Famous Headline Haunted Former President





Gerald R. Ford and Marie Antoinette did not have much in common, but he shared her frustration about having been misquoted, which probably cost both of them their jobs.

In Hollywood’s latest biography of the French queen, she denies having callously suggested that breadless peasants eat cake instead. “I never said that,” the actress Kirsten Dunst pouts. “I wonder why people keep saying I did.”

Mr. Ford never explicitly said “Drop Dead” to New Yorkers during the city’s fiscal crisis in 1975, either. Yet those two words, arguably the essence of his remarks as encapsulated in an immortal Daily News headline, would cost him the presidency the following year, after Jimmy Carter, nominated by the Democrats in New York, narrowly carried the state.

“It more than annoyed me because it wasn’t accurate,” he recalled years later. “It was very unfair.”

That view is echoed in an evolving version of historical revisionism. Only two months after saying or meaning or merely implying “Drop Dead” — or, perhaps, resorting to tough love by holding the city’s feet to the fire — Mr. Ford signed legislation to guarantee federal loans to the city.

Gov. Hugh L. Carey, among others, argues that Mr. Ford’s public recalcitrance bought time for the city to make its case to an even more reluctant Congress (“he told me he didn’t have the votes,” Mr. Carey recalled).


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