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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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Life Magazine cover featuring Agnew.Life Magazine cover featuring Agnew. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Vice President Spiro Agnew, fresh from helping Richard Nixon win the 1968 election by viciously attacking their Democratic opponents, wins a reputation as a tough-talking, intensely negative public presence in Washington. Much of Agnew’s tirades are crafted by White House speechwriters Pat Buchanan and William Safire. In 1969, Agnew derides antiwar protesters, saying, “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” [Time, 9/30/1996] Student war protesters “have never done a productive thing in their lives,” and, “They take their tactics from Fidel Castro and their money from daddy.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 10/11/1998] In 1970, he attacks the American media and critics of the Nixon administration alike, telling a San Diego audience that “we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.” Agnew attacks enemies of the administration as “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” “vicars of vacillation,” and “the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” Democrats are “radic-libs” and “ideological eunuchs.” In Des Moines, reading a speech written by Buchanan, Agnew slams the US media industry, saying it is dominated by a “tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.” Agnew’s unrelenting attacks on the press raise, reporter Lance Morrow writes in 1996, “issues of media bias, arrogance and unaccountability that are still banging around in the American mind.” Agnew is undone by his own negativity, earning a barrage of critical press coverage for, among other things, calling an Asian-American reporter a “fat Jap,” referring to a group of Polish-Americans as “Polacks,” and dismissing the plight of America’s poor by saying, “To some extent, if you’ve seen one city slum, you’ve seen them all.” Many political observers feel that Agnew’s heated rhetoric is the precursor to the wave of personal, negative attack politics practiced by the GOP in the decades to come. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; Time, 9/30/1996] Interestingly, while many Americans celebrate Agnew’s rhetoric, few want him as a successor to the presidency. One Baltimore bar patron says, “I don’t want the president of the United States to sound like I do after I’ve had a few beers.” [Economist, 9/28/1996]

Entity Tags: William Safire, Richard M. Nixon, Spiro T. Agnew, Lance Morrow, Patrick Buchanan, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford Relations with Media, Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Vice President Spiro Agnew

Pat Buchanan, June 1969.Pat Buchanan, June 1969. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Nixon’s speechwriter, Pat Buchanan, writes a memo urging Nixon not to visit “the Widow King”—his term for civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s wife Coretta Scott King—on the first anniversary of her husband’s assassination. Buchanan writes that a visit would “outrage many, many people who believe Dr. King was a fraud and a demagogue and perhaps worse.… Others consider him the Devil incarnate. Dr. King is one of the most divisive men in contemporary history.” The memo will be publicly revealed in the 1980s. [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 2/26/1996]

Entity Tags: Coretta Scott King, Richard M. Nixon, Patrick Buchanan, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford Relations with Media, Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Nixon, deep in planning for his 1972 re-election campaign, issues several orders regarding the campaign’s approach towards African-American voters. He notes in the margin of a news story about some blacks possibly supporting his re-election, “Be sure our [public relations] types make it clear we aren’t adopting policy for the promise of being 100% Negro and winning their vote—We know this is not possible.” Beside a headline proclaiming that a court-ordered desegretation deadline will not be enforced, he writes, “Excellent job.” And on a news article about a proposal to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a national holiday, he writes: “No! Never!” He tells his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, “That would be like making Nero Christ.” He does learn of one idea for mobilizing black voters that he likes. He reads of the formation of a black-led political party in Alabama that will siphon votes from Democratic candidates, and memos Haldeman, “Get this subsidized now.” He underlines “now” twice. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Nixon Campaign 'Dirty Tricks'

The New York Times publishes the first of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” the Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (see January 15, 1969 and March 1971). The Washington Post will begin publishing the papers days later. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 330; Moran, 2007] The first story is entitled “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement,” and is labeled the first of a series. [Moran, 2007] The opening paragraph, by reporter Neil Sheehan, reads, “A massive study of how the United States went to war in Indochina, conducted by the Pentagon three years ago, demonstrates that four administrations [Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon] progressively developed a sense of commitment to a non-Communist Vietnam, a readiness to fight the North to protect the South, and an ultimate frustration with this effort—to a much greater extent than their public statements acknowledged at the time.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 330]
Nixon Believes Publication May Discredit Predecessors, Not Him - President Nixon, who is not mentioned in the papers, at first is not overly worried about the papers being made public, and feels they may actually do him more good than harm. [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] In a tape-recorded conversation the same day as the first story is published, Nixon tells National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger that in some ways, the story helps him politically, serving to remind the voting public that the Vietnam War is more the product of his predecessors’ errors than his own. Nixon says that the publication just proves how important it is for his administration to “clean house” of disloyal members who might take part in such a “treasonable” act. [Moran, 2007] “This is really tough on Kennedy, [Robert] McNamara [Kennedy’s secretary of defense], and Johnson,” he says. “Make sure we call them the Kennedy-Johnson papers. But we need… to keep out of it.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 331]
Kissinger Argues that Leak is a Threat to Nixon's Administration - However, Kissinger is furious, yelling to his staff: “This will destroy American credibility forever. We might as well just tell it all to the Soviets and get it over with.” Kissinger convinces Nixon to try to stop the Times from publishing the documents by in part appealing to his masculinity—Nixon would not want to appear as a “weakling” to his foreign adversaries, Kissinger argues. Kissinger himself fears that his former association with Ellsberg will damage his own standing in the White House. Kissinger says he knows that Ellsberg is a womanizer and a “known drug user” who “shot at peasants in Vietnam,” and that information can be used to damage Ellsberg’s credibility (see Late June-July 1971). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 334; Werth, 2006, pp. 84-87] One of the arguments Kissinger successfully uses to stoke Nixon’s ire is that the papers were leaked by one or more “radical left-wing[ers]” to damage the administration’s credibility. Nixon calls the leak a “conspiracy” against him and his administration. [Moran, 2007] Nixon soon attempts to stop further publications with a lawsuit against the Times (see June 15, 1971). The Post will also become involved in the lawsuit. [Herda, 1994] Nixon initially believes former Kissinger aide Leslie Gelb, now of the Brookings Institute, is responsible for leaking the documents. Although Nixon does not know this, he is quite wrong. Gelb has always worried that the documents would cause tremendous controversy if ever made public. Only 15 copies exist: five in Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird’s safe; copies under lock and key at the Kennedy and Johnson presidential libraries; several copies in the hands of former Johnson administration officials, including McNamara and his successor, Clark Clifford; and two at the RAND Corporation. Nixon widens his speculation over the leak, telling his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman that someone on Kissinger’s staff may have leaked the documents, or maybe some unknown group of “f_cking Jews.” Regardless of who it is, Nixon says, “Somebody’s got to go to jail for that.” It is Kissinger who quickly figures that Ellsberg was the leaker. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 331-334]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, New York Times, Kennedy administration, Johnson administration, Washington Post, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs, 'Pentagon Papers' Leak

President Nixon explodes in fury at a Jewish Department of Labor official’s statement to the press about unemployment rates going up. After a tirade about “Jew c_cks_cker[s]” being “radical left-wingers,” “untrustworthy,” and “disloyal,” Nixon orders a study of the number of Jews in that particular Labor Department bureau. “Thirteen of the 35 fit the demographic[s],” the answer reads. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 343-344]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, US Department of Labor

Category Tags: Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs

In a secretly recorded conversation in the Oval Office, President Nixon makes the following comments about Jewish contributors to the Democratic Party: “Please get the names of the Jews. You know, the big Jewish contributors to the Democrats. Could you please investigate some of the [expletive deleted].” The next day, Nixon continues the conversation, asking his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman: “What about the rich Jews? The IRS is full of Jews, Bob.” Haldeman replies, “What we ought to do is get a zealot who dislikes those people.” Nixon concurs: “Go after them like a son of a b_tch.” Nixon also reacts positively to Haldeman’s idea of the Republicans secretly funding a black independent presidential candidate in 1972 to siphon off Democratic votes: “Put that down for discussion—not for discussion, for action.” [PBS, 1/2/1997]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Nixon Campaign 'Dirty Tricks'

Reverend Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon.Reverend Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon. [Source: Associated Press]Richard Nixon, his religious adviser Billy Graham, and Nixon’s top aide H. R. Haldeman discuss their perceptions of Jewish influence in America. “They’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,” Graham, an influential preacher and televangelist, says. “This [Jewish] stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” Nixon, apparently delighted, asks, “You believe that?” Graham replies, “Yes, sir.” Nixon replies: “Oh, boy. So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.” Graham says: “No, but if you got elected a second time, then we might be able to do something.… I go and I keep friends with Mr. Rosenthal at the New York Times and people of that sort, you know,” referring to Times editor A. M. Rosenthal. “And all—I mean, not all the Jews, but a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country. And I have no power, no way to handle them, but I would stand up if under proper circumstances.” Nixon says, “You must not let them know.” [BBC, 3/2/2002; New York Times, 3/17/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 103] In 1994, after the publication of Haldeman’s diaries first reveals the contents of the anti-Semitic conversation between Nixon and Graham, Graham will say: “Those are not my words. I have never talked publicly or privately about the Jewish people, including conversations with President Nixon, except in the most positive terms.” [New York Times, 3/17/2002] In 2002, Graham will apologize for his remarks after the tapes of the conversations become public, though Graham will say he has no memory of ever saying such things. [BBC, 3/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Billy Graham, A. M. Rosenthal, H.R. Haldeman, New York Times

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford Relations with Media, Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs

Edmund Muskie.Edmund Muskie. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Less than two weeks before the New Hampshire presidential primary, the Manchester Union-Leader publishes a letter to the editor alleging that leading Democratic candidate and Maine senator Edmund Muskie approved a racial slur of Americans of French-Canadian descent (an important voting bloc in New Hampshire), and notes: “We have always known that Senator Muskie was a hypocrite. But we never expected to have it so clearly revealed as in this letter sent to us from Florida.” The crudely written letter becomes widely known as the “Canuck letter.” The next day, the paper’s publisher, William Loeb, publishes an attack on Muskie’s wife. An angry Muskie denounces the letter and the editorial, calling Loeb a “gutless coward,” and in the process apparently bursts into tears. The media focuses on Muskie’s tears, and the “weakness” it implies. As a result, Muskie’s standing in the polls begins to slip, and when votes are cast in New Hampshire, Muskie receives only 48% of the vote, far less than predicted. The letter is later found to have been a “dirty trick” of the Nixon campaign committee (see October 10, 1972), with White House communications official Ken Clawson admitting to actually writing the letter (see October 10, 1972). [Washington Post, 10/10/1972; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
View from 1987 - In 1987, David Broder, the author of the Washington Post story on the incident, recalls: “In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story. First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry.… Melting snow from his hatless head filled his eyes, he said, and made him wipe his face… the senator believes that he was damaged more by the press and television coverage of the event than by his own actions… it is now clear that the incident should have been placed in a different context: Muskie was victimized by the classic dirty trick that had been engineered by agents of the distant and detached President Nixon. The Loeb editorial that had brought Muskie out in the snowstorm had been based on a letter forged by a White House staff member intent on destroying Muskie’s credibility. But we didn’t know that and we didn’t work hard enough to find out.… Had those facts been known, I might have described Muskie in different terms: not as a victim of his over-ambitious campaign strategy and his too-human temperament, but as the victim of a fraud, managed by operatives of a frightened and unscrupulous president. That story surely would have had a different impact…. Unwittingly, I did my part in the work of the Nixon operatives in helping destroy the credibility of the Muskie candidacy.”
Media Expectations - Broder will admit that the story falls neatly into a storyline many in the media want to report: “the unraveling of a presidential front-runner’s campaign.” Muskie has shown frequent bouts of anger; according to Broder, many reporters are just waiting for something to trigger Muskie into an outburst that will damage his candidacy. For himself, Muskie will describe his emotional reaction: “I was just g_ddamned mad and choked up over my anger.… [I]t was a bad scene, whatever it was.” [Washington Monthly, 2/1987]

Entity Tags: William Loeb, Edmund Muskie, David S. Broder, Committee to Re-elect the President, Ken Clawson, Manchester Union-Leader

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Nixon, Ford Relations with Media, Nixon Election Victories, Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Nixon Campaign 'Dirty Tricks'

President Nixon still refuses to hand over the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski (see April 16, 1974). Instead, Nixon provides more edited transcripts of the tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Transcripts Prove His Innocence, Nixon Claims - A summary of the tapes, written by White House officials, says that the transcripts prove Nixon’s innocence. “In all of the thousands of words spoken,” the summary says, “even though they often are unclear and ambiguous, not once does it appear that the president of the United States was engaged in a criminal plot to obstruct justice.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974] Shortly after the release of the transcripts, Nixon appears on television with a pile of looseleaf notebooks—the transcripts, which he says he has personally compiled—and says: “In these transcripts, portions not relevant to my knowledge or actions with regard to Watergate are not included, but everything that is relevant is included—the rough as well as the smooth—the strategy sessions, the exploration of alternatives, the weighing of human and political costs. As far as what the president personally knew and did with regard to Watergate and the cover-up is concerned, these materials—together with those already made available—will tell it all.… I want there to be no question remaining about the fact that the president has nothing to hide in this matter.” [White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; Washington Post, 2007] “As far as the president’s role with regard to Watergate is concerned,” Nixon claims, “the entire story is there.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 608] He rails against the idea of impeaching him (see February 6, 1974), saying that the charges are based on “[r]umor, gossip, innuendo, [and] accounts from unnamed sources,” and implicitly accuses former White House counsel John Dean of lying about his involvement in the Watergate cover-up (see April 6-20, 1973). The 18 ½ minute erasure on one of the key tape recordings (see November 21, 1973) is “a mystery” to him, Nixon asserts. The nation must move past Watergate to deal with more serious matters, he says. [Washington Post, 2007]
Reaction Divided - Reaction on Congress is divided largely along party lines. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ) says the transcripts show Nixon is “in substantial compliance” with a Judiciary Committee subpoena. Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-FL) has a different view: “Why substitute other evidence when the direct evidence [the actual tapes] is available?” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974]
Transcripts Heavily Edited, Doctored - It quickly becomes evident that the transcripts have been heavily edited and altered, both to clean up Nixon’s language and to cloak the details of the events documented in the tapes. Only 11 of the 64 conversations cited in the subpoenas are present, and those have been doctored. The term “expletive deleted” quickly enters the political and popular lexicon, and even with much of the profanity and ethnic slurs deleted, the impression given by the transcripts is not popular with the American people; in the words of reporter Mike Feinsilber, the transcripts show Nixon “as a vengeful schemer—rambling, undisciplined, mean-spirited and bigoted.” Even the edited transcripts document Nixon participating in discussions about raising blackmail money and “laundering” payments, offering clemency or parole to convicted Watergate figures, discussing how to handle perjury or obstruction of justice charges, and debating how best to use the term “national security” to advance his own personal and political agendas. In one conversation, Dean says that one of their biggest problems is that they are not “pros” at the kinds of activities they are engaging in: “This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do.” Nixon replies: “That’s right.… Maybe it takes a gang to do that.” The Judiciary Committee immediately joins the special prosecutor in demanding the actual tapes. [Washington Post, 5/1/1974; Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1999; Reeves, 2001, pp. 608]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, John Dean, Carl Albert, John Rhodes, Mike Feinsilber, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Watergate Special Prosecutor, Nixon's Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Watergate Tapes and Documents

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