Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Libel, in Fact...the 1189 Psychiatrists

Could 1189 psychiatrists be wrong about Goldwater?

Last week, I began the story of two national figures who, in 1964, became embroiled in what would become an important libel case (see the post).

Ralph Ginzburg, the editor of an edgy new magazine called Fact, made certain judgments about the character of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.

Senator Goldwater was then running for U.S. president as the Republican candidate against the Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The "Goldwater" issue of Fact (September/October 1964) contained two articles on the Senator. In the first article, Ginzburg argued that the Senator was psychologically disordered, and that, were he to be elected President, Goldwater would pose a serious risk to the nation's security. (Last week's post contains details).

The second article was entitled, "What Psychiatrists Say About Goldwater," and listed Warren Boroson as the author (but see notes below). This article was featured on both the front and back covers of the magazine.

The Herb Lubalin-designed front cover read: "...1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!"

The back cover quoted psychiatrists who said of Goldwater:

"While I heartily believe that we should hire the handicapped, I hardly think that a man who has suffered two nervous breakdowns should be given the job of President as occupational therapy."

"His theme is ‘freedom' - but from what? Unconsciously, it seems to be from his mother's domination..."

Between the magazine's covers, the "What Psychiatrists Say..." article reported a national poll of 12,356 of psychiatrists, whose names were supplied to the magazine, according to the piece, by the American Medical Association. The survey posed the question: "Do you believe Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to serve as President of the United States?".

Of the psychiatrists surveyed, 2417 responded. Of those respondents, 1189 psychiatrists said the Republican candidate was not psychologically fit to be President; only 657 thought he was. (The remaining 571 said they "did not know enough to respond". p. 24). After answering the question, the survey allowed for comments and "over a quarter of a million words of professional opinion were received."

The article itself quoted at length many of those comments. Here are three excerpts, quoted from the opening pages (I have deleted the physicians' names, which were signed in the original):

Senator Barry Goldwater gives the superficial appearance of solidity, stability, and honesty. However, my impression is of a brittle, rigid personality structure, based on a softspoken continuous demand for power and authority and capable of either shattering like crystal glass or...the assumption of a paranoid stance...

Here is another one, quite positive:

At this particular time, on the basis of reading some of Senator Goldwater's writings and hearing only a few talks, I am rather impressed with what appears to be a genuine candor, lack of guile, and lack of malevolence.

Reflecting the nearly 2:1 "unfit" ratio, here is another negative:

I believe Goldwater has the same pathological make-up as Hitler, Castro, Stalin and other known schizophrenic leaders. My reasons for saying this are:
(1) Logical or scientific or truthful analyses of his statements is completely impossible. His words are double-talk!
(2) His statements and actions show distinct persecution feelings. For example, when Rockefeller repeated to the Republican Convention some of Goldwater's earlier remarks, Goldwater had a picture of himself distributed which showed an arrow in his back.
My dedication against Goldwater as President is founded in the sincere belief that he is a dangerous so-called compensated schizophrenic.

Fact apparently had little trouble finding psychiatrists willing to judge Senator Goldberg negatively - and diagnostically.

To defend those physicians a bit, 1964 was a time in both psychiatry and psychology that predated the greater respect for people's strengths that most clinicians acknowledge today, and predated the development of reliable methods for studying people's personality from a distance. It was also before diagnostic criteria were evaluated systematically as to their reliability (i.e., consistency), scientifically. Combine the status of the field in 1964 with how opinionated people can become in discussing politics and...well, the result speaks for itself.

I have been discussing "Law and Ethics in Judging Personality" in my last several posts. So did Ginzburg and Boronson libel Goldwater in Fact?

The editors certainly didn't seem to like Goldwater very much, and they (and the psychiatrists they quoted from) were quite negative, and threw around a lot of psychiatric terms and concepts....but libel?

As negative as the issue was, most readers (myself included) would have been unable to tell if the magazine had libeled Senator Goldwater, I believe.

To decide, we would need to know more about whether the editors were making false statements, as well as whether they did so with malicious intent or recklessness. (These are standards for libel as it applies to public figures).

So, to find out if was really libel, we need a fair and impartial investigation of the facts in Fact. I will discuss how the court investigation came about, and how it turned out, in forthcoming posts.


Clarification (about 15 hours after posting; revised 2 hours later): Although Fact listed Mr. Boroson as the author of the article, "What Psychiatrists Say...," the United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit - 414 F.2d 324, in its decision of 18 July 1969, indicated that most of the work was carried out by Mr. Ginzburg. The court further noted (Paragraph 43) that, "...Boroson's name was retained only in order to avoid having two articles appear under Ginzburg's name."

All quotes from Boroson, W. (1964, September-October). What psychiatrists say about Goldwater. Fact, 1 (5), 24-64. The survey methods are described on p. 24. The letters from the 3 M.D.'s are from pp. 24, 25, and 25, respectively.

**Bonus link: Warren Boroson who was involved in the 1964 Fact issue discussed above, posted a video of his debut stand-up comedy routine in 2007 on Youtube (here).

Copyright (c) 2009 by John D. Mayer

More from John D Mayer Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today