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Was President Gerald Ford Really a Klutz? (1970s)

by Ron Kurtus (revised 4 January 2007)

During his term in office, President Gerald R. Ford was depicted in the American press as a dim-witted, clumsy oaf. One reason was because those in the press that disliked President Richard M. Nixon, turned their anger to Ford after he pardoned Nixon. Another reason is that often Ford's actions reinforced this image of being a klutz. In reality, President Ford was intelligent and athletic.

Questions you may have about this are:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Press made Ford fair game

After President Ford pardoned former President Nixon for the Watergate misdeeds, it seems that the press turned against Ford. Although Ford's motives were honorable, many people in the media were still out for blood and wanted to do as much as they could to destroy Nixon. the fact that ford pardoned Nixon made many of them angry.

Ford's rationale for pardoning Nixon was to get the Country to move on, instead of continuing the negative attitudes that resulted from the Watergate trial. Unfortunately, this act of pardoning made Ford fair game for the media.

Ford looked clumsy

Unfortunately, President Ford did some things that caused him to be depicted as a klutz.

Seemed mentally slow

He certainly didn't look very smart, with the primitive brow. Ford also did not have a good speaking voice and actually sounded to be somewhat mentally slow.

Saturday Night Live

On the Saturday Night Live television show, comedian Chevy Chase would often impersonate President Ford, playing him as extremely clumsy and stupid. This played upon the nation's impression of the President.

Hit lady on head

Also, for some reason, Ford was constantly doing clumsy and awkward things in front of the TV cameras and photographers. For example, he slipped on the steps coming out of Air Force One. Several times when he was playing golf, he hit the ball into the gallery of spectators—once hitting a lady on the head. While playing doubles in tennis, he hit his partner on the head with the ball. All of these incidents were caught on camera.

Under microscope

Actually, these accidents could happen to anyone, but it seemed that he had more than his share. Of course, being under the microscope of the media exaggerated the gaffs and found more than would normally be noticed.

Was Ford really a klutz?

Was President Ford really such a klutz? Was he uncoordinated and somewhat stupid as he was so often depicted? If you look at his record in college, you get a different picture.

Football player

While at the University of Michigan, Ford played on two championship football teams and was named to the college all-stars team. That certainly is not an indication of a clumsy oaf.

Phi Beta Kappa

He was also a Phi Beta Kappa at Michigan and then went on to receive a law degree at Yale University, while also serving as assistant football coach. His academic excellence certainly was not an indication of being a bumbling fool.

Unfair picture

So, in reality, the picture of President Ford as a dim-witted klutz was an unfair picture painted by the media.

Note that it wasn't until after President Ford passed away in December 2006 that the press vindicated him in their eulogies. In fact, they almost overcompensated for their actions in their praise of the late President.


Although President Ford was often depicted as a clumsy oaf, he was really an intelligent athlete. His looks and speaking voice gave a different impression. The news media took special glee in pointing out any mistakes or accidents he had. Perhaps that was motivated by his pardoning of ex-President Nixon.

What can we learn from this bit of history?

Always present yourself with dignity

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Biography of Gerald Ford - From the White House Website

History Resources


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