This week in Club history: A headline for the ages

One of the most famous headlines in American journalism came out of a speech that President Gerald Ford delivered at a National Press Club luncheon on Oct. 29, 1975.

New York City had severe financial problems, and the issue of the day was whether the federal government would help the city avoid default. Then, as now, Republicans were averse to helping the city..

David Gergen, then an aide to Treasury Secretary William Simon, said he had been asked to contribute to a draft of the speech that would be delivered at the Club.

“I wrote a hard-hitting piece, assuming that if it ever saw the light of day, the White House would, in the normal course, invite me to smooth the rough edges,” he said in a New York Times story. “Instead someone plopped down a few of my rough, unedited paragraphs in the final text.”

Speaking at the Club, Ford said, “The people of this country will not be stampeded. They will not panic when a few desperate New York officials and bankers try to scare New York’s mortgage payments out of them.”

The next morning, the front page of the New York Daily News read, “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD,.” with a photo of the president at the Club podium,

The president had never said, “Drop Dead,” and Ford was incensed with the headline. But some analysts said it may have cost Ford the presidency the next year when he narrowly lost New York state to Jimmy Carter.

Ford eventually signed legislation providing the city with federal loans, which were repaid with interest.