Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Flashback: Mothers Death the Great Empty Calories Controversy Over Cereals and the Beginnings of a National Advertising Review Board and the Andrew Young Film Documentary.
[Memoirs of fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].
The 18-Year-Old Vote.
In 1970 once we resolved the giant Aunt Jemima controversy and I returned to the workaday world of corporate government relations, I got involved as a member of a non-profit organization in Illinois known as Project 18 which sought the passage of a constitutional amendment to allow people to cast their votes beginning at age 18 instead of 21. This seemed reasonable to me since young men were going to the Vietnam War at age 18 and even younger. Fellow conservatives warned me that this would be fatal to the Republican party since it would unleash a horde of young people who would be enticed by liberalism.
I felt that this was not the case. Later I joined the national board of the Youth Citizenship Fund in Washington, D. C. which was spearheading the drive for the 18 year-old vote. My judgment that youth would not be as liberal as they were billed was ratified when, in the first tryout of the youth vote, they voted overwhelmingly for Richard Nixon rather than George McGovern. The key was that while college kids were professedly liberal, the category also included many non-college, blue-collar and working kids who resented the university-trained elitists. It was the joy of my life to see on election night the horror projected by Walter Cronkite when he discovered that the vaunted generic youth vote was coming in conservative, easily topping the college crowd which voted not as spectacularly liberal as billed for McGovern.
When I arrived at OHare in March, 1972 after having come back from a Washington, D. C. trip which involved lobbying and attendance at the Youth Citizenship Fund, I was paged at the airport and told by my secretary that Mother was found dead by Lillian and Dr. H. H. Conley. It was a shock but not as much as one could imagine because I was warned by our family physician, H. H. Conley, that her heart was quite weak. She worked as paymaster in the Cook county Treasurers office until that office changed hands from Republican to Democrat with the election of 1970. She entreated me to find her another job and I tried (she was now seventy-four), getting her an interview with the U. S. Attorneys office as a clerical where she told me she was interviewed by a very nice young man who was at least 6 feet 6 inches tall, the deputy (which must have been Jim Thompson). But Dr. Conley urged me not to press the matter: she had no need to work (Father had left her well fixed), was seventy, with a heart condition. So I let it pass.
She gently rebuked me for not putting enough steam in the job search. I told her frankly that she should not work which, I fear, hurt herbut I was under orders to do so from the doctor. She thereupon joined some senior citizens organizations, went on day trips and soon attracted an elderly gentleman in the group who was rather smitten by her. Lillian and I have always been upset by the way she died. She had a fatal heart attack at home and had been trying to phone someoneperhaps either us or Conley. For some time thereafter whenever Lillian tried to call her she was told the line was busy. Once Lillian asked for a telephonic verification that the line was in use and the operator returned to say that it definitely was. Dubious, Lillian called Conley and the two of them went over to her house (this while I was in Washington) and found her.
She was 76 and as with Father, there has not been a day that has passed in which I have not thought of her and prayed for them both. She had come a long waywith only two years high school (this because she was eager to get to work), moving up at J. Walter Thompson to an executive position, Production Director, marrying Father, having me and going through the Depression, World War II and the travail with his having worked with the FBI, running his business along with him, providing him extraordinary love and counsel, becoming late in life a top official in the county treasurers office, attending my swearing-in when Lillian was expecting our fourth child; sniffing the atmosphere and saying, I think youre going to have some difficulty here; suffering what may well have been a heart attack when she visited us in Washington on the 4th of July which she shook off: she was an emblematic survivor of that generation which has been called the greatest.
Choates Great Breakfast Scam.
In the nation in the early `70s, a fascinating blow-up involving the breakfast food industry occurred triggered not by a nutritionist nor an expert of any kind on television advertising, but by a Harvard-educated civil engineer with a Brahmin accent, a Lincolnesque visage and a true mission to establish an utopia of perfect social justice on earth. He was Robert B. Choate, Jr., a handsome, lean man with a true British profile and an elegant eastern accent, one of the true Boston bluebloods, descendent of a Boston family that ranked with the Adamses, Cabots, Cushings, Crowninshields, Danas, Delanos, Eliots all the way down to the Lodges, Peabodys, Putnams, Quincys, Saltonstalls and the Welds. I got to know Bob Choate very well who was a few years older than I and kidded him that his name came from the English derivative of un-choate which in Middle English meant unformed. The word Brahmin which he typified nobly comes from the Indian caste system which means the purest personfitting in his stirring sense of public policy purpose. Nevertheless, difficult to fathom for a Brahmin pure critic and a food lobbyist, we became close personal friends and ultimately co-taught the same course at the Wharton School of Finance in 1974.
Choates pedigree equipped him for upper class, aristocratically liberal Republican crusader statusone with early New England Puritan heritage who believed himself destined to change the dreary mercantile-commercial world. His father had been editor of the Boston Herald-Traveler and he inherited his writing talent from him and his remarkable speaking skill from an early forebear. This was Rufus Choate [1799-1859], a descendent of a family which settled in Massachusetts in 1667. Rufus was by all odds the greatest Choate (after whom Bob named his first son), was an outstanding lawyer and politician, serving in the state House and state Senate, elected to Congress as a Whig.
Soon Rufus Choate developed an oratorical style that was the envy of the Congress, noted for his memorable defense of the protective tariff. He resigned from the House to practice law where he made a fortunebut in 1841 was enticed again to public service, elected to the U. S. Senate to succeed his friend Daniel Webster. He labored to win for Webster the Whig presidential nomination in 1852 which failed. Choate made a great mistake in spurning an offer to join the newly-forming Republican party; instead he gave his support to James Buchanan whom he considered the representative of a national rather than sectional movement.
While Rufus Choate was involved in sectional strife and trying to save the Union along with his friend Daniel Webster, his later relative Robert saw the need to spare children from what he called empty calories in their breakfast food. After having made a good bit of money as a civil engineer in Boston, Choate moved to Washington, got involved in public interest work and copied Ralph Nader who had made a huge impact criticizing automobile safety.
Then Bobby Kennedy started running for president against Lyndon Johnson beginning in 1967. Choate caught on with the Kennedy staff and accompanied the Senator to a group of southern states where rural poverty was examined. Thats when Choates vision of turning the nation on its ear with nutrition really got started. With Kennedys magnetic charisma, the nation sast entranced as TV documentaries featured hunger and near-starvation in the Appalachians. Choate was there when the Kennedy people crafted the legislation to fight hunger. I was away at Commerce when the big hunger hearings were held but Bob Thurston ably handled the appearance of our CEO at hearings scheduled by the Select Committee on Human Needs presided over by Sen. George McGovern. When Richard Nixon was elected, he had to have a hunger staff so Choate was hired as a consultant. Ironically enough, while I was being fired by Nixon the liberal Choate was reclining at a sumptuous desk in the Executive Office Building with armchairs and an antique fireplace. Is this a great country or what?
Now in Phase 2, Choate teamed up with one Jim Turner, a former Nader Raider (who later became a friend of mine as well) to develop the charge that sixty name-brand cereals fatten but do little to prevent malnutrition. The hunger issue had just died and the obese-kid issue was decades down the road so the media became exercised that the evil giant cereal companies were hustling kids to pick their sugar-filled cereals off the grocery shelves rather than concentrate on nutritious foods.
Choate had some interesting political connectionsand I wanted to explore what they were and connect myself to them if possible. He and Jim Turner had made a friend of Mike Pertschuk, a powerfully influential majority counsel for the U. S. Senate Commerce committee headed by Warren Magnuson (D-Washington). They convinced Pertschuk, a big government regulator wannabe that there was political gold in the issue of breakfast nutrition as there had been in Appalachian hunger. In short order, Magnuson passed the issue to Frank Moss (D-Utah), subcommittee chairman and Moss called hearings on the issue.
The hearings featured Bob Choate and he scored brilliantly, displaying a king-sized chart of 60 name-brand cereals with his listing on a scale of 900 of how many of nine different vitamins, minerals and protein they contained. The three: Kelloggs Product 19, General Mills Kaboom and Total. Two-thirds of the cereals including our Capn Crunch and Quisp and Quake ranked far below 100. Among them were the five bestsellersKelloggs Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Sugar Frosted Flakes along with General Mills Cheerios and Wheaties (Breakfast of Champions), Nabiscos Shredded Wheat (and our variant of Shredded Wheat) which finished last.
In that presentation, Choate captured my admiration for forensic duplicity if for nothing else while my fellow cereal lobbyists glowered because he was so stunningly demagogic. He ran some TV commercials which predictably sold cartoon characters (including our Capn Crunch) and scored front page attention across the nation by declaring that the lowest ranking 40 cereals offered empty caloriesnot more than a shot of whiskey, a term that can be applied to alcohol and sugar.
As he was talking about how TV commercials engage in what he called the seduction of the innocent he played a commercial of Tony the Tiger and right on cue, his tousled-haired four-year-old Rufus, a lovely child with a blonde resemblance to holy cards of the Child Jesus, ran from his seat in the audience to his father and hugged him, while Choate asked him as the network TV cameras whirred what intrigued him about Tony the Tiger and the kid, of course, turned his sweet little face up to his father and lisped that he pressured his mother to buy it because he loved the cartoon. That was dynamite for the networks which sorely wanted features to take peoples mind off Vietnam. It was the next big scandal.
Although industry lobbyists stalked out and got their lawyers to craft responses and to send spokesmen to the following days hearing, I did what I have always done in these circumstances: I wanted to discover what made Choate and his buddy Jim Turner tick. So after the hearing I caught up with them, took them to the Madison Hotel Montpelier restaurant as my guests, where we downed many glasses of empty calories as they filled me in on their craft how they centered on this approach, the foundations that funded them, how they interested Mike Pertschuk in this and the genesis of the hearings. From that time on, I was a kind of well I wont say double agent because they knew I was Quakers lobbyist but an informant who wanted to help my company respond to this demagoguery in an intelligent way. They quite willingly shared their data with me. And, of course, in major particulars it was wrongbut with the magnetism of the media lies circumvent the globe while the truth is still pulling on its boots.
My association with Choate was on the up-and-up. We never shared information that was pertinent to our respective causesbut I learned a great deal about the power of political movements stimulated by consumerism and TV, an interest that has never left me. When it came time for Quaker to testify, the company selected an outstanding representativenot a lawyer, not a CEO but a nutritionist named Dr. Robert Nesheim who in his flat, rural voice with a face that looked something like a homely Norman Rockwell character, did an outstanding job.
Quite soon, actually, the cereal issue died but Choate was busily expanding the issue of how children are importuned by television. It led me to move to the idea of developing a method for the advertising industry where it could develop a private self-control over advertising that could be socially responsible. We got company approval to set up a task force and for this I called on my old friend who had been with me at Commerce and who was now in the private practice of law in WashingtonBill Geimer. What we worked on would be known as the National Advertising Review Board, a wholly independent advisory board to combat bad taste and try to set some standards.
The Beginnings of Ad Self Regulation and Andrew Young.
At the same time, Bob Thurston who had moved steadily upward in the company and who was now on its Board, had the influence to not only encourage us to do the NARB project but to set aside some funds for an exciting television documentary project. Andrew Young who had been in Chicago with Martin Luther King had decided to move from civil rights organizing to run for Congress from the 2nd district in Georgiaan urban district which expanded to the suburbs a normally Republican one with 57 percent white population. Young was a far more interesting person than Jesse Jackson to my way of thinking because he could appeal to whites, white businessmen and the general majority community without sacrificing any of his civil rights convictions. We decided to have Quaker Oats finance a documentary of his forthcoming campaign for Congress. Our expectation was, frankly, that in the district he chose he could very likely losebut the story would be fascinating no matter which way the election went.
Bob Thurston thought of the title for the forthcoming film: From King to Congress. Anyhow, between the NARB and From King to Congress, I had plenty of interesting stuff to do.