Betty Ford's August 1975 60 Minutes interview

Betty Ford, the first lady of the United States, filmed an interview with Morley Safer for the television news program 60 Minutes,[1] which was broadcast on August 10, 1975.[2] It was the first extensive interview that Ford had granted exclusively to a television outlet since becoming first lady. The broadcast of the interview saw strong interest from the public. After it aired, a number of Ford's remarks on hot-button issues generated particularly great media attention.

Betty Ford sits in the White House solarium with Morley Safer before filming her 60 Minutes interview with him

Background edit

The 60 Minutes interview was the first extensive interview that Ford had granted exclusively to a television outlet since becoming first lady when her husband, Gerald Ford, became President upon the resignation of Richard Nixon on August 9, 1974.[3] It was arranged by the first lady's staff in order to better introduce her to the American public. Her staff believed that Safer would be able to highlight Ford's positive attributes.[4] Several other television producers were turned down as potential outlets for such an interview.[5] Ford had limited experience in similar media situations.[6]

The interview was filmed in the White House solarium on July 21, 1975.[3] The edited version was pre-screened and cleared for airing by the first lady's press office.[4] Ford later disclosed that she felt uncomfortable during the interview, that several of the questions "terrified her", and that the fact that the interview was taped made her feel forced to answer the questions.[6]

Content of the interview edit

 
Shafer interviewing Ford in the White House solarium

In the characteristically candid[7] interview, Ford discussed many topics. Great attention was paid to her discussion of how she would counsel her daughter if she was having a premarital affair, and to her declaration that she "would not be surprised" or angry if her daughter had an affair or tried smoking marijuana. Ford further speculated in the interview that all four of her children had likely already tried marijuana, and that she herself would have probably also experimented with it if it had been more popular to do so when she was growing up.[1][8][9][10][11] However, she also expressed faith that her children were largely uninterested in drugs.[11] Ford effectively remarked that she trusted her children to make wise decisions, and that she would be there for them even if they made unwise decisions.[6]

Ford also talked in the interview about being tolerant and respectful of unwed couples who opt to engage in cohabitation, comments that she would later feel had been taken out of context by the public.[2] She expressed full confidence in the marital fidelity of her husband, President Ford.[11]

In addition, Ford voiced support in the interview for a variety of women's liberation causes.[4] She called the Roe v. Wade decision of the United States Supreme Court on abortion "The best thing in the world...a great, great decision."[11] She also voiced her support for the Equal Rights Amendment.[5] However, Ford was also asked if she found some women's liberation advocates "a little bit hard to take", to which she responded that she did, and that she was not personally, "the type that's going to burn my bra or do something like that."[11]

Ford also shared that she was advised that there was no recurrence of the breast cancer for which she had been treated the previous year.[11] This question came on the heels of a demanding trip Ford took with her husband visiting Eastern Europe in which she showed clear signs of physical exhaustion at several points.[6]

Reactions edit

The broadcast of the interview saw strong interest from the public.[2] After it aired, a number of Ford's remarks in this interview on hot-button issues generated particularly great media attention.[10]

The interview received conservative backlash.[5] The National Review accused Ford of "rewriting the Ten Commandments over nationwide TV".[12] Protesters dubbed Ford "no lady" instead of the "first lady".[13] The Woman's Christian Temperance Union issued a censure of Ford, marking the first time that they had censured a first lady since they censured Frances Cleveland for donning low-cut gowns. Initially, the White House was inundated with negative mail. However, once much of the public heard about the negative mail that the White House was receiving, a greater number of supportive letters were received.[2][3]

Ford's outspoken comments caused advisors of Ford's husband dismay due to their attempts at restoring America's composure in the wake of Watergate.[14] Due to conservative backlash from Ford's discussion of premarital sex, marijuana use, and abortion in the 60 Minutes interview, Ford's husband, President Ford initially privately quipped to her that her comments had lost him a large number votes.[10][15][16] He would later make a similar quip to reporters.[12] Within a day of the airing, President Ford was fielding press conferences about the interview, and attempted to take a neutral stance on what his wife had said. There were efforts to distance President Ford from the remarks without criticizing what his wife had said.[4]

Polling, however, indicated that Ford's comments were accepted by many Americans.[5] Roughly three months after the interview,[10] a nationwide Harris poll of a sample of 1,519 adults found that 60% of Americans were in agreement and 27% of Americans were in disagreement with Ford's statement in the interview that she would not be surprised if her daughter had an affair, and that 64% of Americans were in agreement and 23% of Americans in disagreement with her statement in the interview that if her daughter was having an affair she would want to know whether the man she was sexually involved with was nice or not.[15] Harris also found that those the most in agreement with these statements of Ford's were younger voters and independent voters, while those who least-agreed were conservatives. It was noted that her husband was courting the support of conservatives to win the Republican nomination for the 1976 presidential election, but that the support of younger voters and independent voters would benefit him in the general election.[10] An October 1975 opinion poll by the New York Daily News found that 60% of New Yorkers approved of her discussing the topics of premarital sex, marijuana use, and abortion, while 32% opposed.[17] Within months of the interview, Betty Ford received approval ratings of 75%, demonstrating that, despite conservative backlash to her interview, she attained strong popularity.[18] Polling around that time indicated her to be among the most popular first ladies.[12]

The interview is regarded as having helped to establish 60 Minutes' long-lasting prominence.[19]

References edit

  1. ^ a b "60 Minutes: 40 Years at the Top". CBS News. September 17, 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d "First Lady Biography—Betty Ford". National First Ladies' Library. n.d. Archived from the original on May 9, 2012. Retrieved July 10, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "Betty Ford's interview with Morley Safer aired on the CBS news program 60 Minutes in August 1975". fordlibrarymuseum.tumblr.com. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d Borrelli, Maryanne (2001). "Competing Conceptions of the First Ladyship: Public Responses to Betty Ford's "60 Minutes" Interview". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 31 (3): 397–414. doi:10.1111/j.0360-4918.2001.00178.x. ISSN 0360-4918. JSTOR 27552320. Retrieved 20 September 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d Lloyd, Shearer (April 25, 1976). "Sheila Weidenfield: The First Lady's Press Secretary". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 21 September 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ a b c d Gutgold, Nichola; Hobgood, Linda (1 January 2004). "A Certain Comfort: Betty Ford as First Lady". Inventing a Voice: The Rhetoric of American First Ladies of the Twentieth Century: 325–340. Retrieved 22 September 2022.
  7. ^ Ashley, Jeffrey S. (Winter 2001). "The Social and Political Influence of Betty Ford: Betty Bloomer Blossoms. (Features: "Profile")". White House Studies. Nova Science Publishers, Inc. 1 (1). Retrieved 22 September 2022.
  8. ^ "Elizabeth "Betty" Ford". Miller Center of Public Affairs. n.d. Archived from the original on January 18, 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  9. ^ Fling, Sarah (November 5, 2019). "Betty Ford: Activist First Lady". www.whitehousehistory.org. White House Historical Association. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Betty Ford". Des Moines Tribune. The New York Times. January 9, 1976. Retrieved 15 May 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Betty Ford Would Accept 'An Affair' by Daughter". The New York Times. 11 August 1975. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  12. ^ a b c Tobin, Leesa E. (1990). "Betty Ford as First Lady: A Woman for Women". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 20 (4): 761–767. ISSN 0360-4918. JSTOR 20700159. Retrieved 20 September 2022.
  13. ^ Magazine, Smithsonian; Sánchez, Bianca (November 13, 2018). "The History of First Ladies' Memoirs". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
  14. ^ "Former First Lady Betty Ford Dies at 93". BET.com. July 9, 2011.
  15. ^ a b "Presidents Advisors Urging Bigger Role for Betty Ford". Manitowoc Herald-Times. The Associated Press. November 11, 1975. Retrieved 15 May 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (December 31, 2006). ""Back in View, a First Lady With Her Own Legacy", The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2011.
  17. ^ "Digitized from Box 39 of the Sheila Weidenfeld Files at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library" (PDF). www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov. Ford Library Museum. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  18. ^ "Betty Ford Biography". Gerald R. Ford Foundation. Retrieved 20 September 2022.
  19. ^ "Newsman helped change the way war was reported". The Los Angeles Times. 20 May 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2022 – via Newspapers.com.