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A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

When I blog about historic front pages, I normally tell about papers that actually made it to homes and/or vending machines. This one didn’t make it out of the Des Moines Register’s building (except for the copies spirited out by a few editors for keepsakes).

Usually when editors stop the presses to update a story or dump a bad one, the papers that have already been printed go out to the early routes because the mistake is found too late. But all the papers were still in the building 35 years ago when we learned that a deal for a Republican presidential ticket of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford had fallen through.

The Reagan-Ford discussions had been the buzz all day. Ford, who was more popular after his presidency than during it, would add some heft to the ticket of a former actor at the top of the ticket who was genial and popular, but perceived as a lightweight.

As the presses started rumbling late the night of July 16, our front page proclaimed the ticket as likely. Appearing under the triple byline of three of the best journalists I ever worked with, Jim Risser, George Anthan and Jim Flansburg, was this lead:

Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, in a stunning political move, reportedly persuaded former President Gerald Ford Wednesday night to be his running mate, after promising that Ford would not be a mere figurehead.

As I recall, Dave Westphal, who was editing the story, insisted on hedging with “reportedly.” Our three reporters, and everyone else covering the Republican convention, thought the Reagan-Ford ticket was a done deal.

A commentary by our editor, Jim Gannon, noted how the remarkable deal came together, first raised in a live TV interview of Ford by Walter Cronkite.

Eventually, Reagan decided he would be sharing too much power with his former rival.

With the newsroom floor vibrating from the fast-moving press below, Risser called with news that the deal had fallen through. News Editor Jimmy Larson called the pressroom to stop the presses. But before they could throw away all the outdated papers, I grabbed the one pictured above.

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