Lou Wigdor: LBJ & The Invisible Gorilla of Succession
Senior Writer and Editor Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts.
As the new President of the United States headed out of the hospital, Robert Pierpont of CBS News caught a glimpse of him but did not follow. No other reporter followed him, or apparently knew he was even leaving. "We weren't thinking about succession," Newsweek's Charles Roberts explained later. . . Nobody attempted to follow him although he was then President of the United States."
[With Kennedy’s death, Johnson immediately became the country’s 36th president. The subsequent oath was a ceremonial formality.]
Only one member of the press, the official White House photographer, Captain Cecil Stoughton, had the independence of mind to follow the new president’s decisive exit to his limo and the airport. It was Stoughton who later snapped the iconographic photo of LBJ--framed by Lady Bird and Jacqueline Kennedy--taking the oath of office on Air Force One.
Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simon's Invisible Gorilla experiment asked subjects viewing a video of basketball players to count passes on a gym floor. When a man in a gorilla suit appeared in the frame, a significant number of the observers (typically 50%) failed to notice. The experiment revealed the diminished cognitive/perceptual flexibility that accompanies hyperattentiveness in a demanding cognitive task--a task that was also reinforced by the subjects' emotional commitment to completing the exercise itself.
The New Yorker article is excerpted from The Passage of Power, the 4th volume--due out in May--of Caro's magisterial LBJ biography. Without question, Caro is Johnson's Boswell.
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