In The Selling of the President 1968, Joe McGinniss has described a TV broadcast during which Mr. Nixon faced some hard questions about his stance on Vietnam. After the show ended, “Roger Ailes went looking for Nixon. He wound up in an elevator with Nixon’s wife. She was wearing a green dress and she did not smile. One thought of the remark a member of Nixon’s staff had made: ‘Next to her, RN looks like Mary Poppins.’
“ ‘Hello, Mrs. Nixon,’ Roger Ailes said.
“She nodded. She had known him for months.
“ ‘How did you like the show?’ he asked.
“She nodded very slowly; her mouth was drawn in a thin, straight line.
“ ‘Everyone seems to think it was by far the best,’ Ailes said. ‘Especially the way he took care of that McKinney.’
“Pat Nixon stared at the elevator door. The car stopped. The door opened. She got off and moved down a hallway with the Secret Service men around her.”
Her possible thoughts?
Mr. Ailes is a loyal supporter, but these people can be a bit naïve.
Or: It pleases Mr. Ailes very much to think he’s found the way to elicit a positive response from me. Why should I comply just to please him?
Perhaps: “Mr. Ailes, has it ever occurred to you that I’m a serious person, and that the conclusions you have drawn with such certainty are expedient and self-serving?”
“If I were a vain woman I might turn the subject to myself—the same way, by being so outspoken, you turn the subject as much to yourself as to my husband. And so I might ask you whether you didn’t think this was the dandiest dress you’d seen in a long time, and whether we shouldn’t applaud: for my husband; for the advent of television; for your job; for my dress, which I tailored myself. What do you say, Dr. Pangloss?”
“Mr. Ailes, do you find it possible to think that yes, I am Mrs. Nixon, but I am also a woman on her way somewhere, that I am just passing through in a perfunctory way, and that even if I were to answer, whatever I say does not really matter?”
Better: “Will you remember tomorrow, Mr. Ailes, that when we spoke I was wearing a green dress? I will certainly remember that you were wearing a white shirt, because you don’t have as much leeway as I do, or the freedom most any woman does, about how to dress.”
“Forgive me for not answering, but the truth is that I am thinking about my own neatly styled hair and clothing. I don’t have to say a word, but you more or less have to say something to me, don’t you? So why not admire the dress I bought at Lord & Taylor and paid too much for, instead of pretending my husband is the only topic of interest. If you liked it, I might think better of you.”
“Oh, excuse me, I would so love to stay and discuss this, but you see, I brought my pet tortoise with me and it has run away, and I must try to find it before it buries itself in the dirt that is our lives.”
“Mr. Ailes, I may very well have forgotten to turn off the bathwater.”