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The Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, uncovers the existence of a sophisticated computer system used by the Department of Defense to monitor US citizens suspected of “subversive” activities. The system is operated from the military’s “domestic war room,” overseen by the Directorate of Civil Disturbance and Planning Operations in the basement of the Pentagon (see April 1968). It is designed to keep track of “all public outbursts and political dissent” inside the United States. The Senate subcommittee uncovers a database of thousands of US citizens labeled as possible threats to national security. According to New Times magazine, the subcommittee discovers “computerized files on 18,000 of the celebrated to obscure, on people such as Senator George McGovern and former Massachusetts Gov. Francis Sargent down to ordinary citizens who had, sometimes unknowingly, become ‘associated with known militant groups.’” (Ridenhour 11/28/1975)
The New York Times receives a huge amount of secret Defense Department documents and memos that document the covert military and intelligence operations waged by previous administrations in Vietnam (see January 15, 1969). The documents are leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department official who worked in counterintelligence and later for the RAND Corporation while remaining an active consultant to the government on Vietnam. Ellsberg, a former aide to Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and a member of the task force that produced the Defense Department documents, has, over his tenure as a senior government official, become increasingly disillusioned with the actions of the US in Vietnam. (Herda 1994) The documents are given to Times reporter Neil Sheehan by Ellsberg (see May 1969). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313)
Ellsberg Tried to Interest Senators - After he and his friend Anthony Russo had copied the documents (see September 29, 1969), Ellsberg had spent months attempting to persuade several antiwar senators, including William Fulbright (D-AR), Charles Mathias Jr (R-MD), George McGovern (D-SD), and Paul “Pete” McCloskey (R-CA), to enter the study into the public record, all to no avail. But McGovern suggested that Ellsberg provide copies of the documents either to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Ellsberg knew Sheehan in Vietnam, and decided that the Times reporter was his best chance for making the documents public. (Reeves 2001, pp. 333; Moran 2007) Ellsberg originally gave copies of the documents—later dubbed the “Pentagon Papers”—to Phil Geyelin of the Washington Post, but the Post’s Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee decided not to publish any of the documents. Ellsberg then gave a copy to Sheehan.
Documents Prove White House Deceptions - The documents include information that showed former President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a secret commitment to help the French defeat the insurgents in Vietnam. They also show that Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, had used a secret “provocation strategy” to escalate the US’s presence into a full-blown war that eventually led to the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident. The documents also show that Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, had planned from the outset of his presidency to expand the war (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) , and show how Johnson secretly paved the way for combat troops to be sent to Vietnam, how he had refused to consult Congress before committing both ground and air forces to war, and how he had secretly, and illegally, shifted government funds from other areas to fund the war. Finally, the documents prove that all three presidents had broken Constitutional law in bypassing Congress and sending troops to wage war in Vietnam on their own authority. (Herda 1994)
Times Publishes Against Legal Advice - The Times will begin publishing them in mid-June 1971 (see June 13, 1971) after putting Sheehan and several other reporters up in the New York Hilton to sift through the mountain of photocopies and the senior editors, publishers, and lawyers argued whether or not to publish such a highly classified set of documents. The management will decide, against the advice of its lawyers, to publish articles based on the documents as well as excerpts from the documents themselves. (Moran 2007)
Documents from the FBI describing extensive domestic surveillance of college students, minorities, and war protesters are anonymously mailed to several major newspapers and members of Congress. The records are sent to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Senator George S. McGovern (D-SD), and Representative Parren J. Mitchell (D-MD). According to the New York Times, “The documents suggest that FBI surveillance of dissenters on the political left has been far more extensive than was generally known.” The papers “show that the subjects of inquiries include obscure persons marginally suspected of illegal activity.” The files describe attempts to infiltrate colleges, student unions, minority groups, and political organizations. According to the documents, the FBI is under orders to investigate all students, teachers, and scientists that travel to the Soviet Union. The documents show that the FBI has gone as far as investigating a Boy Scout trip to the Soviet Union. The papers also reveal that the FBI is under orders to monitor all student groups that are “organized to project the demands of black students.” The files also state that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover approved plans for the recruitment of informants as young as 18 years old. (Graham 3/25/1971)
American citizens and lawmakers are outraged by the information revealed in the publication of portions of the so-called Pentagon Papers (see June 13, 1971, June 14, 1971, and June 15, 1971). Senator George McGovern (D-SD), a sponsor of legislation to withdraw all US troops from Vietnam by the end of 1971, says the documents tell a story of “almost incredible deception” of Congress and the American people by the White House. McGovern says he cannot see how any senator can ever again permit the president to make any foreign policy decisions without first going through Congress. Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) expresses concern over the leaking of the documents, but calls their contents “shocking.” Representative Paul McCloskey (R-CA) says the papers show “the issue of truthfulness in government is a problem as serious as ending the war itself.” McCloskey complains that, according to the documents, the briefings he and other Congressional members had received regarding the war had been “deceptive… misleading [and] incomplete,” often while Army officials who knew more of the truth stood silently by his side. “This deception is not a matter of protecting secret information from the enemy,” McCloskey says, “the intention is to conceal information from the people of the United States as if we were the enemy.” (Herda 1994)
According to Watergate burglar Eugenio Martinez (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), White House aide E. Howard Hunt, whom he calls by his old CIA code name “Eduardo” (see September 9, 1971), is ratcheting up the activities of the White House “Plumbers” operation. Martinez is not yet aware of the nature of the team’s operations, but believes he is part of a black-ops, CIA-authorized organization working to foil Communist espionage activities. Hunt gives team member Bernard Barker $89,000 in checks from Mexican banks to cash for operational funds, and orders Barker to recruit new team members. Barker brings in Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, and Reinaldo Pico, all veterans of the CIA’s activities against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. On May 22, the six—Hunt, Barker, Gonzalez, Martinez, Pico, and Sturgis—meet for the first time at the Manger Hays-Adams Hotel in Washington for Hunt’s first briefing. By this point, Martinez will later recall, G. Gordon Liddy, who had been involved in the burglary related to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, is involved. Hunt calls Liddy “Daddy,” and, Martinez recalls, “the two men seemed almost inseparable.” They meet another team member, James McCord, who unbeknownst to Martinez is an official with Nixon’s presidential campaign (see June 19, 1972). McCord is introduced simply as “Jimmy,” an “old man from the CIA who used to do electronic jobs for the CIA and the FBI.” McCord is to be the electronics expert.
Plans to Break into McGovern HQ - Martinez says that the group is joined by “a boy there who had infiltrated the McGovern headquarters,” the headquarters of the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. According to Hunt, they are going to find evidence proving that the Democrats are accepting money from Castro and other foreign governments. (Interestingly, Martinez will write that he still believes McGovern accepted Cuban money.) Hunt soon aborts the mission; Martinez believes “it was because the boy got scared.”
New Plans: Target the DNC - Instead, he and Liddy begin planning to burglarize the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the Watergate hotel and office complex. They all move into the Watergate to prepare for the break-in. Martinez will recall: “We brought briefcases and things like that to look elegant. We registered as members of the Ameritus Corporation of Miami, and then we met in Eduardo’s room.” The briefing is “improvised,” Martinez will recall. Hunt says that the Castro funds are coming to the DNC, not McGovern’s headquarters, and they will find the evidence there. The plans are rather impromptu and indefinite, but Martinez trusts Hunt and does not question his expertise. (Martinez and Barker 10/1974)
Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50) Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 326; Reeves 2001, pp. 480)
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50)
The Nixon administration spends $8,400 on fake telegrams and advertisements to create a false impression of public support for the US mining of Vietnam’s Haiphong harbor. This will not come to light until March 1973, when a disaffected official of the Nixon campaign (CREEP) tells Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward of the operation. The false telegrams are sent to the White House and publicly presented by press secretary Ron Ziegler and other Nixon officials. In addition, CREEP purchases an advertisement in the New York Times purporting to be from a group of “concerned citizens” that attacks the Times for its opposition to the mining operation. “The [Times] ad was paid for by CREEP with 40 of those $100 bills in [CREEP finance director Maurice] Stans’s safe,” the official will say (see Before April 7, 1972). Another CREEP official will tell Woodward that the Haiphong public relations offensive “put the entire staff in overdrive for two weeks,” between creating false telegrams, busing supporters to Washington, organizing petition drives and phone campaigns, and getting supporters to call Congress. After the Post prints the story, Woodward learns that CREEP also rigged a poll conducted by Washington television station WTTG. The poll was based on sample ballots printed in the local newspapers. CREEP has ten people working for days purchasing newspapers, filling out ballots in different handwriting, and mailing them in. The fake ballots radically skew the poll in favor of the mining operation. A CREEP spokesman will confirm the ballot-stuffing operation and say, “We assumed the other side would do it also.” Frank Mankiewicz, a senior campaign aide for the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate George McGovern, will respond incredulously: “It didn’t occur to us, believe me. Those guys are something. They assume we have the same sleazy ethics as them.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 265-267; Pike 2008)
Neoconservatives see Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s floundering campaign and eventual landslide defeat (see November 7, 1972) as emblematic of, in author Craig Unger’s words, everything that is wrong with the “defeatist, isolationist policies of the liberals who had captured the Democratic Party.” If the neoconservatives had had their way, their favorite senator, Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s), would have won the nomination. But the Vietnam War has put hawkish Cold Warriors like Jackson in disfavor in the party, and Jackson was set aside for the disastrous McGovern candidacy. The Republicans offer little interest themselves for the neoconservatives. Richard Nixon is enamored of one of their most hated nemeses, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, whose “realpolitik” did nothing to excite their ideological impulses. And under Nixon, the icy Cold War is slowly thawing, with summit meetings, bilateral commissions, and arms limitations agreements continually bridging the gap between the US and the neoconservatives’ implacable foe, the Soviet Union. In Nixon’s second term, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM)—populated by Democratic neoconservatives like Jackson, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Nixon’s domestic adviser), Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ben Wattenberg, and James Woolsey, and joined by 1968 Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, will pressure Nixon to adopt a tough “peace through strength” policy towards the Soviet Union. Although it will take time, and the formation of countless other organizations with similar memberships and goals, this group of neoconservatives and hawkish hardliners will succeed in marginalizing Congress, demonizing their enemies, and taking over the entire foreign policy apparatus of the US government. (Unger 2007, pp. 47-48)
Five burglars (see June 17, 1972) are arrested at 2:30 a.m. while breaking in to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters offices in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex; the DNC occupies the entire sixth floor. (Lewis 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
Discovery - They are surprised at gunpoint by three plainclothes officers of the DC Metropolitan Police. Two ceiling panels have been removed from the secretary’s office, which is adjacent to that of DNC chairman Lawrence O’Brien. It is possible to place a surveillance device above those panels that could monitor O’Brien’s office. The five suspects, all wearing surgical gloves, have among them two sophisticated voice-activated surveillance devices that can monitor conversations and telephone calls alike; lock-picks, door jimmies, and an assortment of burglary tools; and $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills in sequence. They also have a walkie-talkie, a shortwave receiver tuned to the police band, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35mm cameras, and three pen-sized tear gas guns. Near to where the men are captured is a file cabinet with two open drawers; a DNC source speculates that the men might have been preparing to photograph the contents of the file drawers.
Guard Noticed Taped Door - The arrests take place after a Watergate security guard, Frank Wills, notices a door connecting a stairwell with the hotel’s basement garage has been taped so it will not lock; the guard removes the tape, but when he checks ten minutes later and finds the lock taped once again, the guard calls the police. The police find that all of the stairwell doors leading from the basement to the sixth floor have been similarly taped to prevent them from locking. The door leading from the stairwell to the DNC offices had been jimmied. During a search of the offices, one of the burglars leaps from behind a desk and surrenders. (Lewis 6/18/1972) The FBI agents responding to the burglary are initially told that the burglars may have been attempting to plant a bomb in the offices. The “bomb” turns out to be surveillance equipment. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Last Mission for Martinez - One of the burglars, Cuban emigre and CIA agent Eugenio Martinez, will recall the burglary. They have already successfully burglarized a psychiatrist’s office in search of incriminating material on Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and successfully bugged the DNC offices less than a month previously (see May 27-28, 1972), but Martinez is increasingly ill at ease over the poor planning and amateurish behavior of his colleagues (see Mid-June 1972). This will be his last operation, he has decided. Team leader E. Howard Hunt, whom Martinez calls by his old code name “Eduardo,” is obviously intrigued by the material secured from the previous burglary, and wants to go through the offices a second time to find more. Martinez is dismayed to find that Hunt has two operations planned for the evening, one for the DNC and one for the campaign offices of Democratic candidate George McGovern. Former CIA agent and current Nixon campaign security official James McCord (see June 19, 1972), the electronics expert of the team, is equally uncomfortable with the rushed, almost impromptu plan. Hunt takes all of the burglars’ identification and puts it in a briefcase. He gives another burglar, Frank Sturgis, his phony “Edward J. Hamilton” ID from his CIA days, and gives each burglar $200 in cash to bribe their way out of trouble. Interestingly, Hunt tells the burglars to keep the keys to their hotel rooms. Martinez later writes: “I don’t know why. Even today, I don’t know. Remember, I was told in advance not to ask about those things.”
Taping the Doors - McCord goes into the Watergage office complex, signs in, and begins taping the doors to the stairwells from the eighth floor all the way to the garage. After waiting for everyone to leave the offices, the team prepares to enter. Gonzalez and Sturgis note that the tape to the basement garage has been removed. Martinez believes the operation will be aborted, but McCord disagrees; he convinces Hunt and the other team leader, White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, to continue. It is McCord’s responsibility to remove the tape once the burglars are inside, but he fails to do so. The team is well into the DNC offices when the police burst in. “There was no way out,” Martinez will recall. “We were caught.” Barker is able to surreptitiously advise Hunt, who is still in the hotel, that they have been discovered. Martinez will later wonder if the entire second burglary might have been “a set-up or something like that because it was so easy the first time. We all had that feeling.” The police quickly find the burglars’ hotel keys and then the briefcase containing their identification. As they are being arrested, McCord, who rarely speaks and then not above a whisper, takes charge of the situation. He orders everyone to keep their mouths shut. “Don’t give your names,” he warns. “Nothing. I know people. Don’t worry, someone will come and everything will be all right. This thing will be solved.” (Martinez and Barker 10/1974; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/7/2007)
'Third-Rate Burglary' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler will respond to allegations that the White House and the Nixon presidential campaign might have been involved in the Watergate burglary by calling it a “third-rate burglary attempt,” and warning that “certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is.” (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973) The Washington Post chooses, for the moment, to cover it as a local burglary and nothing more; managing editor Howard Simons says that it could be nothing more than a crime committed by “crazy Cubans.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 19)
CIA Operation? - In the weeks and months to come, speculation will arise as to the role of the CIA in the burglary. The Nixon White House will attempt to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA, an attempt forestalled by McCord (see March 19-23, 1973). In a 1974 book on his involvement in the conspiracy, McCord will write: “The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not.” Another author, Carl Oglesby, will claim otherwise, saying that the burglary is a CIA plot against Nixon. Former CIA officer Miles Copeland will claim that McCord led the burglars into a trap. Journalist Andrew St. George will claim that CIA Director Richard Helms knew of the break-in before it occurred, a viewpoint supported by Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, who will tell St. George that McCord is a “double agent” whose deliberate blunders led to the arrest of the burglars. No solid evidence of CIA involvement in the Watergate conspiracy has so far been revealed. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
The US media initially pays little attention to the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Most political reporting is focused on ridiculing Democrat George McGovern’s chances of becoming president. Time prints a five-page report on McGovern’s campaign proposals, and offers its sardonic vision of America under McGovern: “The neighborhood draft dodger has triumphantly returned home to take one of the new jobs at Freedom Fleet, a bus company shuttling ghetto children to racially balanced schools in the suburbs. After work, the ex-expatriate picks up his date at the corner abortion parlor, stops next door at Pot City for some Acapulco Gold, and then trips off to Timothy Leary’s Dizzyland, a new chain of rock-‘n’-roll-your-own nightclubs springing up in abandoned American Legion halls.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 502-503)
President Nixon tells a gathering of reporters regarding the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), “The White House has no involvement in this particular incident.” Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward find the phrasing—“this particular incident”—interesting. They have already unearthed numerous connections between the White House and the Watergate burglars, some more tenuous than others, but all pointing to a larger, if indistinct, pattern:
Burglar Frank Sturgis is one of the men who attacked Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see March 1971) outside a memorial service for the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in May 1972.
The address book of one of the burglars contains sketches of the hotel rooms to be used by the campaign of Democratic candidate George McGovern during the Democratic National Convention in Miami.
A Miami architect says that burglar Bernard Barker tried to obtain blueprints of the Miami convention hall and its air-conditioning system.
Burglar E. Howard Hunt’s boss at the public relations firm he works for (see June 17, 1972), Robert Bennett, has organized over 100 dummy campaign committees that have been used to funnel millions of dollars into the Nixon re-election campaign.
Burglar James McCord (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) was carrying an application for college press credentials for the Democratic convention when he was arrested.
Three of the Watergate burglars, all Miami residents, had been in Washington at the same time the offices of some prominent Democratic lawyers in the Watergate had been burgled. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 29)
The Democratic National Convention, held to nominate George S. McGovern as the Democratic presidential candidate, is chaotic at best. The nomination of McGovern’s running mate is especially troublesome, as recalcitrant and sometimes obstreporous delegates and party officials nominate 39 separate candidates for vice president, including Martha Mitchell (see June 22-25, 1972) and China’s Communist leader Mao Zedong. McGovern and the party officials finally settle on freshman senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO)—after McGovern goes through 24 separate possibilities who turn him down one after the other. Because of the fractious and time-consuming proceedings, McGovern does not make his speech accepting the nomination until 3 a.m. EST. (Reeves 2001, pp. 513)
Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton withdraws from the campaign. A week before, anonymous (actually Nixon campaign) sources leaked information to the press about Eagleton’s history of “nervous exhaustion” and “depression.” Between 1960 and 1966, Eagleton had been hospitalized three times, and had twice undergone electroshock therapy. Eagleton acknowledges that he lied to McGovern aides about his medical history when they asked him about any potential skeletons in his closet. Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern says that although he knew nothing about Eagleton’s medical history, he would have chosen Eagleton as his running mate regardless. (“They nominated a crazy man!” former Treasury Secretary John Connally exclaims upon hearing the news.) After several leading Democrats turn down the position, McGovern finally lands a replacement running mate in former Peace Corps chief Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). (Reeves 2001, pp. 518-519)
After a tirade about how humiliated and angry he was when he was investigated and audited by the IRS, President Nixon demands that the same kinds of investigations be performed on the Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern, and his campaign staff and financiers. “What in the name of God are we doing on this one?” he asks. “What are we doing about the financial contributors?… Are we looking over the financial contributors to the Democratic National Committee? Are we running their income tax returns? Is the Justice Department checking to see whether or not there are any antitrust suits (see July 31, 1971)?… We have all this power and we aren’t using it. Now what the Christ is the matter?” Nixon particularly wants the tax returns of businessman Henry Kimmelman, one of the largest financial backers of the McGovern campaign, but the new Secretary of the Treasury, George Shultz, is reluctant to use the IRS for political purposes. Nixon cannot understand Shultz’s hesitation. “What’s he trying to do, say that we can’t play politics with IRS?… Just tell George he should do it.” Nixon has Kimmelman’s tax returns within three days. By the same time, IRS audits of McGovern’s campaign and senior officials are well underway. (Reeves 2001, pp. 519-521)
Shortly after the Watergate indictments are handed down (see September 15, 1972), White House counsel John Dean is summoned to the Oval Office. He arrives to find President Nixon and chief of staff H. R. Haldeman “all grins,” as Dean will recall for his Watergate grand jury testimony. They are pleased the indictments have only gone as far as the seven burglars. “Great job, John,” Nixon tells Dean. “Bob told me what a great job you’re doing.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 312)
Nixon Encouraging Cover-up, Illegal Influence of Judge - According to Dean’s later testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Nixon “told me that Bob had kept him posted on my handling of the Watergate case. The President told me I had done a good job and he appreciated how difficult a task it had been and the President was pleased that the case had stopped with Liddy.… I responded that I could not take credit because others had done much more difficult things than I had done.” Dean will say that he is thinking of senior campaign official Jeb Magruder, who had perjured himself to keep the Watergate grand jury from learning of higher involvement (see August 1972). “I also told him that there was a long way to go before this matter would end, and that I certainly could make no assurance that the day would not come when this matter would start to unravel.” Dean tells Nixon that there is a good chance to delay the Democrats’ civil suits against the Nixon campaign (see June 20, 1972) until after the election because campaign lawyers are talking out of court to the judge, Charles Richey, who is “very understanding and trying to accommodate their problems” (see August 22, 1972). Nixon says, “Well, that’s helpful.” If Dean’s testimony is accurate, Nixon is encouraging the cover-up of criminal activity, and is supportive of attempts to illegally influencing a judge in a civil suit. (Time 7/9/1973)
Nixon: Is Everyone Together 'to Stonewall?' - Nixon says he particularly enjoyed the burglars’ assertions to reporters that they would not inform on any superiors, and their memorized tirades about the Communist threat. He then asks, “Is the line pretty well set now on, when asked about the Watergate, as to what everybody says and does, to stonewall?” Haldeman responds that the burglars, particularly the four Cubans, “really believe” what they’re saying. “I mean, that was their motivation. They’re afraid of [Democratic candidate George] McGovern. They’re afraid he’ll sell out to the communists, which he will.” Dean predicts that “nothing will come crashing down” between now and the elections (see November 7, 1972). Nixon is already planning his post-election vengeance. “I want the most comprehensive notes on all those that tried to do us in,” he orders. “They are asking for it and they are going to get it…. We have not used the power in the first four years, as you know… but things are going to change now.” “That’s an exciting prospect,” Dean replies. (Reeves 2001, pp. 526-527)
The White House, the Nixon re-election campaign, and Republican supporters begin publicly attacking the Washington Post over its Watergate coverage.
'Character Assassination' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler says, when asked about the Watergate conspiracy: “I will not dignify with comment stories based on hearsay, character assassination, innuendo or guilt by association.… The president is concerned about the technique being applied by the opposition in the stories themselves.… The opposition has been making charges which have not been substantiated.” Ziegler later calls the Post reports “a blatant effort at character assassination that I do not think has been witnessed in the political process in some time.”
'Political Garbage' - The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) attacks what he calls “political garbage” printed about Watergate: “The Washington Post is conducting itself by journalistic standards that would cause mass resignations on principle from the Quicksilver Times, a local underground newspaper,” and accuses the Post of essentially working for the Democrats. (Six months after his attacks, Dole will say that the credibility of the Nixon administration is “zilch, zero.” Years later, Dole will apologize to Post reporter Bob Woodward for his comments.)
CREEP Accusations - Clark MacGregor, the chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), holds a press conference to say, “The Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate—a charge the Post knows—and a half dozen investigations have found—to be false.” (MacGregor fields angry questions from the gathered reporters, some of whom bluntly challenge his credibility and his truthfulness, with stoicism, refusing to answer any of them, and instead sticking with his prepared statement.) MacGregor demands to know why the Post hasn’t investigated apparent campaign “dirty tricks” carried out against the Nixon campaign. Like Dole, MacGregor accuses the Post of collaborating with the Democrats, and even charges that Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern encouraged former defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the press (see March 1971).
Post Thinks Campaign Orchestrated by White House - Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, examining the statements by Ziegler, Dole, and MacGregor, is certain that the entire attack was orchestrated by the White House and perhaps by President Nixon himself. Bradlee issues a statement saying that everything the Post has reported on Watergate is factual and “unchallenged by contrary evidence.” He tells reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that “this is the hardest hardball that has ever been played in this town,” and warns them to keep out of any compromising situations that could be used by the White House to challenge their credibility. After Nixon’s landslide presidential victory (see November 7, 1972), the attacks continue. Senior White House aide Charles Colson says, “The charge of subverting the whole political process, that is a fantasy, a work of fiction rivaling only Gone With the Wind in circulation and Portnoy’s Complaint for indecency.” (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973; Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 161-166; Woodward 2005, pp. 83-84)
Richard Nixon defeats Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the largest landslide in modern electoral history. Nixon wins over 60 percent of the votes and 49 of the 50 states. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) Democrats retain control of the House and Senate. Nixon’s victory breaches traditional Democratic strongholds in the Northeast, and his “Southern strategy” creates a “Solid South” of Republican support. Harry Dent, a White House aide involved in the “Southern strategy” of targeting conservative Democrats who once supported segregationist candidate George Wallace (see May 15, 1972), says, “[T]he Southern strategy is working—in fact, it’s working all over the country.” Democrats, on the other hard, were sharply divided throughout the campaign, with many traditional Democratically aligned organizations such as trade unions refusing to back the McGovern candidacy, problems with finding and keeping a suitable vice-presidential running mate, and McGovern surviving a challenge to his primary victory at the Democratic convention. (Broder 11/8/1972) The simmering Watergate investigations apparently have little drag on the Nixon re-election efforts.
President Nixon and senior aide Charles Colson discuss the Watergate trial just underway (see January 8-11, 1973). Nixon has apparently just learned that someone in his re-election campaign planted electronic surveillance on Gary Hart, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s campaign manager. Nixon tells Colson: “I understand [chief of staff H. R.] Haldeman is after some kid that bugged Gary Hart.… But how could that be? Watergate came before McGovern got off the ground, and I don’t know why the hell we bugged McGovern.” Colson replies: “Remember. That was after the California primary” (where McGovern clinched the nomination). Nixon grouses: “That’s the thing about all of this. We didn’t get a g_ddamn thing from any of it that I can see.” Colson disagrees: “Well, frankly, we did, but then, what they mainly used, we know.” Later in the conversation, Nixon brings up the problem of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, who has what Nixon calls a “sensitive position” in the Watergate investigation—Hunt knows enough to blow the lid off the entire conspiracy, and has threatened to reveal it if he is not paid (see Mid-November, 1972). Colson says: “The others [the other six defendants] will just tell the truth and prove their case. But there is one advantage to it. There’ll be a hell of a lot of stuff that’ll come out.… Some counts will be dropped against Hunt. There will be appeals pending in the other cases.” Nixon adds, “As long as this trial is going on, the Congress will keep its g_ddamn, cotton-pickin’ hands off that trial.” Colson is sure the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) will begin immunizing witnesses to testify.
Using the CIA Connection - As the conversation moves on, Colson agrees with Nixon that he thought the Democrats might drop their interest in the burglary after the election, especially since “I think they figured that these were all guys who were CIA.… And they were all taking orders from people… acting on behalf of John Mitchell [the former head of Nixon’s re-election campaign].” Nixon says that it should be a simple thing to grant Hunt executive clemency, considering Hunt’s wife is dead and he has a child with permanent brain damage suffered in an automobile accident. “We’ll build that son of a b_tch up like nobody’s business. We’ll have Buckley write a column and say that he should have clemency, if you’ve given 18 years of service.” Colson adds that Buckley “served under Hunt in the CIA.” (Conservative columnist William F. Buckley became a CIA agent in 1951, and worked under Hunt in Mexico City.)
Abandoning Five of the Burglars - The five Cuban burglars, Colson says, are irrelevant. They “didn’t have any direct information.… I don’t give a damn if they spend five years in jail…. They can’t hurt us.… Hunt and [G. Gordon] Liddy: direct meetings and discussions are very incriminating to us.” Colson is not worried so much about Liddy, saying: “Apparently he’s one of those masochists. He enjoys punishing himself. That’s okay, as long as he remains stable. I mean, he’s tough…. [Hunt and Liddy are] both good, healthy, right-wing exuberants.” Nixon says wearily, “This… is the last damn fifty miles.” (Reston 2007, pp. 191-195)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is steered to a George Washington University student named Craig Hillegass. The student tells Woodward that his fraternity brother, Theodore Brill, was paid $150 a week by the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) to infiltrate the group of Quakers who maintain a 24-hour a day “peace vigil” in front of the White House. Brill reported information on the protesters’ demonstration plans and personal lives, and then helped plan and execute raids for drug possession. The Washington police eventually did raid the vigil, but found nothing. Brill, the chairman of GWU’s Young Republicans chapter, was terminated by CREEP two days after the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “The idea,” Hillegass tells Woodward, “was to create an embarrassment to the Democrats, because any embarrassment to radical groups would be considered an embarrassment to liberal politics and Senator [George] McGovern,” the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 (see November 7, 1972). Hillegass recalls that the method of paying Brill was almost cartoonish in its covert nature: “Ted said he once was told to meet a woman in a red dress with a white carnation, carrying a newspaper. He exchanged his written report for an envelope containing his pay.” Woodward is most interested in Hillegass’s recollection that Brill’s campaign “dirty tricks” were connected to higher-level officials in CREEP—and the number of other “agents provacateurs” being employed by the campaign. Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) was only one of 50 or so provacateurs employed by the campaign, and the Post has always wanted to know who the other 49 were. Brill was definitely small fry, but, Woodward believes, part of a larger pattern. When Woodward speaks with Brill himself, the student confirms his former job with CREEP, and says that he was hired by George Gorton, CREEP’s national youth director. He was paid five times—four times in cash and once with Gorton’s personal check, never in a way that could be traced back to the campaign. Brill says he was supposed to go to Miami and join other campaign operatives in similar operations to the Quaker infiltration, but the Watergate burglary brought that to an abrupt close. Gorton confirms that Brill worked for him in the campaign, but denies he or Brill ever did anything illegal. Interestingly, Gorton initially boasts that he had people gathering information on “radicals” in 38 states, then backs off and says Brill was his only operative. Gorton says he reported to Kenneth Rietz, the director of CREEP’s Youth Vote Division. Rietz had been recommended by H. R. Haldeman to take over as the head of the Republican National Committee. The Posts prints a story based on Woodward’s information, and notes that Brill’s salary was not reported in CREEP’s financial disclosures. The General Accounting Office (GAO) will audit CREEP’s finances and discover that the campaign had maintained a clandestine “Kiddie Corps” of young spies working around the country. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 262-265)
Former White House counsel John Dean, continuing his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), provides a sheaf of documents to the committee. Among those is the “Opponents List and Political Enemies Project,” informally called President Nixon’s “enemies list.” The list is actually a set of documents “several inches thick” of names and information about Nixon’s political enemies. It was compiled by a number of administration officials, including Dean, White House aides Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Lyn Nofziger, beginning in 1971. One of the documents from August 16, 1971, has Dean suggesting ways in which “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Methods proposed included administration manipulation of “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.” The Dean memo was given to then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Ehrlichman for approval. Though Dean testifies that he does not know if the plan was set into motion, subsequent documents submitted to the committee indicate that it was indeed implemented. A condensed list of 20 “White House enemies” was produced by Colson’s office; a larger list included ten Democratic senators, all 12 black House members, over 50 news and television reporters, prominent businessmen, labor leaders, and entertainers, and contributors to the 1972 presidential campaign of Democratic senator Edmund Muskie. The condensed list includes, in priority order:
“1. Arnold M. Picker, United Artists Corp., NY. Top Muskie fund raiser. Success here could be both debilitating and very embarrassing to the Muskie machine. If effort looks promising, both Ruth and David Picker should be programmed and then a follow through with United Artists.”
“2. Alexander E. Barkan, national director of AFL-CIO’s committee on Political Education, Washington D.C.: Without a doubt the most powerful political force programmed against us in 1968 ($10 million, 4.6 million votes, 115 million pamphlets, 176,000 workers—all programmed by Barkan’s COPE—so says Teddy White in The Making of the President 1968). We can expect the same effort this time.”
“3. Ed Guthman, managing editor, Los Angeles Times: Guthman, former Kennedy aide, was a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ‘68. It is obvious he is the prime mover behind the current Key Biscayne effort. It is time to give him the message.”
“4. Maxwell Dane, Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, NY: The top Democratic advertising firm—they destroyed Goldwater in ‘64. They should be hit hard starting with Dane.”
“5. Charles Dyson, Dyson-Kissner Corp., NY: Dyson and [Democratic National Committee chairman] Larry O’Brien were close business associates after ‘68. Dyson has huge business holdings and is presently deeply involved in the Businessmen’s Educational Fund which bankrolls a national radio network of five-minute programs—anti-Nixon in character.”
“6. Howard Stein, Dreyfus Corp., NY: Heaviest contributor to [Democratic presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy in ‘68. If McCarthy goes, will do the same in ‘72. If not, Lindsay or McGovern will receive the funds.”
“7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
“8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
“9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
“10. S. Sterling Munro Jr., Sen. [Henry Jackson’s aide, Silver Spring, Md: We should give him a try. Positive results would stick a pin in Jackson’s white hat.”
“11. Bernard T. Feld, president, Council for a Livable World: Heavy far left funding. They will program an ‘all court press’ against us in ‘72.”
“12. Sidney Davidoff, New York City, [New York City Mayor John V.] Lindsay’s top personal aide: a first class SOB, wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
“13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
“14. Samuel M. Lambert, president, National Education Association: Has taken us on vis-a-vis federal aid to parochial schools—a ‘72 issue.” (Facts on File 6/2003) Committee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) is clearly outraged by the list, and particularly by Lambert’s inclusion. He says, “Here is a man listed among the opponents whose only offense is that he believed in the First Amendment and shared Thomas Jefferson’s conviction, as expressed in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that to compel a man to make contributions of money for the dissemination of religious opinions he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. Isn’t that true?” Dean replies, “I cannot disagree with the chairman at all.” (Time 7/9/1973)
“15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
“16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
“17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
“18. S. Harrison Dogole, Philadelphia, Pa: President of Globe Security Systems—fourth largest private detective agency in US. Heavy Humphrey [former presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey] contributor. Could program his agency against us.”
“19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
“20. Mary McGrory, Washington columnist: Daily hate Nixon articles.”
Another “master list” of political enemies prepared by Colson’s office includes Democratic senators Birch Bayh, J. W. Fulbright, Fred R. Harris, Harold Hughes, Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire; House representatives Bella Abzug, William R. Anderson, John Brademas, Father Robert F. Drinan, Robert Kastenmeier, Wright Patman; African-American representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert N.C. Nix, Parren Mitchell, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes; and several other politicians, including Lindsay, McCarthy, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama (see May 15, 1972). The list also includes an array of liberal, civil rights and antiwar organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Brookings Institution, Common Cause, the Farmers Union, the National Economic Council, the National Education Association, the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Convention; a variety of labor organizations; many reporters, columnists, and other news figures; a short list of celebrities including Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Steve McQueen, Joe Namath, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, and Barbra Streisand; and a huge list of businessmen and academics. The documents provide suggestions for avenues of attack against individual listees, including using “income tax discrepancies,” allegations of Communist connections, and other information. (Facts on File 6/2003) In 1999, Schorr will joke that being on Nixon’s enemies list “changed my life a great deal. It increased my lecture fee, got me invited to lots of very nice dinners. It was so wonderful that one of my colleagues that I will not mention, but a very important man at CBS, said, ‘Why you, Schorr? Why couldn’t it have been me on the enemies list?’” (CNN 3/27/1999) Schorr does not mention that he was the subject of an FBI investigation because of his listing. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
The Republican governor of California, Ronald Reagan, has until now been undecided whether to run for president in 1976 against Ford. But Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination as vice president (see August 20, 1974) galvanizes Reagan and his team. Conservative Republicans begin gathering under Reagan’s banner to oppose what they see as an unacceptably left-leaning 1976 ticket of Ford and Rockefeller. Reagan is not universally popular in the GOP: Richard Nixon thought him “strange” and not “pleasant to be around.” For his part, Reagan has until now staunchly supported Nixon throughout the Watergate debacle, but has begun exhorting young conservatives to forget Nixon and embrace conservative ideology. At a Maryland fund-raising party, Reagan tells the crowd that the Ford administration must reassert what he calls the “mandate of 1972,” when Nixon trounced Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the most lopsided victory in modern US history. By re-electing Nixon so overwhelmingly, Reagan says, “voters rejected an invitation to Utopia and reaffirmed the basic values from which our system was built. They voted for fiscal responsibility and individual determination of their own destinies.… They repudiated the idea that government should grow bigger and bigger, that we should embrace more costly programs to alleviate human misery—programs that somehow never succeed no matter how much money is spent on them. The mandate of 1972 was a matter of the people vs. big government. The people, I believe, have given the government a mandate which they expect to be enforced.” (Werth 2006, pp. 180-181)
Spiro T. Agnew, the Republican vice president who resigned his office after pleading no contest to tax evasion charges (see October 10, 1973), dies of leukemia in his home state of Maryland. Former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan recalls Agnew’s “raw political courage” for serving as “the voice of the silent majority” during the Nixon administration, and says: “Of all those caught up—on both sides—in the American tragedy of 1973-1974 [Watergate], Spiro Agnew was one of the good guys.… At a time when the establishment was craven in pandering to rioters and demonstrators, Spiro Agnew told the truth.” Buchanan helped write some of Agnew’s most inflammatory speeches (see 1969-1971). Other Republicans also laud Agnew, even though for twenty years Agnew has had virtually no contact with any of his former Republican confrerees. “Spiro Agnew earned the support of millions of his countrymen because he was never afraid to speak out and stand up for America,” says Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), the Republican candidate for president. “He minced no words when patriotism and military service were ridiculed.” And former President George H.W. Bush says of Agnew: “He was a friend. I loved his family.” Former Democratic senator and World War II veteran George McGovern, whose courage and patriotism was harshly attacked by Agnew during the 1972 presidential campaign, says, “Some of the things he said during his lifetime were extreme and regrettable, but nonetheless I mourn his passing.” Former Nixon speechwriter Vic Gold is perhaps the most rhapsodic, saying of Agnew, “He was the John the Baptist of the Reagan revolution.” (Clines 9/19/1996; Grady 9/19/1996) Reporter Sandy Grady is less forgiving. “Agnew was a small-time pol who became the most blatant crook to sit one heartbeat away from the presidency,” he writes. “He was a demagogue ranting ghost-written bile that split Americans amid the war and fires of the ‘60s. But political peers, sensing in Agnew’s tumble their own fragility, always treated Spiro as gently as a museum vase.” (Grady 9/19/1996) Historian Allan Lichtman observes, “He will always stand as one of the symbols of the corruption that undermined the Nixon administration.” Fellow historian Joan Huff, author of a biography of Nixon, dismisses Agnew as “a tiny blip in history.” (Greensboro News & Record 9/19/1996)
The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” (Unger 2007, pp. 304)
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006)
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” (Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006; Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Researchers David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, the authors of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, conducted extensive polling and research on the ideology and beliefs of those who consider themselves affiliated with the “tea party” movement for their book. Campbell and Putnam write that their findings indicate what many have long believed: that by and large, the American “tea party” movement is made up of people who populate the right wing of the Republican Party. Moreover, they note, their and other polling indicates that the “tea party” is fighting an increasing tide of American disapproval. Within the last year, the number of people who label themselves as “opponents” of the “tea party” movement has doubled to around 40 percent, while those considering themselves “supporters” have dwindled to around 20 percent. In the authors’ polling, the “tea party” movement ranks lower than Republicans or Democrats in favorability, and even lower than groups such as atheists and Muslims. Their approval numbers are similar to those of the Christian Right. “Tea party” members tend to be overwhelmingly white, and their tolerance and approval of immigrants and minorities are significantly lower than even mainstream Republicans. They embrace many positions taken by so-called “social conservatives”—strong opposition to abortion, for example, and strong support for increasing the role of religion in politics. The authors write, “The tea party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.” “Tea party” members tend to support Republican presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Rick Perry (R-TX), who proclaim their affinity for religion in politics. However, mainstream Americans tend to frown on increasing the role of religion in politics. According to the authors’ research, while the media narrative has portrayed the “tea party” movement as what they term “nonpartisan political neophytes,” in fact the early members of the movement were what the authors call “highly partisan Republicans.” Today, they observe, “past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of tea party support today.” The authors conclude: “On everything but the size of government, tea party supporters are increasingly out of step with most Americans, even many Republicans. Indeed, at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, today’s tea party parallels the anti-Vietnam War movement which rallied behind George S. McGovern (D-SD) in 1972. The McGovernite activists brought energy, but also stridency, to the Democratic Party—repelling moderate voters and damaging the Democratic brand for a generation. By embracing the tea party, Republicans risk repeating history.” (Campbell and Putnam 8/16/2011)
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