Thursday, December 16, 2004
It's been more than a month, but I think I have some light to shed on Pauline Kael's supposed quote about Nixon. As my original post noted, Kael is reported to have said, when Nixon won the 1972 election, "How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!" This is often used by Republicans to demonstrate how out of touch liberals are with the real world. My sense was that Kael wouldn't have said such a thing, so I threw down a challenge to anyone to give me documented evidence that she'd ever said it. Will Brantley, who has written (and is writing) about Kael, said he was also trying to hunt it down ... he didn't get far. And, needless to say, I didn't hear from any of the Republicans who claim it as a meme.
Yesterday, though, I got an email from Craig Seligman, author of the fine Sontag and Kael. Here's what Craig said:
Kael told me the story of that mysterious quotation when it appeared in (I think) The Wall Street Journal several years ago. She never said it, and she was irked by the fact that it was so often attributed to her. Apparently a reporter, or somebody, asked her to comment on Nixon's election, and she replied that she couldn't because she didn't even know anyone who had voted for Nixon. And the story got garbled. I may have garbled the story myself slightly, since some years have passed since she told me, but the point is: she never said it. Which is easy to believe, because I never knew her to make patently stupid statements, and when she joked or was outrageous it was never with the kind of naivete that you would have to assume to make a statement like that.
The upshot is that people who know nothing about her or her work are constantly berating her for saying something she never said and never would have said.
As far as I'm concerned, the case is closed. Not that posting this on my blog is going to make a difference, but hey, if Craig Seligman can hunt me down, maybe Repugs can, too. Thanks, Craig!
Thanks for posting this. From the first time I read that, I knew it couldn't be right; Kael was far too in touch with popular culture to have said something like that. I assumed it was taken out of context from some article where she was making fun of somebody else for saying that.
Don't sell yourself short about your blog not making a difference; you'll note that this page is now the top Google hit for "Kael Nixon".
Posted by: Kim Scarborough | Wednesday, August 17, 2005 at 02:05 PM
Google gives us all a chance to make a difference!
Posted by: Steven | Wednesday, August 17, 2005 at 02:21 PM
Well, I found this entry after it was put up ten months ago, but I'll still comment on it. I'm a conservative and have used that noted quote, believing that it was accurate. The words reported and passed along seem to reflect the message as interpreted by the listener rather than the exact words and real intention of the speaker. If the information is bad, then it shouldn't be used anymore.
What's interesting is that it does ring true for many in journalism and academics, who don't view themselves as liberal simply because they don't associate with conservatives. If you ask professors if they're liberal, they will deny it. If you ask the public or their students (once they've gotten out of school), they will say the opposite.
Thanks for the information.
Also, seeing how daily kos is listed under "good web stuff," I'm amazed that I found your site and read it.
Posted by: Woody | Monday, October 17, 2005 at 02:50 PM
My politics, or the politics of Pauline Kael, are irrelevant here. What matters is that conservatives have been using the false quote and attributing it to Kael for many years. It would be nice if people stuck to facts when offering support for their positions ... that apparently is not the case here.
Meanwhile, it's been almost a year since I challenged anyone to come up with concrete evidence to support the claim that Kael ever said the quote about Nixon in '72. And no one has come forth. OK, so this is just a little blog with no readers, but if you type "kael nixon" into Google, the first hit is my blog, which probably explains how people like Woody find me.
I'M STILL WAITING FOR THAT CONCRETE EVIDENCE.
Posted by: Steven | Monday, October 17, 2005 at 03:00 PM
"she replied that she couldn't because she didn't even know anyone who had voted for Nixon."
So, she admits it's true she didn't know anyone who had voted for Nixon, in an election Nixon won overwhelmingly. That confirms the main point of the meme: liberal reporters are out of touch.
The fact she (according to her claim) didn't also say "I can't believe he won" doesn't really subtract much, unless people are taking that literally to mean she didn't believe the election had turned out that way (no Diebold or hanging chads for moonbats to blame that year, so probably not).
Good job confirming the meme.
Posted by: AmusedByThisThread | Wednesday, February 08, 2006 at 03:13 PM
According to the New York Times(28 Dec. 1972, p. 33), what Kael actually said was
"'I live in a rather special world,' Miss Kael said, continuing: 'I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them.'"
Posted by: Mark Lake | Monday, March 12, 2007 at 10:19 AM
The NY Times citation sounds accurate, and if so it rather undercuts the notion that Ms. Kael, whatever her virtues or faults, was "far too in touch with the popular culture" as noted by one poster above. If she is (in touch), how does she not know where they are? The answer was rather obvious: In 49 out of 50 states that voted for Nixon over McGovern that year. Plainly, wherever they were, they were not dining at Ms. Kael's Park Avenue Co-op. What the elites and their supporters are missing here is that this anecdote, even if apocryphal, is not cited as fact in support of an argument. It is an entertaining anecdote used by conservatives (such as myself) to illustrate or help express an idea which is patently obvious to most people and need not be supported as if in a high school debate argument. As a Red stater (KY) living in Manhattan for 22 years now, take my word for it: Manhattan elites are out of touch. They do not know that tens of millions of Americans are diametrically opposed to many if not all of their points of view. Either that, or they know it, but don't care, since the holders of the opposing points of view (the hoi polloi, the great unwashed masses) need not be taken seriously. If you doubt it, come spend a day with me on the Upper East Side.
Posted by: Ken Main | Saturday, October 06, 2007 at 07:54 AM
Here is the Wikipedia rundown of the quote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_Kael#Nixon_.22quote.22
[i]The NY Times citation sounds accurate, and if so it rather undercuts the notion that Ms. Kael, whatever her virtues or faults, was "far too in touch with the popular culture" as noted by one poster above.[/i]
I can't access the full text of the Times article, but it certainly sounds like she might have been speaking facetiously. Anyone know?
[i]What the elites and their supporters are missing here is that this anecdote, even if apocryphal, is not cited as fact in support of an argument. It is an entertaining anecdote used by conservatives (such as myself) to illustrate or help express an idea which is patently obvious to most people and need not be supported as if in a high school debate argument.[/i]
Ah yes, "fake but accurate". Kind of like the argument that it didn't matter if tales of Gore's fabrications (Love Canal, "inventing the Internet") were themselves exaggerated, all that matters is the underlying truth.
If the idea is so "patently obvious", then just say it -- don't besmirch an innocent woman's reputation and intelligence to illustrate it.
Posted by: Zorro | Tuesday, November 06, 2007 at 12:26 PM
A continuing flow of paper is sufficient to continue the flow of paper.
Posted by: Vioriaroach | Sunday, May 11, 2008 at 07:40 PM
Maybe it was a John Kerry-like botched joke "You know, education -- if you make the most of it -- you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." I guess us hayseeds in the Red States don't get that sophisticated Manhattan/Boston/SF humor.
Posted by: NObama | Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 11:19 AM
Sorry to debunk the debunkers, but the real quote is pretty close to the version that you hear nowadays (and is even more elitist).
Here's the actual quote, from the New York Times, from a story about a Modern Language Association conference:
>> “I live in a rather special world,” Miss [Pauline] Kael said, continuing: “I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”
Source: “2 Critics Here Focus on Films As Language Conference Opens,” by Israel Shenker, The New York Times, December 28, 1972, p. 33 (or p. NJ68), col. 7.
Posted by: Chris Regan | Monday, September 08, 2008 at 12:03 PM
Reporters are notorious for getting news stories wrong. Inventing small zingers to increase the appeal of a story and leaving out details that make a story more mundane. Their out to sell their stories, not report on any facts. The more likely they are to get away with it the more likely they are to do it.
Posted by: Brian Macker | Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 05:05 AM
Ha ha ha, this is great.
Ew, I do so detest being misquoted myself so I can relate to Kael's irritation, having carefully chosen her words then to have them repeated carelessly and less artistically.
Carelessly, but still generally accurately, that is. But I rather like her original quote better, the actual one about feeling them in a theater. Ha ha, now that's a great line.
But you know what this reminds me of a little bit? The many false quotes attributed to Bush that sounded like the sort of thing he might have said and wish he had. My favorite: "The problem with France is, it's got no word for entrepreneur.
Posted by: bour3 | Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 08:10 AM
Actually, when you Google "kael nixon" Wikipedia is first.....just sayin'.
Posted by: Me | Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 04:35 PM
Well, the person said that five years ago, so I think we can cut them some slack. Just sayin' ...
Posted by: Steven Rubio | Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 04:38 PM
Really? You're going with that? You think that makes Ms. Kael sound better? It sounds worse, not out of touch, bit downright elitist and disdainful of the common man that liberals claim to be the champions of.
I also don't see a huge difference between the purported quote and the sense of the quote that Craig Seligman recalled, "Apparently a reporter, or somebody, asked her to comment on Nixon's election, and she replied that she couldn't because she didn't even know anyone who had voted for Nixon."
Not knowing "anyone who had voted for Nixon" does make her out of touch given how soundly McGovern was defeated.
Posted by: SAM | Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 01:29 PM