Top Young Historians: 16 – Yanek Mieczkowski


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

16: Yanek Mieczkowski, 3-27-06

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Dowling College.
Chairman, Dowling College History Department (May 2000-May 2003)
Education: Ph.D. Columbia University, 1995
Area of Research: Twentieth-century America, The American Presidency, US Presidential Elections
Major Publications: Mieczkowski is the author of Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s, (University Press of Kentucky, 2005); The Routledge Historical Atlas of Presidential Elections, (Routledge Press, 2001); and Instructor’s Manual for America in Modern Times, by Alan Brinkley & Ellen Fitzpatrick. (McGraw-Hill, 1997).
Yanek Mieczkowski JPG Contributor to The American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 1998); chapter on Gerald R. Ford for The Reader’s Companion to the American Presidency, edited by Alan Brinkley & Davis Dyer (Houghton Mifflin); The History News Service and The History News Network.
Awards: Mieczkowski is the recipient of Released Time Grants, Dowling College Long-Range Planning and Development Committee Course Releases Awarded for Research/Writing (1997-present); Abilene Travel Grant, The Dwight D. Eisenhower Foundation, 2005; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Research Grant, 1992, 2003; The Rockefeller Archive Center Research Grant, Rockefeller University, 1996; Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center Visiting Scholars Grant, The University of Oklahoma at Norman, 1995; Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, 1995.
Additional Info: Mieczkowski has also been a Reader for the Advanced Placement Exam in U.S. History, Educational Testing Service; Faculty Advisor, Dowling College chapter of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society; Oral histories: the Dwight D. Eisenhower presidency; the Gerald R. Ford presidency; friends and family of Ernie Davis (first African American to win the Heisman Trophy); Television commentator for “Our Town,” Long Island Cablevision “Our Town: Meet the Authors” on Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s (May 10, 2005) and The Routledge Historical Atlas of Presidential Elections (Sept. 17, 2004); Consultant for McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, Pennsylvania Historical Society; Writing Fellow, The American National Biography.

Personal Anecdote

My Search for a Missing Ford Administration Member

I had been searching for him a long time. His name was Russell Freeburg, and he served as the first director of President Gerald Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now (WIN)” program. Ford employed numerous economic weapons to combat the high inflation of the 1970s, including an attempt to rally citizens in a consumer crusade against rising prices. Yet almost as soon as Ford unveiled the WIN program, it faltered. Critics ridiculed it as feckless and trite, and within a few months Ford abandoned it, partly because a deep recession gripped the country, making an anti-inflation campaign the wrong economic medicine.

I was researching a book on Ford’s presidency and came across documents at the Gerald Ford Presidential Library naming Russell Freeburg as the first WIN director. My research depended heavily on oral interviews with Ford administration members, and I had enjoyed considerable luck in locating them and recording their recollections. Yet the Ford Library had little information on Freeburg; he seemed to have vanished without a trace. I did a white pages search and located a person with the same name in Florida, and I wrote to him. Weeks passed with no response. Finally, one day a handwritten letter arrived, and inside I found words that seemed like magic: “I am the Russell Freeburg you’re looking for.” He explained that he was spending the summer at his cottage in Michigan, and he left a phone number.

I called immediately and told him that I was planning a trip to the Ford Library in Ann Arbor. Could I see him at that time? His cottage was a good five hours from Ann Arbor, near Lake Michigan, but he welcomed a visit. Not wishing to trouble him for directions, I told him that I could find his home on MapQuest. “You’re not going to find this cottage on MapQuest,” he predicted. On the telephone, I could hear someone laughing in the background, and he said, “You see–even my wife’s laughing. MapQuest’s not going to show this place.” I had no idea why he had such little confidence in MapQuest, but I told him I’d try. As it turned out, MapQuest did indeed provide directions, and on a late August day, I drove out to Frankfurt, Michigan.

It was beautiful country, high on Michigan’s lower peninsula. The cool air told me that I was far north, and even though it was still summer, I could see splotches of color marking the tree leaves. As I approached his home, carefully following MapQuest’s directions, I began to see why Freeburg and his wife got such a kick out of the notion that MapQuest would show his cottage. It was in the middle of a forest! I seemed to leave civilization, traveling on a dirt road deep into the woods. But I spotted some cottages, and the directions told me I was there. I knocked on the door of what I believed was Freeburg’s home, and a tall gentleman approached. Before I even got a chance to ask, “Are you Mr. Freeburg?”, he looked down at me and said, “Well. My apologies to MapQuest.”

Interviewing Freeburg that day, I gained valuable insight into WIN. He reiterated what President Ford had told me, that it was just one symbolic part of a larger, more substantive administration fight against inflation, and he spoke of his frustration that there hadn’t been enough time to plan, staff, and fund WIN during its brief existence. I left that day feeling that I could more accurately tell the story of WIN’s rise and fall.

I’ve stayed in touch with Russell over the years, and I was saddened to learn that his wife Sally died last fall. I’ll always remember her cheerful laughter on the telephone, which marked the beginning of a journey that brought WIN, MapQuest, and history together in a quiet forest near Lake Michigan.


By Yanek Mieczkowski

  • The post-Vietnam, post-Watergate suspicion was highly visible in the media. After covering the Vietnam War and Watergate and trapping the president in lies during both events, the press would not let presidential statements go unexamined. Reporters, hunting for fame, fortune, and Pulitzer Prizes, engaged in “investigative journalism” both in print and on television. (CBS’s news magazine, 60 Minutes, became a top-rated program during the 1970s and spawned imitations such as ABC’s 20/20.) Ford became the subject of the more aggressive and cynical journalistic code. An example occurred in early 1975, when NBC White House correspondent Tom Brokaw interviewed him at the White House. The young reporter asked Ford if he was “intellectually up to the job of being president.” The audacious question at once illustrated three phenomena: the new, bold press behavior; the diminished reverence that the media felt toward the presidency and its occupant; and the negative public image plaguing Ford. Ford replied by mentioning his solid academic performance at the University of Michigan and Yale Law School. But this was not enough. The next day, reporters demanded that the White House furnish transcripts of Ford’s grades. Jerald terHorst, Ford’s first press secretary, commented that the “distrust was deep and almost endemic. . . . You couldn’t talk about policy and the need for continuity without someone questioning whether there was a devious plot behind it all. The press had been feeding on Watergate and Vietnam for so long that it was hard to shift gears.” Government officials, journalist Bob Woodward believed, were usually guilty as charged, which gave the press additional incentive to pursue aggressively allegations of wrongdoing. — Yanek Mieczkowski in “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s”
  • “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s (University Press of Kentucky, 2005) represents the culmination of nearly 15 years of research on Gerald Ford and 1970s America. This work, which reassesses the Ford presidency as more successful than many observers have previously thought, examines the great crises of the 1970s and Ford’s efforts to solve them: economic stagflation, energy shortages, the cold war, the scandal-tainted presidency after Watergate, and jarring transformations in America’s political system. Drawing on numerous interviews with President Ford, cabinet officers, and members of the 94th Congress, as well as extensive archival research, Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s is both a political biography and survey of 1970s America, and it will surprise and fascinate readers with its intriguing portrait of a president and his times. — Yanek Mieczkowski on “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s”

About Yanek Mieczkowski

  • “By a masterful analysis, Mieczkowski shows how Ford restored credibility to government and promoted amicable relations with Congres.”– Richard Lowitt, University of Oklahoma praising “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s”
  • “One of the best presidential biographies I have read. It explains the rise of the Republican Party as a ruling majority today. It is fast paced and extremely well written. It is a worthy assessment of Mr. Ford’s presidency.” — (Lanett, AL) Valley Times-News reviewing “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s”
  • “This ambitious work calls for a reexamination of the Ford presidency in light of the formidable challenges he faced upon taking office. A welcome and important addition to the literature on the Ford presidency.” — Library Journal reviewing “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s”
  • “The reader come away from reading this fine and impeccably researched book with a new appreciation for Gerald Ford as a sophisticated thinker and a person with a consistent vision for the nation’s domestic and international policy. . . . Succeeds admirably as a political biography.”– Business History Review reviewing “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s”
  • “He’s a great professor!”…”Tremendously intelligent; very challenging.”… “Very intelligent. Quite informative. This class should be for history lovers only. This mans love of history is wasted on none history majors.”…”really knows his history… overall he is an excellent teacher”…”Expects much but is an awesome history professor.” — Anonymous students

Posted on Sunday, March 26, 2006 at 1:56 PM

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