ISSUES OF OPENNESS AND PRIVACY:
PRESS COVERAGE OF BETTY FORD'S BREAST CANCER
Myra Gregory Knight
4015 Bristol Road
Durham, North Carolina 27707
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RUNNING HEAD: ISSUES OF OPENNESS
Issues of Openness
Although the state of the President's health had been scrutinized by the press
for years, First Ladies generally were accorded more privacy. In the wake of
Watergate, however, Betty Ford's mastectomy suggested a new direction. This
article examines factors that figured in the change, the newspaper coverage that
ensued, and the public's reaction. The event was found to influence future White
House news coverage, the range of subjects suitable for public discussion and
the development of medical journalism.
Issues of Openness
First Ladies have rarely assumed their duties under less auspicious
circumstances than did Elizabeth Bloomer Ford. In the wake of Richard Nixon's
resignation on August 9, 1974, Gerald and Betty Ford confronted a demoralized
White House staff, a suspicious, defensive press corps and a shocked and
distracted Congress.1 The timing was less than ideal from Mrs. Ford's personal
standpoint. Weary of political life after her husband's thirteenth term in
Congress, she only recently had extracted his promise that he would retire at
the end of his next two-year term.2 Her hopes for a quiet life outside
Washington had been dashed when Spiro Agnew resigned and her husband had become
Nixon's vice president. Plagued by osteoarthritis and a pinched nerved in her
neck, she already was finding it difficult to fulfill her new obligations as
wife of the Vice President.3 Within weeks, she would undergo major surgery for
By the time the Fords relinquished the White House to Jimmy and Rosalynn
Carter, however, Mrs. Ford had made a lasting and highly favorable impression on
the American public. She had alerted other women to the benefits of early
detection of breast cancer. She had spoken out for feminist causes and helped to
secure higher and more responsible positions for women in government. During the
Presidential election campaigns of 1976, her popularity had risen to the extent
that many Ford campaign buttons read "Elect Betty's Husband" or "Keep Betty in
the White House."4 When a sore throat prevented her husband from speaking at the
end of the campaign, it was she who read the concession speech to their crushed
supporters. In 1982, her accomplishments were ranked by a group of historians as
sixth greatest among U.S. First Ladies.5
Most scholars who have examined Mrs. Ford's contributions as First Lady have
emphasized her championship of feminist causes. Historian Lewis L. Gould, for
example, saw Mrs. Ford as an "activist" in the mold of Eleanor Roosevelt.6 With
Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter, he said, Mrs. Ford expanded the
possibilities of the First Lady's role in the nation. Karen M. Rohrer, an
archivist at the Gerald R. Ford Library, cited Mrs. Ford's considerable efforts
on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, which ranged from an information
session on the subject for White House staffers to personal telephone calls to
legislators on key committees.7 Leesa E. Tobin, also an archivist at the Ford
library, suggested that Mrs. Ford's most important roles were securing political
appointments for women and helping to legitimize feminist issues within the
middle class.8 Both Tobin and feminist scholar Betty Boyd Caroli observed that
few Washington insiders had expected Mrs. Ford to make much of a mark as First
Lady. Tobin cited a Washington Post article from 1954, which asserted that "Mrs.
Ford believes that wives of congressmen look better on a speaking platform when
they're saying nothing."9 Caroli noted that Mrs. Ford applied the popular image
of a Stepford Wives-style robot to herself when hearing of her husband's
elevation to Vice President: "Just wind me up and point me in the right
direction, and I'll be there."10 Mrs. Ford's own words seemed to condemn the
notion that political wives should be more than attractive appendages or
competent hand-shakers and hostesses.
The press's treatment of Mrs. Ford's mastectomy in September 1974, however,
suggested a change of direction, both for Mrs. Ford and for the position of
First Lady. Although the state of the President's health had been closely
followed by the news media since Dwight D. Eisenhower's heart attack in 1955,11
First Ladies had demanded and been accorded more privacy. In 1957, for example,
when Mamie Eisenhower underwent a hysterectomy at Walter Reed Medical Hospital,
reporters were told only that a gynecologist had performed "a two-hour operation
. . . similar to those many women undergo in middle age."12 In contrast, Mrs.
Ford's admission to the hospital was announced before her biopsy took place.
Moreover, the diagnosis and course of action were described to reporters while
she was still on the operating table.13 Several scholars have discussed the
importance of her openness about the mastectomy in helping to establish her
popularity.14 Caroli, however, credits Mrs. Ford with acknowledging the truth
but downplays her role in deciding how to treat the issue.15
Press coverage of Mrs. Ford's mastectomy merits a closer look for several
reasons. First, coming so soon after her husband's elevation to President, the
operation provided an early test of the Ford Administration and its press
officers. Similarly, as a news event involving the First Family, it provided an
opportunity for the White House press corps to adjust its reporting in the wake
of Watergate. In addition, since the event focused directly on a First Lady
still unfamiliar to the general public, it promised to set the stage for her
future activities in the White House. Finally, while Mrs. Ford has been hailed
as a role model for breast-cancer prevention, the implications of her operation
for medical news coverage may not have been fully explored.
This study will attempt to answer the following questions: 1) What factors
figured into the decision to break with tradition and "go public" with Mrs.
Ford's story? 2) How did major newspapers cover the story? and 3) Did
commentators universally applaud the decision?
The study will focus on newspaper articles from five large and influential
newspapers: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the
Atlanta Constitution, and the Los Angeles Times, beginning with the
announcement of Mrs. Ford's biopsy on September 28, 1974, and continuing through
October 31, two weeks after her return to the White House. In an effort to
explain the decision favoring openness, the study also will examine
autobiographies of the Fords and their press secretaries, Ron Nessen and Sheila
Rabb Weidenfeld, and articles and comment in three media trade publications,
Broadcasting, Editor & Publisher, and The Columbia Journalism Review.16
Mrs. Ford was admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital six weeks after her husband's
swearing-in as President and only three weeks after his pardon of former
President Nixon. The timing was significant and undoubtedly figured in decisions
about how the operation was covered. The specter of Watergate loomed large over
both the media and the new Administration the media sought to cover. Media trade
publications of the day were filled with openness and access issues.17 Topics of
intense debate included the frequency of White House news conferences, the
format of the news conferences, and access rights to the Nixon White House
tapes. The change in administration had brought new faces to the White House
press corps, including that of National Broadcasting Corporation correspondent
Ron Nessen. He and many of his colleagues had watched the reporters who covered
Nixon get "scooped" on the Watergate story by the unlikely team of Bob Woodward
and Carl Bernstein. The newcomers were eager to prove themselves and determined
not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.18 Their relationship with
President Ford, however, had gotten off to a rocky start with Ford's pardon of
Nixon. Jerald terHorst, a highly regarded print journalist who had worked as
Ford's press secretary for less than a month, resigned in protest. A barrage of
editorials criticizing Ford's decision ensued.19
The Fords were well aware of the need for change. Shortly after pardoning
Nixon, President Ford held a press conference and pledged to be open and candid
with the media. As his second press secretary, he chose Ron Nessen, whose skill
and objectivity had impressed him even before Nessen's appointment by NBC as
White House correspondent. Nessen quickly set out to mend Ford's relationships
with reporters. During his first week on the job, he discussed with his staff
ways to "give the appearance of being more open."20 The President also worked to
put symbolic distance between his Administration and that of his predecessor. He
banished electronic listening devices in the Oval Office and forbade the Marine
band to play "Hail to the Chief."21 At the first gala social event he and Mrs.
Ford held, the couple did not retire after the entertainment, as had been the
Nixons' custom. Instead, the Fords remained with their guests and danced long
into the night.22
Similarly, Mrs. Ford's attitude toward the role of First Lady differed from
that of Mrs. Nixon. Soon after the Nixons' departure, one holdover from their
staff drew up a list of activities he considered appropriate for the new First
Lady. The list included entertaining veterans, giving interviews to women's
magazines, planning a fashion show and teaching Sunday School.23 Mrs. Ford,
however, soon gave notice that she had other ideas. At the first full-fledged
press conference a First Lady had held since 1952, she told reporters she
favored greater political participation by women, agreed with the recent Supreme
Court decision on abortion, and planned to work for the Equal Rights Amendment.
While recuperating from her mastectomy, she replaced two high-ranking members of
Mrs. Nixon's staff with women of her own choosing. She also made changes to the
White House living quarters. The former First Lady's bedroom was transformed
into a study, and a double bed was placed in the President's bedroom.24 The new
arrangements ensured that Mrs. Ford had greater access to the President--and
thus greater opportunity to influence him--than had her predecessor.
Though Mrs. Ford participated in decisions related to media coverage of her
mastectomy, the extent of her involvement early in the process is unclear. Her
own staff had not yet been appointed, so the matter was handled through Nessen,
who regarded the situation as his "first crisis."25 In his memoirs, Nessen
recalled that he and the President decided to delay the announcement of Mrs.
Ford's biopsy until she had completed her scheduled activities and entered the
hospital. Nessen also took credit for making information and experts available
to the press while the operation was still under way. "Except for the brief
initial concealment, we made the decision to be extraordinarily candid and
complete in reporting on her operation and aftermath. . . . We produced doctors
for briefings, which were so detailed and technical in parts that they might
have stumped a medical class."26 Gerald Ford's account of the event is
consistent with Nessen's, though his emphasis is more on his feelings at the
time and less on the decision-making process. Mrs. Ford's biography, however,
suggests that the decision favoring openness was hers. "Lying in the hospital,
thinking of all those women going to cancer checkups because of me, I'd come to
recognize more closely the power of the women in the White House," she wrote.
"Not my power, but the power of the position, a power which could be used to
help."27 Regardless of who made the decision, considerable detail about the
operation, the medical decisions and treatment, and the patient's health status
were provided to reporters starting in the late afternoon of September 28.28 Had
Mrs. Ford not concurred, the reports could have been stopped and the media asked
to allow her more privacy. The reports did not stop. News updates and related
information continued to flow from the hospital twice daily through October 3
and then once daily until her discharge.29 She posed for photographers with her
family and provided information to be used by reporters. As a result of the
publicity, she received 55,800 cards and messages of goodwill from the general
public. About ten percent of the personal letters came from women who had
undergone a similar operation.30
Mrs. Ford's breast cancer made headlines in leading newspapers across the
country. The five newspapers examined for this study not only covered the story,
but gave it prominent treatment. All five published at least three front-page
articles about her illness during her two-week hospitalization. Those articles
announced her biopsy, reported her mastectomy and discussed the finding that
cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. All five newspapers also reported her
return to the White House, though only The Washington Post placed that news on
its front page.31 All of the newspapers ran at least one photo of Mrs. Ford to
accompany the mastectomy story.
The Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune augmented their
coverage with other front-page stories about her treatment or progress.
Front-page placement occurred most often in the Post. The Post reported results
from a new, National Cancer Institute study about the relative merits of three
types of breast-cancer treatments.32 It followed two days later with criticisms
of that study. After the White House released a photo of Mrs. Ford in her
hospital bed reading a get-well card from the Senate, the Post placed that on
its front page. The Los Angeles Times gave front-page placement to a story about
the strain of Mrs. Ford's surgery on President Ford.33 The Los Angeles Times
also reprinted on its front page a Post article about Mrs. Ford's condition the
day after her surgery.34 It ran the White House photo of Mrs. Ford on its front
page to accompany a United Press International story about her progress.35 The
Chicago Tribune gave front-page placement to a UPI story analyzing the possible
effects of Mrs. Ford's health on the 1976 Presidential campaign.36 In all, the
Post ran seven front-page articles or photos; the Los Angeles Times, six; the
Chicago Tribune, four; the New York Times , three; and the Atlanta
Though news coverage of Mrs. Ford's breast cancer was widespread, newspapers
differed in their focus. Some emphasized medical issues, while others looked
more closely at political or human-interest angles. From the start, The
Washington Post emphasized medical issues. On the same day it reported Mrs.
Ford's admission to Bethesda Naval Hospital, for example, the Post published a
companion article, "One Woman in 15 Develops Cancer of the Breast in U.S."37 The
article not only discussed the incidence of the disease but also the controversy
surrounding radical mastectomies, and the development of demonstration centers
to promote advanced breast-cancer detection techniques. Over the next three
days, the Post provided two other medical companion pieces to its stories about
Mrs. Ford's surgery and progress.38 In both cases, the stories ran under a
common headline on the paper's front page accompanied by at least one photo.
The New York Times also emphasized medical issues, but it explored a broader
range of angles. It was the only major newspaper examined to discuss the
psychological effects of breast cancer39 and the only one to publish an article
with diagrams showing how to conduct a breast self-examination for potentially
cancerous lumps.40 The New York Times also reported on how the First Lady's
illness affected her family, but it tended to carry such news as sidebars. The
day after Mrs. Ford's surgery, for example, a short, United Press International
article saying that her husband might choose not to run in the 1976 presidential
election campaign was placed beneath a longer article detailing her condition
The Los Angeles Times, in contrast, focused more on the President and political
issues. On the day it reported Mrs. Ford's mastectomy, its major companion
pieces dealt with the cost of her hospital suite, the President's reaction to
her operation and his cancellation of a trip to the West. The story about costs
noted that Mrs. Ford's five-room presidential suite would cost $133 a day, a
flat rate set for the use of the suite by civilian dependents of civilian
VIPs.42 An article on the President's reaction to his wife's diagnosis appeared
even higher on the front page than the news of her mastectomy. The article
reported that "Gerald Ford showed his mettle" in speaking at the event despite
the diagnosis of a malignancy. "His square-set shoulders were hunched over the
microphone and his hand trembled as he turned the pages of manuscript," the
article said. "But he kept his head down, and the only certain evidence of
strong emotions held in check was an unaccustomed falter in the usually firm
Treatment of Mrs. Ford's operation in The Atlanta Constitution and the Chicago
Tribune was more conventional than in the other papers. The Constitution tended
to emphasize the human-interest angles of Mrs. Ford's operation. It devoted a
separate article to Bob Hope's visit at Mrs. Ford's bedside44 and was the only
newspaper other than the Post to carry articles about Susan Ford's efforts as
White House hostess in her mother's absence.45 Although the Constitution did
publish a series of articles based on a new book about breast cancer, the series
was not keyed to its stories about Mrs. Ford.46 The Constitution published only
one staff-written article related to breast cancer, which explained how to
perform a breast self-examination.47 Illustrations were omitted. The Tribune
published the fewest articles related to Mrs. Ford's operation and generally
emphasized her treatment and progress. Exceptions included two stories in the
paper's "Metropolitan" section, one about women's increasing requests for breast
examinations48 and the other a report by its science editor on new
Mrs. Ford's breast cancer prompted news stories on a variety of medical issues,
particularly in newspapers that employed science or medical writers. In
Washington, D.C., news of Mrs. Ford's biopsy coincided with long-awaited results
from a National Cancer Institute study of three breast-cancer treatment options.
Medical writer Victor Cohn of The Washington Post quickly grasped the relevance
of the study to the First Lady's situation, which he explained in an article
titled "Study Questions Operation."50 Other newspapers, including the Chicago
Tribune, followed with their own versions of the story.51 Cohn also wrote
separate stories about the incidence of breast cancer among women in general and
about criticisms of the Cancer Institute study. At The New York Times, veteran
medical reporter Jane Brody filed five stories during Mrs. Ford's
hospitalization.52 Her contributions included analyzing the new Cancer Institute
study, explaining why fast action was important in breast cancer cases, and
describing the increasing requests for appointments at breast cancer clinics. At
the Los Angeles Times, medical writer Harry Nelson discussed treatment options
and incorporated statistics in his highly detailed accounts of Mrs. Ford's
operation and lab reports. The Post and New York Times also devoted separate
articles to several less-commonly covered issues such as post-operative
chemotherapy, the psychological effects of breast cancer and patient
participation in decision-making. Among the most unusual articles was a
first-person account of breast cancer, "Breast Cancer Surgery," which appeared
in the Post's "Outlook" section. The article explained the advantages and
disadvantages of five types of breast-cancer surgery, described the author's
difficulties in finding a suitable surgeon, and illustrated with a line drawing
the position of the lymph nodes in relation to the breasts.53
The Atlanta Constitution confined its discussion of medical issues primarily to
a series of five articles written by Philip Strax, a medical doctor and author
of the book, Early Detection: Breast Cancer Is Curable. The series, a
condensation of the book in question-and-answer format, dealt with breast cancer
issues such as self-examination, surgical options, personal risk, and incidence
of the disease.54 The Constitution also localized its coverage of the
breast-cancer issue with a staff-written article describing a seminar on
breast-cancer detection sponsored by a Cobb County hospital.55
Mrs. Ford's breast cancer drew considerable comment, from both editorial
writers and newspaper readers. Three of the five newspapers reviewed for this
study carried editorials related to Mrs. Ford's breast cancer. The New York
Times and the Chicago Tribune each carried two. All of the editorials were
complimentary to Mrs. Ford. "Mrs. Ford has set an admirable example in dealing
forthrightly with an area still frequently beclouded by irrational flights from
reality," said The New York Times, only one day after her operation. The Times
noted that advances in research and increasing efforts at early detection had
"dramatically improved the cancer victim's chances of return to full health."56
When Happy Rockefeller, the wife of the Vice President-designate, detected a
lump in her breast and underwent a mastectomy three weeks after Mrs. Ford's, the
Times again stressed the advantages of early detection and praised both women
for setting "an admirable example for the response to the disease with the means
now available."57 The Chicago Tribune likewise applauded the women's courage,
saying they "had what it takes to face a dreadful fact and act on it promptly. .
. .They will now, we are sure, teach women everywhere [and men, too] the second
part of this lesson: that the loss of a cancerous breast is not a
life-shattering tragedy."58 The Tribune also carried an editorial criticizing
news coverage of the issue by columnist Mary McGrory of the Washington Star-News
Syndicate. McGrory fretted about the effect of the publicity on the First Lady,
observing that Mrs. Ford was not an elected official: "People say that since
it's the First Lady, we have the right to know, but do we? What about her right
to privacy?"59 The Atlanta Constitution carried a short, staff-written editorial
about Mrs. Ford on October 3. It called her "a woman of courage," noting not
quite accurately that she "appeared at a Washington ceremony, smiling and
gracious, after learning that she had breast cancer and faced an operation."60
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times also published
letters to the editor commenting on Mrs. Ford's breast cancer and the media's
efforts to inform readers about the issues surrounding it. At least two letters
noted that publicity of the operation had highlighted the need for regular
medical check-ups and breast self-examinations.61 Other letters raised questions
about the quality of breast-cancer research and treatment. One former
breast-cancer patient described an article about surgical options in the Post as
"informative and interesting. . . . I learned more from the article than from my
surgeons," she wrote.62 Another Post reader commented on the standard
biopsy-radical mastectomy chosen to treat Mrs. Ford:
Isn't it strange that with all the ingenious accomplishments to our nation's
First Lady is still given a conventional treatment used 22 year ago, and for
many decades before that, to assure the cure for the illness? . . . Contrary
to the ad
which proclaims that we women "have come a long way," breast cancer
generally seems stymied on the doorstep to the twentieth century. Are our
A reader of the Los Angeles Times proposed that the federal government
inaugurate a cancer-detection campaign to help stamp out breast cancer and that
it provide the testing without change.64
Though letters to the editor often praised Mrs. Ford, some readers were
concerned about the effect of the extensive news coverage on her well-being or
that of other cancer patients. "Do you think it is important that the whole
world know of her misfortune?" asked a Los Angeles Times reader. "This is a very
private and traumatic experience and should be handled with delicacy."65 A Post
reader questioned that paper's use of cancer-survival statistics. "I am a cancer
patient under care at NIH," she wrote. "Until I read your paper I had thought
that my chances were very good of leading a normal life."66 One of the most
blistering commentaries on press coverage came from Mary Foley, then president
of the National Student Nurses Association. She decried the "sports event"
atmosphere surrounding Mrs. Ford's surgery and called the publication of details
related to the First Lady's diagnosis and prognosis a "serious breach of medical
ethics. . . . Even the President was subject to hearing first-hand reports of
his wife's condition on the radio or TV, handled in a very impersonal and
While readers were busy discussing the levels of press coverage accorded the
First Lady's operation and raising questions about related issues, media trade
publications were largely consumed with other pursuits. Only a handful of
articles in Broadcasting, Editor & Publisher or Columbia Journalism Review dealt
with Mrs. Ford or breast-cancer issues. The most directly relevant appeared in
Editor & Publisher under the headline "Breast Cancer Stories Have News
Interest." The article described information available to reporters from the
American Cancer Society and provided comment from medical writers and Cancer
Society officials. Jane Brody, a reporter for the New York Times described the
audience for her stories as "captive." "I had no trouble at all getting the
space I felt the breast cancer stories needed."68 A wire service reporter
attributed the public's interest as "a combination of Mrs. Ford's mastectomy and
the NIH report suggesting a less radical surgical procedure might produce
results just as good as the traditional operation.69 Marv Munro, director of
public information of the New York City division of the American Cancer Society,
said media coverage on breast cancer had been responsible and "contributed
substantially in motivating women in getting examinations."70 The article
carried advice from the Society's director of press suggesting that the use of
the word "breakthrough" be banned from cancer coverage. The trouble with some
reporting, he said, is that reports of advances are sometimes exaggerated and
give readers false hope. The article also noted that some newspapers had elected
not to use pictures of breasts.71
Broadcasting followed closely Ron Nessen's activities as press secretary and
Gerald Ford's efforts to court the media but took no notice of Mrs. Ford's
breast cancer or media coverage of related issues. Columbia Journalism Review
also ignored Mrs. Ford. Its publication of a scathing attack on the medical
bureaucracy in January 1975, however, might have been prompted by the news
stories she generated. The article, by the publisher of a Washington-based
newsletter, Science & Government Report, questioned the medical bureaucracy's
insistence on "cautious optimism" in the nation's widely publicized war on
cancer. Using American Cancer Society statistics, the article argued that cancer
survival rates had risen from about one in five in the 1930s to one in three by
the mid-l970s but that much of the improvement stemmed from the postwar
introduction of antibiotics and blood transfusions. Thus, more patients were not
surviving cancer, but rather cancer operations that previously killed them. "It
is useful to contemplate certain curious and gruesome parallels that are
beginning to appear between the reporting of this 'war' and the early bulletins
from Vietnam," he wrote.72 The Cancer Society's heated reply appeared as a
letter to the editor in the following issue of the Review. Written by the
Society's science editor, the letter challenged the publisher's scientific
credentials, cited Society efforts to prevent cancer and improve cancer
detection, and blamed patients for the disappointing improvements in survival.
"Omitted in the article is the essential fact that it would be possible to save
one in two patients if they would do for themselves what they can, using
knowledge we have in hand today regarding early diagnosis, and known, effective
treatment," the editor wrote.73 Media trade publications, then, were aware of
the breast-cancer issue but allotted it limited space.
The treatment of Betty Ford's breast cancer story marked a substantial shift in
news coverage of the White House. Reporters' close attention to the First Lady's
surgery, including its emotional impact on her husband and family, expanded the
watchdog function of the White House press corps beyond the Presidency itself.
The scope of coverage suggested that all of the people and events surrounding
the President stood to influence him and, by extension, the welfare of the
nation. Thus, all such people and events were newsworthy. The occurrence of Mrs.
Ford's surgery so soon after Watergate, the new Administration's need to shed
the trappings of Nixon's "imperial Presidency" and Mrs. Ford's own personality
and inclination toward openness all figured in the change of direction.
In addition, news coverage of Mrs. Ford's breast cancer helped to expand the
range of subjects that newspapers felt comfortable in discussing. Major
newspapers paid close attention to her diagnosis, treatment and progress and
often displayed their stories prominently. Some also delved into a wide variety
of related medical issues. The issues most frequently covered included
incidence, survival rates, early detection and treatment options. The novelty of
breast-cancer surgery as a front-page topic is suggested by editorial writers'
frequent allusions to Mrs. Ford's openness or courage. Yet while readers
sometimes criticized the intensity with which Mrs. Ford's operation was covered,
the propriety of breast cancer as a news topic rarely was questioned. Even the
publication of breast illustrations seemed to raise few eyebrows. Readers were
more likely to comment on the stories' helpfulness or informational value.
Medical writers and trade publications alike noted the fascination that the
breast cancer stories held for the general public.
Media and public response to Mrs. Ford's breast cancer set the stage for
important changes in medical journalism. In bringing down the wall of silence
surrounding breast cancer, newspaper coverage of Mrs. Ford's ordeal opened the
way for public discussion of other taboo health topics. As Ronald Reagan's
physical examinations later would illustrate, not even intestinal polyps were
considered off limits.74 News coverage about Mrs. Ford also demonstrated the
potential of newspapers as a channel for encouraging healthy behaviors. It
suggested that the First Family and other newsmakers could function as role
models, as did Mrs. Ford in promoting the value of periodic breast examinations
by medical professionals. Reader enthusiasm for information about breast cancer
also helped to boost medicine from specialized columns on the inside pages of
newspapers to front-page news. In the process, it provided opportunities for
reporters interested in writing about public health, many of whom were women. At
the New York Times, for example, Jane Brody's articles on medical topics
attracted a large following. Her writings on health and nutrition later were
syndicated, which led to several books and a television series.75 Finally, the
attention accorded Mrs. Ford's breast cancer raised questions about medical
accountability to the general public. The publication of Greenberg's article by
the Columbia Journalism Review alerted journalists to the growing power of the
medical establishment and its potential to abuse public money and trust. Today's
journalists are more inclined than their predecessors of the pre-Ford era to
look closely and how medicine is practiced and health care dollars are spent.
The public, consequently, is better informed about health-related issues.
1For further explanation of the media situation, see Mark J. Rozell, The Press
and the Ford Presidency (Ann Arbor, 1992). For a description of the White House
staff, see Ron Nessen, It Sure Looks Different from the Inside (New York, 1978),
2Betty Ford with Chris Chase, The Times of My Life (New York, 1978), p. 142.
3Ford, p. 150.
4Ford, p. 258.
5Thomas Kelly and Douglas Lonnstrom, published in Betty Boyd Caroli, First
Ladies (New York, 1987), p. 385.
6Lewis L. Gould, "Modern First Ladies in Historical Perspective," Presidential
Studies Quarterly, 15(1985), pp. 532-540.
7Karen M. Rohrer, "'If There Was Anything You Forgot to Ask . . .": The Papers
of Betty Ford," Prologue 19 (1987), pp. 143-153.
8Leesa E. Tobin, "Betty Ford as First Lady: A Woman for Women," Presidential
Studies Quarterly 20 (1990), pp. 761-767.
9Tobin, p. 761.
10 Caroli, p. 248.
11Myron K. Jordan, "Presidential Health Reporting: The Eisenhower Watershed,"
American Journalism 4,3 (1987), pp. 133-146.
12Caroli, p. 217.
13Nessen, p. 22.
14Paul F. Boller, Jr., Presidential Wives (New York, 1988), p. 426; Caroli, p.
302; Rohrer, pp. 145-146.
15Caroli, p. 302.
16This group of publications includes two national news dailies, The Washington
Post and The New York Times, which help to set the rhythm of Washington news,
and three big city newspapers that are trend-setters with their regions. The
trade publications chosen reflect print, broadcast and general journalistic
17Examples include Jane Levere, "President Ford Pledges "Openness and Candor,"
Editor & Publisher (17 August 1974), 7; "Media Manipulation by the President?"
Broadcasting (21 October 1974), 42-43; and "Media Groups Press Congress for
Information Veto Override," Editor & Publisher (26 October 1974), 7.
18Nessen, p. 29.
19Rozell, p. 53.
20Nessen, p. 18.
21Gerald R. Ford, A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford (New
York, 1979), p. 126.
22Gerald R. Ford, p. 141.
23Tobin, p. 762.
24Sheila Rabb Weidenfeld, First Lady's Lady (New York, 1979), p. 38.
25Nessen, p. 19.
26Nessen, p. 22.
27Betty Ford, p. 194.
28Nessen, p. 22.
29"Betty Ford 'Ahead' in Her Recovery," Atlanta Constitution, 4 October 1974,
30Rohrer, p. 145.
31A large photo of the President, Mrs. Ford, and Susan Ford ran on A1; the
related article, on A2.
32Victor Cohn, "Study Questions Operation," Washington Post, 29 September
33John Saar, "Wife 'Would Want Me Here,' Somber Ford Tells Summit," Los Angeles
Times, 29 September 1974, sec. 1, p. 1.
34Stuart Auerbach, "Mrs. Ford Tired but Takes a Few Steps," Los Angeles Times,
30 September, 1974, sec.1, p. 1.
35"Mrs. Ford Glad Her Illness May be Aiding Others," Los Angeles Times, 4
October 1974, sec. 1, p. 1.
36"Ford Hints '76 Switch Because of Wife," Chicago Tribune, 30 September 1974,
sec. 1, p. 1.
37Victor Cohn, Washington Post, 28 September 1974, A12.
38Cohn, "Study Questions . . .," A1; Cohn, "Surgery Study Hit," Washington
Post, 1 October 1974, A1.
39Judy Klemesrud,"After Breast Cancer Operations, A Difficult Emotional
Adjustment," New York Times, 1 October 1974, sec. 1, p. 46.
40Nancy Hicks, "Lesson on Examining Breasts Draws Crowd," New York Times, 19
October 1974, sec. 1, p. 32.
41"Ford Hints at Change In '76 Election Plans," New York Times, 30 September
1974, sec.1, p. 27.
42"Ford Suite's Cost Put at $133 a Day," Los Angeles Times, 29 September 1974,
sec. 1, p. 16.
43Saar, "Wife 'Would Want Me . . .," sec. 1, p. 1.
44"Mrs. Ford Delighted by Bob Hope Visit," Atlanta Constitution, 6 October
45"Ford, 17-Year-Old Susan Host Diplomatic Corps," Atlanta Constitution, 6
October 1974, 2-A; "Susan Ford Substitutes as Reception's Hostess," Atlanta
Constitution, 7 October 1974, 2-B.
46Philip Strax, "Breast Cancer Uncommon; Fear Is Not," Atlanta Constitution, 1
October 1974, 6-B; Philip Strax, "There's No Way To Predict," Atlanta
Constitution, 2 October 1974, 13-B; Philip Strax, "Lump Usually Non-Cancerous,"
Atlanta Constitution, 3 October 1974, 5-C; Philip Strax, "Self-Examine Breasts
Each Month," Atlanta Constitution, 4 October 1974, 3-C; Philip Strax, "Deciding
Type of Surgery," Atlanta Constitution, 5 October 1974, 9-B.
47Kaye Cagle, "More Checking For Cancer Now," Atlanta Constitution, 4 October
48Brenda Stone, "Thousands Seek Breast Cancer Examinations and Information,"
Chicago Times, 3 October 1974, sec. 2, p. 1.
49Ronald Kotulak, "Detection Plan Raises Hopes in Cancer Fight," Chicago Times,
4 October 1974, sec. 2, p. l.
50Cohn, "Study Questions . . .," A1.
51Kotulak, "Detection Plan . . .," sec. 2, p. 1.
52Carla Marie Rupp, "Breast Cancer Stories Have News Interest," Editor &
Publisher, 26 October 1974, 22.
53Rose Kushner, "Breast Cancer Surgery," Washington Post, 6 October 1974, C1.
54See footnote 44.
55Cagle, "More Checking . . .," 9-A.
56"Mrs. Ford's Ordeal," New York Times, 30 September 1974, sec.1, p. 34.
57"Courage vs. Cancer," New York Times, 18 October 1974, sec. 1, p. 40.
58"Two Courageous Women," Chicago Tribune, 21 October 1974, sec. 2, p. 2.
59Mary McGrory, "Betty's Brought Us Together," Chicago Tribune, 7 October 1974,
sec. 2, p. 4.
60"A Woman of Courage," Atlanta Constitution, 3 October 1974, 4-A.
61Judy Ross and Etha Bradford in "Mrs. Ford's Mastectomy," Los Angeles Times, 3
October 1974, sec. 2, p. 4.
62Mary A. VanSant in "Mrs. Ford's Operation," Washington Post, 8 October 1974,
63Miriam Wiener in "Mrs. Ford's Operation," Washington Post, 8 October 1974,
64Freda G. Olmstead in "Mrs. Ford's Mastectomy," Los Angeles Times, 3 October
1974, sec. 2, p. 4.
65Anne Stewart in "Mrs. Ford's Mastectomy," Los Angeles Times 3 October 1974,
sec. 2, p. 4.
66Anneliese M. Mitchell in "Mrs. Ford's Operation," Washington Post, 8 October
67Mary Foley, "Of Our First Lady and the 'Spectators,'" New York Times, 31
October 1974, sec.1, p. 40.
68Carla Marie Rupp, "Breast Cancer Stories . . .," 22.
69Carla Marie Rupp, "Breast Cancer Stories . . .," 22.
70Carla Marie Rupp, "Breast Cancer Stories . . .," 24.
71Carla Marie, Rupp, "Breast Cancer Stories . . .," 24.
72Daniel S. Greenberg, "A Critical Look at Cancer Coverage," Columbia
Journalism Review, January/February 1975, 40.
73Alan C. Davis, "ACS Defends 'Cautious Optimism,'" Columbia Journalism Review,
March/April 1975, 61.
74See, for example, Henry Fairlie, "Political Ailments: King Ron and His Royal
Polyps," The New Republic, 12 August 1985, 8-9.
75Anastasia Toufexis, "See Jane Run (And Do Likewise); Columnist Brody Hectors
Americans Into Better Habits," Time, 10 November 1986, 98.
Atlanta Constitution, September 28, 1974-December 31, 1974.
Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1974-December 31, 1974.
Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1974-December 31, 1974.
New York Times, September 28, 1974-December 31, 1974.
Washington Post, September 28, 1974-December 31, 1974.
Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Wives. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
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Davis, Alan C. "ACS Defends 'Cautious Optimism.'" Columbia Journalism Review,
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Fairlie, Henry. "Political Ailments: King Ron and His Royal Polyps." The New
12 August 1985, 8-9.
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Ford, Betty with Chris Chase. The Times of My Life. New York: Harper & Row,
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Jordan, Myron K. "Presidential Health Reporting: The Eisenhower Watershed."
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Levere, Jane. "President Ford Pledges 'Openness and Candor'," Editor &
August 1974, 7.
"Media Groups Press Congress for Information Veto Override," Editor & Publisher,
October 1974, 7.
"Media Manipulation by the President?" Broadcasting, 21 October 1974, 42-43.
Nessen, Ron. It Sure Looks Different from the Inside. Chicago: Playboy Press,
Rohrer, Karen M. "'If There Was Anything You Forgot to Ask . . .': The Papers of
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Rozell, Mark J. The Press and the Ford Presidency. Ann Arbor: The University of
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Rupp, Carla Marie. "Breast Cancer Stories Have News Interest." Editor &
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Tobin, Leesa E. "Betty Ford as First Lady: A Woman for Women." Presidential
Quarterly 20 (1990): 761-767.
Toufexis, Anastasia. "See Jane Run (And Do Likewise); Columnist Brody Hectors
Americans Into Better Habits," Time, 10 November 1986, 98.
Weidenfeld, Sheila Rabb. First Lady's Lady: With the Fords at the White House.
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