed the game. Not always for the better. So we'll hear all about that and maybe get a chance to pick your brain afterwards. So, Josh King....

Josh: Thank you! (clapping) We will dim the lights a little bit because, this is a very optical talk and it is much more interesting that you see the screen in vivid color, than look at me.

Thank you. It's great to be back on Campus after all this time. So, I am just going to give people a quick tour through the age of optics and then we will talk.

I wrote this book from a perspective of a person in the middle of the plane. Not the principle up at the front of Air Force One, like where the President sits or the Cabin Secretary. Not where the Media sits in the back, the pool. But the people in the middle. The people who you see are writing all these Wiki leaks, emails.

Where the people who plot and plan. Who make Devil's bargains with reporters, to say what is going to be on the record and what's off the record. Who float V.P. lists, so that we don't know what we are talking about. So I wanted to give insiders a count of how this sausage really is made and how the process really does work.

I thought this was interesting! This showed up in the Boston Globe. It shows relatively how hard Hillary Clinton is working against Donald Trump, in the number of appearances she is making. This is her appearances in August, September, and October, compared to Trump, compared to the way McCain and Obama were out in public in 2008.

Obviously it is a different media age. People have their planes, and they fly back to West Chester or White Plan, or LaGuardia airport at night. They sleep in their own bed in Trump Tower or in Chappaquiddick. It's not like the old days, where we used to roam around the country and go from a Holiday Inn to a Day's Inn and then back to a Holiday Inn.

Again, Hillary also has a much better team of surrogates. Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, you name it. An all star cast. And she herself will tell you she's not really good at this. At retail politicking and rally making.

And Trump, he's the best ... the best he's has, and he's almost the only person now that he has. Kellyanne Conway is taking more of a back seat. Chris Christie is trying to disembowel himself from the campaign a little bit. Only Rudy Giuliani. So, there is not many people doing the very hard work. It's all left up to Trump.

This is the races of last night. The tracker pole. October 17th shows 48 to 41. And a lot of people look at these and they just see a lot of jagged lines. I look at them and I see moments. Pictures on the campaign trail that either worked or didn't and how it affected the campaign. So, if I look through, back over the course of the Summer, you know, they were just about even back in June. When all of these Clinton advertisements against Trump started airing. And suddenly, Trump's numbers started going down. Hillary gives a speech in California in San Diego, and pivots from being Bernie's opponent to a potential next President.

Then Trump starts doing better. He appoints Mike Pence as his running mate. And he has a convention. And conventions do very well, especially the first one, because you don't have anything to compare it to. But then there's a second convention, which the Democrats run much better than the Republicans. Oh, now the Democrats really do represent the more diverse body of the electorate. They are telling their story better. And maybe they are even beginning to get under Donald Trumps skin a little bit when Khizr Khan reached into his pocket and said "Have you ever read the United States Constitution?". And so, Trump's fight with a gold star family brings him even farther down here.

And then Hillary she has taken, she has begun to do very well. More advertising. But then she says it's August, it's time to raise a lot of money because I will take the hit in August so that I have a war chest to run ads in September and October and I'm also going to spend a lot of time in debate prep.  Because, those nights are more important than getting out there and doing more of those trips.

So, she begins to take a bit of a swoon. And then she has that night on September 9th, basket of deployable in lower Manhattan. That morning she was diagnosed with pneumonia and she hit her nater at that point. And then Trump after sort of climbing back in August, benefiting from the questions about Secretary Clinton health. The first debate in [inaudible 00:07:17], and then a week and a half ago the revelation of the Access Hollywood video.

So, when I look at a tracking pole, this is the way I see. I see the campaign in a very visual way. Trump has been with me, my entire adult life. January 1989, I had been at Swathmore for a year and a half. We have been working on the Dukakis campaign. Another Swathmore 55. And the very week that George H. W. Bush was inaugurated, he made the cover of Time magazine. He loves making the cover of Time magazine! It's his favorite thing to do.

He did it again in December, when Nancy Gibbs, who is the Editor of Time magazine, said, "You know, we are so lucky Mr. Trump to have you give us time in your office. We are going to go the extra mile. And we are going to, at our own expense, fly a bald eagle to sit with you while Martin Schuller takes a photograph. And we have invested so much money into this, and our business models are so challenged, you are going to use what is called a double [inaudible 00:08:30]. Full two pages of the magazine. And for Mr. Trump and his ego, is the most wonderful thing in the whole world! To have a bald eagle flown up from Texas to personally sit with me at my desk."

And so, you can almost track the life of Trump based on the cover of Time magazine. You know, it was awfully good back in '89. This man made you turn green with envy or just turned you off, flaunting it is the game and Trump is the name. And then, playing off the book he wrote, "The Art Of The Deal", in December, no one is more important than Trump. And Time yeses to this, and they do this cover story "Deal With It", right? And then sure enough vanquishing 16 candidates and this shock from behind, how Trump won, now he just needs the votes. Things couldn't be better, moving toward the convention and yet the way this Summer has gone, in August, melt down. And then doubling down, this is the way it looked last week. Total meltdown.

So, you live by the Time cover, you die by the Time cover. And this has to be under Trump skin like nothing else.

Speaker 5:  What were the circulations like? I assume at first it was really good for circulation, you know, but did it work for them in the later two months?

Josh: Ah, you mean like those '89 [crosstalk 00:10:10].

Speaker 4:  No, no. I mean these ones. Were they lower because they weren't getting Trump supporters to buy the magazines?

Josh: Probably. But then, there is another whole story about how as much as we are in the Media business, you know, we almost have a higher calling to call out to almost make good on our problems that we had last December, when all we could do is [inaudible 00:10:37]. I mean, it's a ... I have ... I mean I'm going to get to talk about the Media business a little bit as we move on. I mean this is the battle ground map right now. If the election were held today, 256 for Hillary, 112 for Trump, 112, I mean a 170 for Trump and 112 toss up.

I mean she only needs, you know, of this whole thing, Ohio to put her over 270 or North Carolina or any other combination there of. And maybe even some other States will be back in play. There is rumor she is going to go to Texas or Georgia. States that haven't gone democratic since my first one in 1992. So, you know, things were looking up; so let's go back to the way that chart was and remember that day, this sort of Carnegie Deli life set up for the convention. And remember the kind of rederick that he was using.

Trump audio:  "Nobody knows the system better than me. (crowd cheering) Which is why I alone can fix it." (crowd cheering)

Josh:  And then he runs into Khizr Khan the next week. And this is what Mr. Khan says:

Khan audio:   "I ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? (crowd cheers) I will gladly lend you my copy"

Josh: It's fascinating to read about the accounts of how Khan prepared for his speech.  An Immigration lawyer, I think from Virginia carries the constitution around and understands that his son died in service to the Nation. And just as an after thought he, he thought he would put this in his pocket as he went to the Wells Fargo Center just two miles down the road. And just so, we don't leave here naïve.

The business of covering politics, if you are Khan at one end of the hall, 80 feet away are the photographers from the Associated Press and Ahjongs friends Press and Roiters. And they know they are going to shoot a balloon drop shot later on in the night. And they have already seen General John Allen, speak with all these veterans around him and that is interesting. But as soon as someone does anything unplanned at the podium. A guy takes out a copy of the Constitution and holds it up.

Click, click, click. A million clicks. And in every front page or in every story the next day it was Thursday, is this incredibly moving personal narrative of a man whose own life and tragedy and sadness speaks to the greatness of America. And almost breaks the fever of Trump. In a way more powerful than even Secretary Clinton would do later that night.

We are not at war with Muslims and Islam. We are at war with Isis. We can't close off our borders, because a man like this; granted it's a highly symbolic, we have lots of other problems. But he made the case more articulately than anyone could. And because he held up this document. It told the story in just one picture. Take it away, and it's not ... you don't understand the story as profoundly as you do because he had this piece of paper in his hand.

This was the Trump I would have loved to seen as a person who would like this election to be a hard choice early on. He wins the nomination, he gets into Trump Tower where he convenes his National Security Advisors. And when photographers come into the room, the flat screen panel sends the message home. Keep America safe! This is what he should have been doing!

He started learning these lessons because finally after having Cory Lewendowski and then Paul Manafort as his campaign manager, he settles on Kellyanne Conway. A great spokesman for him for starters, but also a person who could condition him and make him into the candidate he might have been. Unfortunately time, unfortunately for him relapsed. But that August rise was due to her and the way they started using television and imagery.

He goes to Flint, Michigan. He doesn't give a rally. He doesn't tweet out a lot. He actually goes to a place that symbolically makes sense. He might not be deeply immersed in the issue of Flint's water supply. But by showing up and having this picture taken, it shows that maybe, just maybe, he is more intellectually engaged in this campaign and the issues confronting America than we thought he was.

Meanwhile, she's having problems. On September 9th she's been diagnosed with pneumonia, she wrestles with the greatest kind of Clinton problem. Do I tell the truth, do I be honest?, or do I try n shield my weakness? Because there are certain attributes, because I am coughing on the plane. Do I confirm their greatest suspicions played into the, play into the rumors that she may have Alzheimer's or Parkinson's?

It's a tough weekend because Sunday morning is September 11th. The 15th anniversary of the attack of the World Trade Center. She was the United States Senator during the attack. But, Toby and I lived down there. It's not like they put out a lot of seats and put a tent over it. And working for First Lady Clinton in the s's her staff would tell me two things when I would plan a big event for her husband. Said, does big girl have a seat? And does big girl have something over her head? Tent. Because she doesn't do well in the sun on her best days and now she has pneumonia. And now she is surrounded by Chuck Sure and Bill Deblasio and it is getting claustrophobic in this moment.

She is wearing these sunglasses to frankly mask that she is not in good shape. But she feels that my daughter Chelsea has an apartment in the Flat Iron district, I have got grandchildren there. Perfectly plausible if I can only stay on my feet to say " Thank you. God bless you first responders, now I have to go off and see my grandchildren because I am on the campaign trail full time and I don't have time to see them much. But, at least I've shown up and Trump can't say that I stiffed the 911 survivors. I can only get to the car. But does she get to the car?

There is a Secret Service protocol since Ronald Reagan's ... the attempted assassination on him in 1981 says: A person who is protected by the United States Service can not be picked up, can not wait for their ride, and certainly can not be picked up in full daylight. Because any sniper can pick someone off if they know that's where the car is going to be.

So on September 11th when I was watching the news and I saw that she was standing out by this baller and this Scooby van, as it is called, wasn't there. Something is strange, something is wrong. She must not be well. And remember, or you should know, there is no ... this image is not taken by a news person. It is taken by a bystander. The Clinton campaign is being very secretive as is the Trump campaign, they are both private citizens. They don't want round the clock press coverage as a President will have.

A bystander standing there with their cell phone and seeing this woman standing against this concrete ballard, waiting for a pick up. A taxi almost. Just to get up to Chelsea's apartment. You see a wider shot of that, you see the Secret Service Agents doing what they ought to do. Standing, looking outward, getting ready for the threat. The van is armored, so basically if they just keep this perimeter they will block most pictures and most importantly for them,most gun fire. 

But here she is beginning to lose her balance. The nightmare scenario for her, her weakness exposed, she is going to have some explaining to do! But at this point she doesn't want to explain. Maybe no one saw this. Maybe that guy who took that picture won't Tweet it. Get up to Chelsea's, get a couple glasses of water, rest for a little while; then walk out onto the sidewalk. Beautiful day in New York! Everything is fine, nothing to bother here.

Meanwhile, the campaign is feeling all these calls. We heard rumors that she faltered. What is going on with her? Are you lying to us? And she gets back into the car, and goes to Chapelwood. This too, is not what Secret Service ever wants to see. Knowing Hank, they never want to see one of their protectees hanging out on the sidewalk. Because any one of these people could be Carlos the jackle. So, ... but she did it to prove she was fine. This was before they admitted she had pneumonia.

But the daily news, that's their wood, that is there headline the next day. Hill [inaudible 00:22:13] scare. And, this is just what legitimate news organizations are doing. Forget about the conspiracy things on the web when you type in Hillary Clinton. This is the kind of thing that you get.

Conspiracy theorists say Hillary was replaced with body doubles. I mean, for people, in certainly parts of Pennsylvania and other states, they will see this, and they don't know that this is not a legitimate news source. They read that; proven it couldn't be her because how can a woman lose 40 pounds in four hours? And that is the kind of stuff that was ... The very fact that she was wearing sunglasses; and this picture might have shown a different silhouette than that one, proves it was a body double.  And that is what is going on in this campaign! Different from prior campaign that [inaudible 00:23:08].

We expected a more gentile debate when Trump and Clinton finally got together like Kennedy and Nixon, Carter-Reagan, Lloyd Bentsen- Dan Quayle, Bush and Gore. But instead we got this. AT the very end of it, Clinton unleashes an attack line. It's like, baiting him a little worm right up front. Are you going to take it? And her name is Alicia Machado. And that's ... and during the ensuing day, our furture President took to to Twitter to demegrate the woman who waw vying for, ... in a beauty pagent. This was again, the beginging of that, what brought the post hofstra numbers down for Trump. This was ... This made it even worse.

What will be very interesting over the next few months, as people like Mark Halfred and John Heilemann write books and do [inaudible 00:24:21]. Who at NBC news knew that this existed before two weeks ago? Billy Bush, says that he told Andy Lack, who is the President of NBC, about it when they were in Rio De Janeiro at the Olympics. And, it's a huge business conundrum for Comcast history in Philadelphia, NBC Universal; they make a 100 million dollars a year on the third hour of the Today Show of which Billy Bush is their main star. Is their brand. And if they reveal this, which is a highly news worthy piece of film, they are blowing up their own business model.

So they wrestle with this all week long. And finally say, we couldn't ... we're too cautious we can't do it but someone please send it to Dave Fahrenthold at the Washington Post. Let that news organization, which is no longer a newspaper, it can, it can broadcast vidoes as much as they want to. The Post prints it, then NBC and everyone else can cover it as a legitimate news story. And this is what I think is considered thermonuclear war.

Taking all of Bill Clinton accusers from the past. Flying them to St. Louis. Arraigning them in a picture like this. If you watch the video, nothing is really said except Trump is sitting there in the middle of his accusers. This is, this is what the contexts for what the President of the United States has evolved to.

For all the high and lofty aspirations that we study here, it's worth more. This becomes the attack weapon used. It's not a debate about ideas or philosophy's, or trade immigration. It's, look at the picture I can create and what this says about the husband of the person running for President.

Later that evening, ... and this is where you know, if you leave here slightly more educated about how the process works, it will be time well spent. You know it's easy to play a little music as we talk about this moment. The ... again you can analyze this on the policy level all you want. But I wouldn't doubt at all that every Hollywood ... that the Clinton campaign reached out to every Hollywood person that they could who thinks they have a really deep analysis of the debate, and say Trump was lurking. Because it will be such a gender attack. The six foot three guy against the five foot four woman. And that he is really invading her space and walking around.

But guess what? And, sure enough, you look at the Tweets that come in. Sarah Silverman has almost as many followers as Trump. He is physically trying to intimidate her by standing right behind her. This is crazy! Mashable. Trump is just creeping around the stage now. You do a little Google search on it. USA Today, Mother Jones, Independent, Washington Post, US magazine, Cosmopolitan, all about this lurking.

But guys, this is not Trump's decision. And Trump was not lurking. Trump was staying fairly close to his stool the whole time. Clinton was using Town Hall debate tactic 101. Her podium was over here. Questioner is over here. She say's, and you saw Kate McKinnon make fun of this on Saturday Night Live. You know, I am really talking to you now sir. What's your name? We are going to have a little conversation.

Meanwhile, the T.V. network pool production team sitting in a satellite truck outside the arena is saying: Leave the split screen and go to a two shot. Show me Trump behind her. Camera is over there. Over his shoulder, looking at me with this guy [inaudible 00:28:53]. He can't ... It's not his fault. He made, you know, ... He might have just sort of looked just straight ahead and maybe that is better. But he wasn't doing anything meanincing. This is the Media business. Creating a lurk. Creating a mess. Where in this case there wasn't any. At least in my opinion.

And this, this was just a couple days ago. And for all the efforts to recast Trump as a serious person. I think he himself, decided at this point that he was going to give it up. The metaphor of taking the very tool that was making him more serious, the teleprompter. Sad that it was needed in the first place. And actually taking it apart.

Trump audio: [inaudible 00:29:42] and let's face it, we have to say. I really beat her easily. That was easy! (crowd cheering)

Josh: He doesn't want to be President. He wants to perform. He wants to be in front of affirming audiences. And so, I go back to the beginning of this. When I was a student here. And that guy on the left was President. And I thought about how I had studied the presidency both in high school and while I was here. And did my own little transformation from a person who had sort of Conservative views to one who had more centrus or liberal views.

And I thought about the people who tried to inherit his mantel. At his very library in Simi Valley, California. I thought about how this President that we currently have, as many good things as I feel about him, and as lucky as I think we are to have him, how he has fed us too with his own tendency toward propaganda.

This picture was shot in the Summer of 2012 at Camp David by this man Pete Souza. We all pay his salary. He is the official White House photographer. He follows in line with this guy David Kennerly, who is the official photographer for Gerald Ford, who is a Vietnam combat photographer. Bob McNeely who I worked with, who is the official photographer for Bill Clinton. And they are all sort of opposed to this guy. He is Doug Mills. He is a photographer for the New York Times. Doug is shooting whatever the White House will allow him to shoot. Which is to say, not much! Only the few moments the President Obama walks out in public.

But every time he does something privately, or in a way that will flatter him, Pete is the guy who gets that picture. And then Pete will then Tweet out that picture of put it out on the White House flicker feed and any news organization can take it. So the White House takes this picture, and while the President is trying to get sensible background check legislation after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, this picture is put out. It's not shot by a news person. It is shot by Pete in the privacy of Camp David. Where the message is I'm Barak Obama and I support second amendment gun ownership rights as much as the next person. And I am an advid sportsman.

But the conspiracy theorists get a hold of this very quickly, and start correcting him on his proper grip of a shot.

[00:33:04] up again?

[00:33:12] So, it's the ... It's January 1995, I'm starting my Junior year, no, starting my Sophomore year. Ronald Reagan is being inaugurated under the West dome, ... under the central dome of the Capital, because it is cold outside. And because Nancy Reagan was concerned about his health. She didn't want him exposed outside after he had survived the assassination attempt.

I get obsessed with this moment. It's December 1985, and President Reagan is with General Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. And for four weeks running, their first Summit meeting was covered on the cover of Time magazine for four weeks running. This first top right corner Geneva gambit, Reagan's newest armed proposal. A full page Marvin Maddleson the summit, lets talk.

Back to the top corner, Geneva aiming beyond the summit. And then December 2nd, when they finally meet, it's a full page ... it's a full front cover shot by Dirck Halstead. Back when Time magazine really mattered, when it drove conversations around people's dinner table, it was a 102 pages long. And when they could send photographers like Kennerly and Dirck Halstead to get in just a perfect position to take this shot. 

And I think this is where I started saying, "What should I do after Swarthmore?"  I would love to be a choreographer of Presidential stage craft. Because this doesn't happen by accident. This happens because the press, hundred of reporters have been flown into Geneva Switzerland. This has been lit perfectly. They have been told where to stand on toe marks. And they have sent writers in to write the story beautifully and over the course of 22 pages of that issue that you are looking on, it covered one meeting of two world leaders.

And some skinner ... And they would always start with a little essay up front by Lance Morrow to summarize what you are going to read when you curl up with Time magazine later that day. And I'm just going to read the first few lines of it. The way Lance would write, in this beautiful colorful language that you don't see anymore. And the way it is accompanied by this behind the scenes access given to David Kennerly. And if nothing else, this shows how symbiotic and collusive their relationship between leaders, people like me, and the Media was and is at the perspective that I brought to writing the book, The Guy In The Middle Of The Plane, who is trying to groper all these deals at all times.

So if you are reading that first paragraph, it reads: "Kings in the 15th century were known to have held their summit meetings in the middle of a bridge. The two sovereigns did their talking though a stout oak glass set up between the length of the prison gate during visitors hours. That way neither could kidnap the other. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev talked in Geneva through more complex glasses. They sat by the fire in the Chateau Flir De Lu and interpret the world for each other. To their instinctive mental grids, different societies, different interests. Minds formed by different history's. Walter Lippmann wrote, " We are all captives of the pictures in our head. Our beliefs of the world we experience is the world that really exists."

So if you look at those pictures and you read those words and you see that magazine on the news stand or in your mailbox. You can't help but admire our leader, their leader and think that they are doing the worlds business at making peace. But it is all because people like me would get people like Dirck, and people like Lance Morrow in position to write these stories and take them to these story book settings. Like, the ... like the Chateau Flir De Lu.

Before I got to Swarthmore, I was always captive of pictures in my head. Like Walter Lippmann wrote. And this was a lithograph of the Boston Massacre, where I grew up. It was done by Paul Revere. And I had it pinned up in my bedroom. And my dad when I was nine years old, would take us out to the Freedom Trail in Boston to see the sights, and I would say "This is exactly where that Revere lithograph is. I'm going to get down on the ground like Christmas addicts and dad you shoot me, and my brother you are going to be my fellow Colonials."

And so, this kid gets to Swarthmore and then gets out of Swarthmore and the campaign begets my time in the White House on a M1A1 tank in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert. Aboard Air Force One with my mentor Mort Engleberge, who made his millions of dollars by producing a very successful series of movies called "Smokey and the Bandit" films. About a cross country buddy road trip, which was essentially what the 1992 campaign was between Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Then I'm sort of the producer of all events at the White House. When it is President Clinton's birthday and the first lady looking on, there with Jimmy Buffets background singers and I am leading them in this serenade. And serenading the President on his birthday.

And more ... this was sort of you know the day in day out job. Hud Secretary Henry Cisneros, White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, the President out here at the door to the Oval Office, we are about to do an event, so I am telling him basically what he choreography will be.

And so, you have this blank canvas, a place like the Chateau Flir De Lu, Reagan and Gorbachev were standing right here, the press was right here and this was about the angle that Dirck Halstead made that picture. And that's what got me into this. How do you get all this press into position. How do you convince people like Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings, to tell those stories and get people like Dirck Halstead to take those pictures.

And I have a ton more material, so I will just quickly pause and say, do you want me to keep going or do you want to ask questions and have a conversation? [inaudible 00:40:29] about 35 minutes.  [crosstalk 00:40:37]

Speaker 4: Is there a thing where we would be sorry if we didn't have [inaudible 00:40:44]. If you see nothing else this year see this slide.

Josh: Well let me tell you that if you, if you go out and get my book; Well I will say like, you know, this is what I think a very key day. This is when I think Trump on May 5th could have convened that security meeting and started taking his job as Republican nominee more seriously. Instead, it's happy Cinco De Mayo. The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics. And then someone like Samantha Bee will, you know, say things like the best taco bowls are made by hard working immigrants who don't like being called rapists by a rich prick. I love inauthentic Mexican food.

And it was about this time that everyone woke up and said, we would think it could be Romney, or John McCAin. Or, even George W. Bush, or Bob Dole, or George H. W. Bush. Instead we have this guy and he is not taking this role seriously and we shouldn't take him seriously. So I think that was a ... If I write a new chapter for the paperback, I'd say that May thwarts a pretty important day when Trump made the wrong decision.

You know, that the story that is the focus of my book, the first third of it is, ... goes back to your fellow Swarthmorian. The governor of Massachusetts. He was doing great in the spring of 1988. He was up 17 points in the poles after his convention. And those same poles said, you know he really scores well against George H. W. Bush on measures likes cares about people like me.

But when they asked the question "Who would make a strong commander in chief? He was against at person who had been one of the youngest fighter pilots ever shot down in WWII, was a congressman, was envoy to China, envoy to the United Nations, head of the CIA. Republican party chairman, and Ronald Reagan's vice president for eight years. He knew his stuff. He was prepared for Commander in Chief. This guy was governor of Massachusetts. Two years in Korea, after the army, he graduated from Swarthmore.  He needed to prove his medal as Commander in Chief.

So in September 11th, 12th, and 13th of 1988, travels around the country giving serious speeches about all these matters related to National Defense. Monday in Philadelphia at Carpenter's Hall, Monday afternoon in Cincinnati at the GE engine plant. And Tuesday morning in Chicago at the Council of Foreign Relations. Tuesday afternoon at Sterling Heights, Michigan. Where he is going to ride in a tank. And my friend Matt Bennett, was the person assigned to put on this event. And so here is Dukakis in his jumpsuit. Bennett held onto the jumpsuit for 30 years after the event. Wore it as his Halloween costume every year. It's now on loan to the museum.

These yellow straps are to extract the person in case of an emergency. But can you imagine that you would take the democratic nominee for President and send them on a full speed ride at 45 mph doing S turns and G turns just so he can get a photo op? Well they do this! And that, you read in the book, tries over and over to convince Boston the Headquarters, this is a terrible idea. The whole idea stinks and Dukakis will look like an idiot.  No, no. We've got this covered. This makes all the sense in the world. We need this art work to go along with the stories about Dukakis strong in defense.

And sure enough, on that day the event happens, and there are some guffaw and laughter among the press core and the riser, but sure enough you watch the stories at night by Bruce Morton, and Chris Wallace, and Sam Donaldson. They're generally positive. They take a little fun at Dukakis's expense. But basically they parrot the exact message that Dukakis wanted to send. We need more tanks. We need better conventional arms. Less of this crazy strategic defense initiative. They make George Bush and Dan Quayle look like they are on the defensive.

But at the same time those stories are being put together, there is a very smart guy in Washington D.C., his name is Sig Rogich. And he is saying, what if we take all the things that Dukakis says he is against on defense, scroll it along on the camera and marry it with the video of him in this tank ride. We won't use it immediately. This happens on September 13th 1988. And on October 18th, exactly 28 years ago, they ... on the third game of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A's, this becomes one of the most famous if not the most famous attack ads of all time.

Sig Rogich audio:   Michael Dukakis [inaudible 00:46:02] defense system [inaudible 00:46:04] He opposed aircraft carriers. He opposed anti-semi weapons. He opposed [inaudible 00:46:12] including [inaudible 00:46:15]. Dukakis opposed [inaudible 00:46:16] He even criticized our rescue mission to [inaudible 00:46:22] and strike [inaudible 00:46:23] and now he wants to be our Commander in Chief. America can't afford that risk.

Josh:  The entire Bush/Quale advertising budget used on that message from October 18th until the end of the campaign. Basically, the problem here was, Obama would say many years later, politics 101, never put anything on your head if you are President. And this is how I start the book. But Dukakis was not himself. He wasn't the Swarthmore grad who was a strong bureaucrat and administrator from Massachusetts. More at home in a classroom or a hospital or a school. Trying to be Patent. And this is the way he looked before as he is walking with Gordon England to his, to his fate. And this is the picture that the campaign wanted to send without the helmet on. But they put the helmet on for safety and for communications. And this is the way he looked after.

Arthur Grace who shot this picture said: "He was physically ill and had to go into a room and collect his bearing for the speech he needed to give after that." This is the picture we will never see because the far funnier one was him with the helmet on with the label across his face Mike Dukakis.

And so, when you look at the age of optics ever since then, it's when candidates play into the impression that people have of them. Whether it is Bush in the supermarket scanner, Dole being too old, Al Gore sudoenvironmentalist who actually raises the water by releasing a dam and millions of gallons to raise the river so he doesn't run a ground in front of the press. George Bush in mission accomplished. The Howard Deans scream. Carey windsurfing, which became a brutal ad. It's when candidates, you know, show these sides.[crosstalk 00:48:30]

Advertisment :  [inaudible 00:48:32] about war. Opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again. He bragged about voting for the 87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it. He voted for education reform and now opposes it. He claims he is against increasing Medicare premiums, but voted five times to do so. John Carey whichever way the wind blows.

Josh: Happened in August 2004. My friend David Morehouse is now the CEO and President of the Pittsburgh Penguins was Carey's by man. Pleaded with Senator Carey not to go windsurfing that day. He said "It's not really windsurfing, I'm just testing out my stuff" Carey said. And David said to him, but you don't understand Senator, plumbers and electricians, the people who we really want to appeal to, they don't windsurf. And Carey said, you are wrong David. Here on Nantucket, plumbers and electricians windsurf.

But Carey could never get the idea that this kind of picture would be ammunition in someone like Mark McKinn's hand. Who then went on and made this ad. Put it to Johann Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz. And not only does he look rich, at feet, a flip-flopper, he also looks European because of the music that they have here.

So all of these details are in the book and you know they tell instructive stories about how candidates need, you know, can't provide ammunition that will be later used against them. Mitt Romney thought he was ... is patriotic and thought he would sing America the Beautiful at a rally in Florida and this happened in January 2012. But the Obama team was lying in wait an couldn't wait to get Romney's own voice as the ammunition that they would use against him.

Advertisment 2: I'm Barak Obama and I approve this message. (Romney singing America the Beautiful)

Josh: All because of the way Romney behaved on stage. Resulting in all these concession speeches during the age of optics. Leading to Obama's time in office, which in the final analysis after eight years, I would say he's finally found his mojo through a couple of unique ways of communication. 

In my longer talk, I show this picture of old newspaper vending machines. And I show the way the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal used to look, no photo's at all. We live in a television age. Everyone, what you see on MSNBC today, the road warriors, they are fighting for their own air time. They're fighting for people to pay attention to Comcast's product versus CBS product versus Turner product. You know, Anthony Bordaine, he's working for CNN. Jerry Seinfeld, he is working working for Crackle.  [inaudible 00:52:08] Rills is working for NBC. Zach Gallinaginis is working for funny or die. Mark Marren is kind of working for himself on the WTF podcast.

And I actually held up these examples because when you strip away all the artifise, and there is a bunch of artifis of Bordaine and Obama sitting in a Vietnamese restraint or Jerry Seinfeld driving a Corvette, or even Barrick Rills bar-b-quing air nod salmon in the middle of an Alaskan glacier. But when Marren and Obama, without this picture being taken or just talking for an hour, interesting questions asked by Marren, thoughful answers responded to by Obama. An hour and a half long conversation which you can all listen to as you head out of here tonight, you'll hear real communication between a leader and someone who is asking real questions.

And so, my final though is you know, I'm my own worst enemy, as a propagandist in some ways. I saw the way the game was played. The way the Media covered the Presidentcy in Ronald Reagan's time. I thought there were ways that I could prove that I could make Clinton look even better realative to the coverage than Reagan did, by dressing it up, by adding more motion an choregoraphoy, stylistic story telling in it. And it adheared well to Bill Clinton. But it was kill or be killed you know. I, we, I, we had to get better at managing the Media than Bush and Perot were in '92, or Bob Dole was in '96 and then Newt Gingrich and the republican revolution was '97-98. And impeachment itself was manipulation of the Media by the other side.

But when you get right down to it and cut it all away, my argument at the end of the book is: Boy, there really should be a lot more of this!. You know forget the image! Forget the commercial, you know, the more immage focused and more commercail the effort is, the more propaganda becomes a tool to be used.

Speaker 5: I wonder if we can follow on this a little. There is a couple of things that I am not sure in this history that add up the same way for me, the way you are adding them up. But, the thing that seems most interesting to me at this moment, is that the folks who are in a professional position that you are, were from the very beginning of Trump's run saying this isn't going anywhere.

Josh: Uh huh

Speaker 5: And literally, pretty much on the basis of optics, said on a weekly basis, that one, that's it, there it goes, okay, he just made fun of a disabled man on camera...

Josh: Right

Speaker 5: You know, he just did this and it's on camera

Josh: Yeah, yeah, yeah

Speaker 5: And it, nothing happened. I mean in a sense that he continued to be a viable candidate in his primary's. Political Scientists have had their own issues with not getting this right either, in the sense that they have other reasons for thingkin he could not possibly move forward. But I wonder whether in a way it's the very practice of optics that professionals have perfected that is responsible in part for Trump, in other words it's your fault[ crosstalk 00:55:44].

That this is one of the things that is fueling some of his most devoted supporters is a feeling that there is something so comprehensively dishonest about the management of image, that when somebody is completelhy uninterested in cohearing to that, he is attractive simply because he's over turinign that apple cart.

Josh: I could not agree with you more to a point! But, I have a lot of thoughts on this. Which is getting nominated to be, as the Republican nominee for President is a different proposition than getting elected President. And he is on the prefafice of a historic landslide loss. So ultimately a good Republican could have won easily, and become the 45th President, he's going to lose miserably.

He, his stick, ... I was watching him last year and I said, man you like read a galley of my book. Because you are using all the tricks and you are yourself as much of a slave of [inaudible 00:57:03] as I was. And it's carrying you, and a lot of people said, that's it he is going to tank after this one. You know he didn't need to appeal to you folks here, to me, to a moderate, if you want to win the White House, which we thought that this was all about, you have to get some of those 15 percent in the middle to say, I like you enough to go against my, maybe gut instinct as a Democrat and I am going to vote for you the way some people might have voted for George W. Bush against Al Gore. Or for George H. W. Against Dukakis. You know that guy in the tank. He is a little guy. We like a guy with more experience. I'm a democrate but I am going to vote for George W. Bush. Reagan against Carter.

Now, Trump was, he was, he was winning Republican primary's and caucausus's after primary's and caucausus's. But, if you look at those who participated in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania that he won, you know that is a very small sliver of the country. It's not enough to win the election. If you ask well, you know, this, what he's doing to whip up his base, could ultimately be successful in the Summer and the Fall. Or he's not paying the price to, of fat shaming women, or making fun of John McCain's imprisonment, or calling Mexicans rapists, or making fun of Serge Kovaleski and his muscular disorder; when he was pushing back against Kovaleski who said, who wrote about there weren't people cheering in the Hudson River when the Trade Centers went down.

I would go back to that first image I showed tracking poll of what happened in June. And the same thing happened to Trump in June, that happened to Mitt Romney in June when that ad started running, to John Carey when that ad started running, to Mike Dukakis when that ad started running. Any fever that existsed positive for Trump, was broken by the millions of dollars that Hillary raised and turned into negative advertising.

So that this moment which, you know what? I think a lot of us had forgotten by April and May. We were on the Trump train man! He was the nominee and he was kicking butt. But finally when, you know, when Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, and John Kasich succumbed, then it was time for Hillary to unleash the real weaponry. Which is going back and reminding all of us who watch cable T.V.. MSNBC, CNN, but also Fox News, 30 seconds after 30 seconds, we have forgotten about this moment until things like this were put on the air.

Advertisment 3: I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher folks. And you can tell them to go "beep" themselves. I could stand in the middle of 5th ave and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters okay? It's like incredible. When Mexico sends it's people, they are brining drugs, they are bringing crime. They're rapists.

You know you can see where there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. You got to see this guy, ooooh, I don't know what I said ahhhh. I don't remember!

Hillary: Our children and granchildren will look back at this time. At the choices we are about to make. The goals we will strive for. The principles we will live by. And we need to make sure that they can be proud of us. I'm Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

Josh: So, you know, again this doesn't speak wonderfully about our process. But this is why Hillary goes to Hollywood and the Hamptons. Raises all that dough. So that right about here, when he's beating all of his foes and he's headed up. He is going to be knocked backed down because images like that, done creatively and powerfully are going to remind us of all the crap that he spewed I the prior eight months. So, you know, if this trend gets switched up and he wins, the thesis is dead. But, the way I see it is, it's just another failed Republican, it's a failed Republican campaign that shouldn't have failed.

Speaker 5: But don't you feel that the crap that he did in some sense qualatativly or substandidly different than getting in a tank with a funny helmet, or having a killer rabbit

Josh: Yeah

Speaker 5:  Chase you on a fishing trip...

Josh: Yeah, no I don't.

Speaker 5: I mean it's, it's not just a bad optic, or an optic that is neutral that gets repurposed.

Josh:  Yeah

Speaker 5:  It's substanative and deliberate. So there is something else in the mix here about how people are reacting to that, that goes beyond the understanding that it is about optics.

Josh:  Well, I mean if he gets more than,

Speaker 6:  Isn't the, let me ask you, he almost seen optic proof. He should be losing by a lot more than this if most of us were [inaudible 01:02:50]. And yet, for all of this Dukakis lost eventually in the end by a lot [inaudible 01:02:54] for a while. With all this stuff here, he still is as close as he is. Isn't that a wonder and some people say, I don't care. I'm still voting for him. Even though, you are saying that. So is he a good test or is he an outlyer?  [inaudible 01:03:09]

Josh: I think he's an outliar because the other side of this is she's terribly unpopular too. And she is not God's gift to, you know, to great candidates. You know, right now, if it was the generic Republican.  I mean how much have you read these Wiki leaks emails? I mean they expose her campaign, they exposed all the people like me and to all [inaudible 01:03:41] that they are involved with. And so if he didn't have all of this noise around him, that would be front page after front page. Revelation after revelation about how rigged, not rigged, but, how calculating this process is. So she is really a very lucky individual to have drawn him as her opponent.

And, you know, whether the final popular vote talley is 55/45 or factor in Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, you know, 48/39, 48/41. You know, lets judge by the electoral result and you don't, no one is, people will pull for the Republican or against this person who has been on our radar as in their view a liar and a shortcut taker and all the other inductive [inaudible 01:04:49] against Hillary Clinton since I worked for them back in '91 and '92.

So, he's toxic. But she is almost as toxic. And so, I still think we are headed toward a very lopsided electoral vote. Because all of which, because at the end of the day, all that matters when you know come January 21st you can start to see who is going to replace [inaudible 01:05:15]. That's the only stakes that are involved.

Speaker 5:  [inaudible 01:05:19] John McCain is we believe.  [inaudible 01:05:21]

Josh: Right. I mean you know, that's why you have all these wonderful surragates Michelle, Barak, Joe, Biden, and you dispatch thme in places like Arizona, and Georgia, Alaska. You know, places tht haven't been in play in a long time and you say if we can chip away at a few Senate seats and a few more House seats and declare a mandate. The states that haven't gone for a democrate in over 20 yers, she has a big mandate come January.  [inaudible 01:06:01] applause. 


Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing