“One of my predecessors, President Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone: ‘It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?’ That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore.” – Pres. Obama
Talk about gafferiffic.
New York Magazine‘s Dan Amira was not amused. Here’s his headline:
This is a lesson for Pres. Obama. When you try to be cute and cutting to your opponents it’s a good idea to have your snark straight.
It gets worse, not only did Hayes not say what Obama and Reagan before him said he did, but the history is quite the opposite.
She then read aloud a newspaper article from June 29, 1877, which describes Hayes’s delight upon first experiencing the magic of the telephone. The Providence Journal story reported that as Hayes listened on the phone, “a gradually increasing smile wreathe[d] his lips and wonder shone in his eyes more and more.” Hayes took the phone from his ear, “looked at it a moment in surprise and remarked, ‘That is wonderful.'”
In fact, Card noted, Hayes was not only the first president to have a telephone in the White House, but he was also the first to use the typewriter, and he had Thomas Edison come to the White House to demonstrate the phonograph. “So I think he was pretty much cutting edge,” Card insisted, “maybe just the opposite of what President Obama had to say there.”
With Obama’s penchant for citing Ronald Reagan, it was inevitable that he’d get himself into trouble.
Atlantic contributor Yoni Appelbaum has a great theory. While the Hayes library can’t figure out where this rumor got started, Appelbaum notes that it was popularized by President Reagan, who repeated the same anecdote Obama told Thursday in speech for the National Technology Awards in 1985. “In the years that followed, the line was widely cited,” Appelbaum tells us, “although rarely attributed. So where did Obama get the line? There’s no way to know for certain. But one of the executives in the room back in 1985 was Steve Jobs, and the entire scene is recounted in Walter Isaacson’s recent biography. It’s a safe bet that someone in the White House read the book.”
Fact checking on something like this is important. It would be interesting to find out if Obama’s people read it in the Jobs’ biography and simply took it as gospel.
This is the kind of stuff that’s infuriating for people caught in a gaffe like this. But at least Pres. Obama is in very good company.
Pres. Reagan blew the history, too.
However, it’s no excuse.