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The New World News, a British Moral Rearmament publication, prints what it calls the “Communist Rules for Revolution,” claiming that the “rules” were captured during a raid on a German Communist organization’s headquarters in Dusseldorf in 1919 by Allied forces during World War I, and published in the Bartlesville, Oklahoma (US) Examiner-Enterprise that same year. In 1946, the NWN writes, the attorney general of Florida, George A. Brautigam, obtained them from a known member of the Communist Party, who told him that the “Rules” were then still a part of the Communist program for the United States. According to the NWN, the “Rules” are as follows:
Corrupt the young; get them away from religion. Get them interested in sex. Make them superficial; destroy their ruggedness.
Get control of all means of publicity, thereby:
Get people’s minds off their government by focusing their attention on athletics, sexy books, plays, and immoral movies.
Divide the people into hostile groups by constantly harping on controversial matters of no importance.
Destroy the people’s faith in their natural leaders by holding the latter up to contempt, ridicule, and obloquy.
Always preach true democracy, but seize power as fast and as ruthlessly as possible.
By encouraging government extravagance, destroy its credit, produce years of inflation with rising prices and general discontent.
Incite unnecessary strikes in vital industries, encourage civil disorders, and foster a lenient and soft attitude on the part of government toward such disorders.
Cause breakdown of the old moral values—honesty, sobriety, self-restraint, faith in the pledged word, ruggedness.
Cause the registration of all firearms on some pretext, with a view to confiscating them and leaving the populace helpless.
The “Rules” are a hoax invented by NWN writers: there was no German Communist “Spartacist” headquarters in Dusseldorf, the Examiner-Enterprise never published such a document, and Russian experts at the University of Chicago will label them an “obvious fraud,” “an obvious fabrication,” and “an implausible concoction of American fears and phobias.” In 1970, the New York Times will investigate the document; no copies of it exist in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or any of the university libraries it examines. Montana Senator Lee Metcalf (D-MT) will look into the document’s existence around the same time, and will learn that both the FBI and CIA have already investigated it and found it to be “completely spurious.” (Brautigam did endorse the “Rules,” and his statement and signature avowing the legitimacy of the “Rules” will give the document a veneer of legitimacy.) However, the “Rules” will continue to be used to claim that Communists are for a number of ideas unpopular among European and American conservatives, most frequently gun control and sex education. The National Rifle Association is one organization that frequently cites the “Rules” in its arguments against gun-control legislation, citing the Communists’ “secret plans” to “confiscate” Americans’ guns and thus “leav[e] the populace helpless.” American and British lawmakers regularly receive copies of the “Rules” in letters and faxes citing their opposition to gun control, sex education, support for labor, or other “Communist” ideals or entities. In 1992, University of Oklahoma political science professor John George and his co-author Laird Wilcox will write in their book Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe, “Widely distributed since the mid-forties, the ‘rules’ have been trundled out at various times when they ‘fit’ or ‘explain’ the issues of the day, especially to argue against firearms control and sex education.” In April 1996, George will say: “These people [meaning far-right American extremists] would love for the document to be real. But it has been exposed again and again as a phony.” Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand will write: “The rules have to do with dividing people into hostile groups, encouraging government extravagance, and fomenting unnecessary ‘strikes’ in vital industries. What we have lost, the list suggests, is a world without dissent, budget deficits, inflation, and labor unrest. I just can’t remember any such Golden Age.” (Stickney 1996, pp. xx; George 1999; Rosa Luxemburg 2003; Snopes (.com) 7/10/2007)
Initial Associated Press reports of a crash in Georgia of a B-29 that had been on a test flight for the Air Force’s secret Project Banshee (see October 6, 1948) acknowledge that “the plane had been on a mission testing secret electronic equipment which RCA developed and built under an Air Force contract… Full details of the plane’s mission were not disclosed.… The Air Force would say only that the bomber was engaged in ‘electronic research on different types of radar…’” Local papers have a bit more detail, with survivor accounts hinting at confusion and some contradictions between their versions of events and that being given out by official Air Force spokesmen. Later reports from the Air Force will downplay the B-29’s involvement in Project Banshee. (Siegel 2008, pp. 56-58)
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacts the Fairness Doctrine, which enjoins American television and radio networks to give “reasonable opportunities” for differing viewpoints on controversial political and social issues to be aired. The Fairness Doctrine has two basic elements: broadcasters must devote some of their airtime to discussions of controversial matters of public interest, and they must air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations have a wide latitude as to how to provide those contrasting views, in news segments, editorials, or public affairs shows. The rule comes from a 1928 practice adopted by the forerunner of the FCC, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), which called for broadcasters to show “due regard for the opinions of others.” (Rendell 2/12/2005; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45) The FCC views station licensees as “public trustees,” and as such have an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance. (Museum of Broadcasting 1/27/2008) In 2005, communications law expert Steve Rendell will write: “There are many misconceptions about the Fairness Doctrine. For instance, it did not require that each program be internally balanced, nor did it mandate equal time for opposing points of view. And it didn’t require that the balance of a station’s program lineup be anything like 50/50. Nor, as Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly claimed, was the Fairness Doctrine all that stood between conservative talkshow hosts and the dominance they would attain after the doctrine’s repeal. In fact, not one Fairness Doctrine decision issued by the FCC had ever concerned itself with talkshows. Indeed, the talkshow format was born and flourished while the doctrine was in operation. Before the doctrine was repealed, right-wing hosts frequently dominated talkshow schedules, even in liberal cities, but none was ever muzzled… The Fairness Doctrine simply prohibited stations from broadcasting from a single perspective, day after day, without presenting opposing views.” Rendell will note that the Fairness Doctrine has won support from organizations on all sides of the political and social spectrum. (Rendell 2/12/2005)
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka, Kansas, holds its first services under the auspices of Pastor Fred Waldron Phelps. Phelps, his wife, nine of his 13 children, and their spouses and children make up the core of the WBC’s small congregation. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will describe the church as a virtual cult led by Phelps. Phelps and his extended family members live in houses on the WBC compound in Topeka, with the houses arranged in a box formation and sharing a central backyard. (Southern Poverty Law Center 2012) The congregation will quickly begin shedding members because of Phelps’s vitriolic preaching, and for a time Phelps will attempt to support the church by selling vacuum cleaners and baby carriages door-to-door. For years, much of the church’s income comes from Phelps’s children, who regularly sell candy door-to-door. (Southern Poverty Law Center 4/2001)
Atmosphere of Fear, Abuse Alleged - According to one of Phelps’s estranged children, Nathan Phelps, Phelps uses violence and abuse to keep the members in line; in the SPLC’s words, “cultivating an atmosphere of fear to maintain his authority.” Nathan and his two siblings, Mark Phelps, and Dortha Bird, will later leave the church and family, and all three will allege physical and psychological abuse in multiple newspaper and television interviews. Fred Phelps will dismiss all the allegations as “a sea of fag lies.” Nathan will allege that his father beat him with a leather strap and a mattock handle until he “couldn’t lie down or sit down for a week.” They will also allege that Phelps beat his wife, forced his children to fast, and other charges. No child abuse charges brought against Phelps will ever result in convictions, usually because the children will refuse to testify out of what Nathan Phelps will call fear of reprisal. Children in the Phelps family are kept close to the church, and, the SPLC will write, “their upbringing offers them few opportunities to integrate into mainstream society. It is common to see young children from the Phelps family at WBC pickets, often holding the group’s hateful signs. These children casually use the words ‘fag’ and ‘dyke’ in interviews, and the older children report having no close friends at school. The Phelps family raises its children to hold hateful and upsetting views, and to believe that all people not in WBC will go to hell.… The children quickly grow alienated in school and in society, leading them to build relationships almost exclusively within the family. This helps to explain why nine of Fred Phelps’ 13 children have remained members of the church.” (Southern Poverty Law Center 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center 2012) Phelps, who dropped out of the fundamentalist religious Bob Jones University, was ordained as a Baptist minister at the age of 17. He met his future wife Marge Phelps after his California street ministry against dirty jokes and sexual petting was the subject of a Time magazine profile. Between 1952 and 1968 the couple will have 13 children. Phelps will go on to earn a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, though he has some difficulty being admitted to the Kansas bar because no judge will be willing to vouch for his good character. Between 1951 and 2010, Phelps will be arrested multiple times for assault, battery, threats, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and contempt of court. He will be convicted four times, but will successfully avoid prison. He will decorate his WBC compound with an enormous upside-down American flag. He will go on to vilify both liberal and conservative lawmakers, including future President Ronald Reagan, and will praise enemies of the nation such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. (Southern Poverty Law Center 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center 2012) Mark Phelps will later call his father “a small, pathetic old man” who “behaves with a viciousness the likes of which I have never seen.” All three estranged children say that Phelps routinely refers to African-Americans as “dumb n_ggers.” Bird later says, “He only started picketing in 1991, but I want people to understand that nothing’s changed, he’s been like this all along.” She will change her last name to Bird to celebrate her new-found freedom away from the family, though she will continue to live in the Topeka area. (Southern Poverty Law Center 4/2001)
Fundamentalist Doctrine - Phelps teaches a fundamentalist version of Calvinist doctrine called “Primitive Baptist,” in which members believe that God only chooses a select few to be saved, and everyone else is doomed to burn in hell. The WBC Web site will later explain: “Your best hope is that you are among those he has chosen. Your prayer every day should be that you might be. And if you are not, nothing you say or do will serve as a substitute.”
Successful Lawsuits Help Fund Church - In 1964, Phelps will found a law firm specifically for defending the church against civil suits; the firm employs five attorneys, all children of Phelps. Phelps himself is a lawyer, but he will be disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court, which will find that he shows “little regard for the ethics of his profession.” The church does not solicit or accept outside donations; much of its funding comes from successful lawsuits against the Topeka city government and other organizations and individuals. The SPLC will explain, “Because the Phelps family represents WBC in court, they can put the fees they win towards supporting the church.” As of 2007, many Phelps family members will work for the state government, bringing additional revenue to the church. (Southern Poverty Law Center 2012) Nathan Phelps will later say that his father routinely files frivolous lawsuits in the hope that his targets will settle out of court rather than face the expenditures of a bench trial. (One extreme example is a 1974 class action suit demanding $50 million from Sears over the alleged delay in delivering a television set. In 1980, Sears will settle the suit by paying Phelps $126. Another, more lucrative example is a 1978 civil rights case that earns Phelps almost $10,000 in legal fees as part of the settlement of a discrimination case.) (Southern Poverty Law Center 4/2001)
Reviling Homosexuality - One of the central tenets of the church’s practices is the vilification of homosexuality, which the church will use to propel itself into the public eye (see June 1991 and After, 1996, June 2005 and After, September 8, 2006, October 2-3, 2006, and April 2009). The church’s official slogan is “God Hates Fags.” The church will begin its anti-gay crusade in the late 1980s with the picketing of a Topeka park allegedly frequented by homosexuals. In the early 1990s, WBC will launch its nationwide anti-gay picketing crusade. The church will win international notoriety with its picketing of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay student brutally murdered in Wyoming (see October 14, 1998 and October 3, 2003). After the 9/11 attacks, the church will begin claiming that God brought about the attacks to punish America for its tolerance of homosexuality (see September 8, 2006). The church will also begin picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005, claiming that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and persecuting the WBC (see June 2005 and After). The church will win notable victories in court regarding its right to protest at funerals (see March 10, 2006 and After and June 5, 2007 and After). Nations such as Canada and the United Kingdom will ban WBC members from entering their borders to engage in protest and picketing activities (see August 2008 and February 2009). (Southern Poverty Law Center 2012; Southern Poverty Law Center 2012) Phelps will write in an undated pamphlet detailing the “message” of the WBC: “America is doomed for its acceptance of homosexuality. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for going after fornication and homosexuality then why wouldn’t God destroy America for the same thing?” In 2001, a Topeka resident will tell an SPLC researcher: “I’m so tired of people calling him an ‘anti-gay activist.’ He’s not an anti-gay activist. He’s a human abuse machine.” (Southern Poverty Law Center 2012) According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL): “Though the group’s specific focus may shift over time, they believe that nearly all Americans and American institutions are ‘sinful,’ so nearly any individual or organization can be targeted. In fact, WBC members say that ‘God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes’ and that their picketing is a form of preaching to a ‘doomed’ country unable to hear their message in any other way.” (Anti-Defamation League 2012)
Congress amends the Communication Act of 1934 to enshrine the Fairness Doctrine (see 1949) into law. The pertinent portion of the act now reads, “A broadcast licensee shall afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of conflicting views on matters of public importance.” (Rendell 2/12/2005)
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.” (Morrow 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.” (Suder 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. (Clines 9/19/1996; Morrow 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)
Nixon speechwriter James Keogh writes in a memo to President Nixon: “Media treatment of the president is almost uniformly excellent.… The usual media characterizations are ‘efficient,’ ‘cool,’ ‘confident,’ ‘orderly.’” Nixon answers the memo by writing, “You don’t understand, they are waiting to destroy us.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 40)
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, determined to prove to President Nixon that news stories about the secret Cambodian bombings are not being leaked to the press by liberals in the National Security Council offices, urges FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap several of Nixon’s top aides, as well as a selection of reporters. Kissinger will later deny making the request. (Werth 2006, pp. 169) In March 1973, W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” background source, will confirm the wiretappings, saying: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the [Vietnam] antiwar protests. When it got near election time , it was only natural to tap the Democrats (see Late June-July 1971 and May 27-28, 1972). The arrests in the Watergate (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) sent everybody off the edge because the break-in could uncover the whole program.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 271) Felt will tell Woodward that two of the reporters placed under electronic surveillance are Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg will leak the Defense Department documents to Sheehan (see March 1971). Eventually, future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will reveal that at least 17 wiretaps are ordered between 1969 and 1971. The logs of those wiretaps are stored in a safe in White House aide John Ehrlichman’s office. In all, 13 government officials and four reporters are monitored. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313) The FBI will send Kissinger 37 letters reporting on the results of the surveillance between May 16, 1969 and May 11, 1970. When the surveillance is revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee, it will be shown that among those monitored are Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist William Safire; Anthony Lake, a top Kissinger aide who will later resign over the secret bombings of Cambodia; and the military assistant to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, whom Kissinger regards as a political enemy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 21-22)
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court rules that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)‘s Fairness Doctrine, which mandates that broadcasters provide opportunities for differing viewpoints to be aired concerning political and social issues (see 1949 and 1959), is constitutional. The case, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, concerns personal attacks alleged by journalist Fred Cook, who says he was vilified on the air by conservative Christian broadcaster Reverend Billy James Hargis. Cook had demanded free air time under the Fairness Doctrine to respond to the attacks. In an 8-0 decision, the Court rules that although similar laws are unconstitutional when applied to the press, radio stations must hew to a different standard because of the limited public airwaves. Justice Byron White, writing for the majority, finds: “A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a radio frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.… There is no sanctuary in the First Amendment for unlimited private censorship operating in a medium not open to all.… It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.… It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the government itself or a private licensee. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC.” White’s ruling warns that if the Fairness Doctrine ever restrains speech, then its constitutionality should be reconsidered. (Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission 6/9/1969; Joyce 5/6/2003; Rendell 2/12/2005)
Roger Ailes, the senior media consultant for the Nixon administration (see 1968), writes, or helps write, a secret memo for President Nixon and fellow Republicans outlining a plan for conservatives to “infiltrate and neutralize” the mainstream American media. The document will not be released until 2011; experts will call it the “intellectual forerunner” to Fox News, which Ailes will launch as a “fair and balanced” news network in 1996 (see October 7, 1996). John Cook, the editor of the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, will call the document the outline of a “nakedly partisan… plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the ‘prejudices of network news’ and deliver ‘pro-administration’ stories to heartland television viewers.” The document is entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Ailes, currently the owner of REA Productions and Ailes Communications Inc., works for the Nixon White House as a media consultant; he will serve the same function for President George H.W. Bush during his term. Ailes is a forceful advocate for using television to shape the message of the Nixon administration and of Republican policies in general. He frequently suggests launching elaborately staged events to entice favorable coverage from television reporters, and uses his contacts at the news networks to head off negative publicity. Ailes writes that the Nixon White House should run a partisan, pro-Republican media operation—essentially a self-contained news production organization—out of the White House itself. He complains that the “liberal media” “censors” the news to portray Nixon and his administration in a negative light. Cook will say the plan “reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype.” The initial idea may have originated with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, but if so, Ailes expands and details the plan far beyond Haldeman’s initial seed of an idea. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011) In 2011, Rolling Stone journalist Tim Dickinson will write: “This is an astounding find. It underscores Ailes’s early preoccupation with providing the GOP with a way to do an end run around skeptical journalists.” (Dickinson 7/1/2011)
Focus on Television - Ailes insists that any such media plan should focus on television and not print. Americans are “lazy,” he writes, and want their thinking done for them: “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.” Ailes says the Nixon administration should create its own news network “to provide pro-administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.” Other television news outlets such as NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and PBS News, are “the enemy,” he writes, and suggests going around them by creating packaged, edited news stories and interviews directly to local television stations. (Years later, these kinds of “news reports” will be called “video news releases,” or VNRs, and will routinely be used by the George W. Bush administration and others—see March 15, 2004, May 19, 2004, March 2005, and March 13, 2005. They will be outlawed in 2005—see May 2005.) “This is a plan that places news of importance to localities (senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities) on local television news programs while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities, and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators.” Ailes and his colleagues include detailed cost analyses and production plans for such news releases. In a side note on the document, Ailes writes: “Basically a very good idea. It should be expanded to include other members of the administration such as cabinet involved in activity with regional or local interest. Also could involve GOP governors when in DC. Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC [Republican National Committee]? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.”
Dirty Tricks - Ailes suggests planting “volunteers” within the Wallace campaign, referring to segregationist George Wallace (D-AL), whose third-party candidacy in 1968 almost cost Nixon the presidency. Ailes knows Wallace is planning a 1972 run as well, and is apparently suggesting a “mole” to either gather intelligence, carry out sabotage, or both. (Wallace’s plans for another run will be cut short by an assassination attempt—see May 15, 1972.) Ailes also suggests having his firm film interviews with Democrats who support Nixon’s Vietnam policies, such as Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and John McClellan (D-AR). Though Stennis and McClellan would believe that the interviews were for actual news shows, they would actually be carried out by Ailes operatives and financed by a Nixon campaign front group, the “Tell it to Hanoi Committee.” In June 1970, someone in the Nixon administration scuttles the plan, writing: “[T]he fact that this presentation is White House directed, unbeknownst to the Democrats on the show, presents the possibility of a leak that could severely embarrass the White House and damage significantly its already precarious relationship with the Congress. Should two powerful factors like Stennis and McClellan discover they are dupes for the administration the scandal could damage the White House for a long time to come.”
Volunteers to Head Program - Ailes writes that he wants to head any such “news network,” telling Haldeman: “Bob—if you decide to go ahead we would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project. I know what has to be done and we could test the feasibility for 90 days without making a commitment beyond that point.” Haldeman will grant Ailes’s request in November 1970, and will give the project a name: “Capitol News Service.” Haldeman will write: “With regard to the news programming effort as proposed last summer, Ailes feels this is a good idea and that we should be going ahead with it. Haldeman suggested the name ‘Capitol News Service’ and Ailes will probably be doing more work in this area.” Documents fail to show whether the “Capitol News Service” is ever actually implemented. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011)
Television News Incorporated - Ailes will be fired from the Nixon administration in 1971; he will go on to start a similar private concern, “Television News Incorporated” (TVN—see 1971-1975), an ideological and practical predecessor to Fox News. Dickinson will write: “More important, [the document] links the plot to create what would become Television News Incorporated—the Ailes-helmed ‘fair and balanced’ mid-1970s precursor to Fox News—to the Nixon White House itself.” (Cook 6/30/2011; Dickinson 7/1/2011) A former business colleague of Ailes’s will say in 2011: “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network [Fox News]. It’s come full circle.” (Dickinson 5/25/2011)
President Nixon gives antiwar demonstrators a chance to physically protest the Vietnam War during a campaign rally in Michigan, hoping for favorable press coverage that would denigrate the protesters. According to notes taken by chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, when the demonstrators “tried to storm the door” of the auditorium “after we were in,” they “really hit the motorcade on the way out.” The notes also say: “We wanted some confrontation and there were no hecklers in the hall, so we stalled departure a little so they could zero in outside, and they sure did. Before getting in car, P [Nixon] stood up and gave the ‘V’ sign, which made them mad. They threw rocks, flags, candles, etc, as we drove out, after a terrifying flying wedge of cops opened up the road. Rock hit my car, driver hit brakes, car stalled, car behind hit us, rather scary as rocks were flying, etc, but we all caught up and got out. Bus windows smashed, etc. Made a huge incident and we worked hard to crank it up, should make a really major story and might be effective.” The local police chief says only “an act of God” allows Nixon to escape; the Secret Service goes into an assassination alert. Nixon is so excited and pleased by the events that he nearly burns down his house in San Clemente, California, trying to light a fire in the fireplace. Laughing, Nixon refuses to leave the house, saying he likes the smell of smoke, and retells the story of the rally over and over to his aides. (Reeves 2001, pp. 270-271)
After spending the afternoon and evening preparing for his historic outreach to the Communist government of mainland China, President Nixon stays up late penning letters to various newspaper editors, letters purportedly from average citizens, and asks chief of staff H. R. Haldeman to find ordinary people to sign and send them. One letter, to columnist John Osborne of the New Republic, should be signed by a graduate student from Yale or Georgetown Universities, Nixon suggests. It reads in part, “Your scathing attacks on President Nixon have delighted me beyond belief…. I don’t know when I looked forward more to a television program than the press conference…. I thought this was really the time the press would get to this S.O.B.… It was a shocking disappointment. Can’t you do something to get smarter people in the press corps?” Another letter, to be sent to Washington Star reporter James Doyle, begins, “I write this letter, not in any sense of anger but simply out of sorrow… that you and your colleagues had utterly struck out when you tried to take the president on in his press conference.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 285)
Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970) who proposed a White House-run “news network” that would promote Republican-generated propaganda over what he calls “liberal” news reporting (see Summer 1970), moves on to try the idea in the private venue. Ailes works with a project called Television News Incorporated (TVN), a propaganda venue funded by right-wing beer magnate Joseph Coors. Conservative activist and Coors confidant Paul Weyrich will later call Ailes “the godfather behind the scenes” of TVN. To cloak the “news” outlet’s far-right slant, Ailes coins the slogan “Fair and Balanced” for TVN. In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write: “TVN made no sense as a business. The… news service was designed to inject a far-right slant into local news broadcasts by providing news clips that stations could use without credit—and for a fraction of the true costs of production. Once the affiliates got hooked on the discounted clips, its president explained, TVN would ‘gradually, subtly, slowly’ inject ‘our philosophy in the news.’ The network was, in the words of a news director who quit in protest, a ‘propaganda machine.’” Within weeks of TVN’s inception, its staff of professional journalists eventually has enough of the overt propaganda of their employer and begin defying management orders; Coors and TVN’s top management fire 16 staffers and bring in Ailes to run the operation. The operation is never successful, but during his tenure at TVN, Ailes begins plotting the development of a right-wing news network very similar in concept to the as-yet-unborn Fox News. TVN plans to invest millions in satellite distribution that would allow it not only to distribute news clips to other broadcasters, but to provide a full newscast with its own anchors and crew (a model soon used by CNN). Dickinson will write, “For Ailes, it was a way to extend the kind of fake news that he was regularly using as a political strategist.” Ailes tells a Washington Post reporter in 1972: “I know certain techniques, such as a press release that looks like a newscast. So you use it because you want your man to win.” Ailes contracts with Ford administration officials to produce propaganda for the federal government, providing news clips and scripts to the US Information Agency. Ailes insists that the relationship is not a conflict of interest. Unfortunately for Ailes and Coors, TVN collapses in 1975. One of its biggest problems is the recalcitrance of its journalists, who continue to resist taking part in what they see as propaganda operations. Ailes biographer Kerwin Swint will later say, “They were losing money and they weren’t able to control their journalists.” In a 2011 article for the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, John Cook will write: “Though it died in 1975, TVN was obviously an early trial run for the powerhouse Fox News would become. The ideas were the same—to route Republican-friendly stories around the gatekeepers at the network news divisions.” Dickinson will write that one of the lessons Ailes learns from TVN, and will employ at Fox, is to hire journalists who put ideological committment ahead of journalistic ethics—journalists who will “toe the line.” (Dickinson 5/25/2011; Cook 6/30/2011) Ailes will go on to found Fox News, using the “fair and balanced” slogan to great effect (see October 7, 1996 and 1995).
Nixon aide Charles Colson and Colson’s aide George Bell begin working on an “enemies list,” people and organizations the White House believes are inimical to President Nixon and his agenda (see June 27, 1973). The initial list includes a group of reporters who may have written favorably about Nixon and his actions in the past, but who cannot be trusted to continue, and a second group of reporters who are considered “definitely hostile.” A second list, from White House aide Tom Charles Huston, is staggeringly long, and includes, in historian Richard Reeves’s words, “most every man or woman who had ever said a discouraging word about Nixon.” A third list is made up of “enemy” organizations, including several left-of-center think tanks and foundations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the AFL-CIO. (Reeves 2001, pp. 297-298)
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman and Charles Colson celebrate a breakthrough in the US-Soviet SALT II disarmament talks by taking a dinner cruise on the presidential yacht “Sequoia.” The conversation turns to the subject of press leaks, and Nixon vows: “One day we will get them—we’ll get them on the ground where we want them. And we’ll stick our heels in, step on them hard and twist—right, Chuck, right? Henry knows what I mean—just like you do in negotiating, Henry—get them on the floor and step on them, crush them, show no mercy.” (Werth 2006, pp. 346)
Livid over the entire “Pentagon Papers” debacle (see June 13, 1971), President Nixon lectures his Cabinet on loyalty, secrecy, and not leaking information to the press. “From now on, [chief of staff H. R.] Haldeman is the lord high executioner,” he snaps. “Don’t come whining to me when he tells you to do something… you’re to carry it out.… We’ve checked and found out that 96 percent of the bureaucracy are against us; they’re b_stards and they’re here to screw us.… You’ve got to realize that the press aren’t interested in liking you; they’re only interested in news or screwing me.… Haldeman has the worst job that anybody can have in the White House.… [H]e’ll be down the throat of anyone here regarding leaks if they affect the national interest.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 337-338)
The first African-American candidate to successfully run for office in Leon County, Florida, is James Ford, a vice principal running for the Tallahassee city commission. The Tallahassee Democrat gives a qualified endorsement to Ford, saying that he is a “mature Negro” and going on to say: “We are impressed that he may be the best-qualified Negro ever to offer for public office in Tallahassee. We would expect him to serve, if elected, as a proper representative of his racial minority without antagonistic attitudes towards the majority that might result in more frustration and discord than genuine advancement.” (Tapper 3/2001)
Angered by CBS commentator Daniel Schorr’s report on the White House’s failure to help Catholic schools, President Nixon orders the FBI to investigate Schorr’s personal life. By August 18, the FBI will have conducted 25 interviews with people who know and work with Schorr. (Reeves 2001, pp. 367)
Syndicated columnist Jack Anderson receives a memo written by International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) lobbyist Dita Beard; the memo goes a long way towards proving that in return for hefty campaign contributions to the GOP, the Justice Department dropped its antitrust suit against the corporation (see 1969 and July 31, 1971). The memo, written on June 25, 1971 by Beard to ITT vice president Bill Merriam, is entitled “Subject: San Diego Convention.” Beard indicated her distress at the possibility of someone leaking the fact that ITT had quietly contributed $400,000 to the GOP for its 1972 convention in San Diego. Two of the few who know of the contribution, Beard wrote, were President Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell. She asked whether the $400,000 should be donated in cash or in services, then wrote: “I am convinced because of several conversations with Louie re Mitchell that our noble commitment has gone a long way toward our negotiations on the mergers eventually coming out as Hal wanted them. Certainly the president has told Mitchell to see that things are working out fairly. It is still only McLaren’s mickey-mouse that we are suffering.” Anderson doesn’t know who “Louie” is, but he is sure “Hal” is Harold Geneen, ITT’s president. ITT had announced a $100,000 contribution, but the real amount is four times that. One of Anderson’s aides, Brit Hume, interviews Beard, and during a night of heavy drinking and Beard’s emotional outbursts, finds out that in May 1971, Beard had gone to a party hosted by Kentucky governor Louie Nunn, the “Louie” of the memo. Mitchell was at the party, and Beard was there to prime Mitchell as to what exactly ITT wants in return for its contribution and its assurance that it can secure San Diego as the GOP’s convention site. According to Beard, the deal was hatched between herself and Mitchell at Nunn’s party. Anderson quickly publishes a column based on the memo that causes a tremendous stir in Washington and the press. (Anderson 1999, pp. 194-200) (In his book The Secret Man, Bob Woodward will give the date for Anderson’s column revealing the Beard memo as February 19. This is apparently a typographical error.) (Woodward 2005, pp. 37) The White House will successfully pressure Beard to disavow the memo (see Mid-Late March, 1972).
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)
After the New York Times verifies the phone calls to Nixon campaign provocateur Donald Segretti from Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see October 12-15, 1972), it publishes an analysis of the White House’s attacks on the media (see October 16-November, 1972). The analysis, written by Robert Semple, Jr, says in part: “The essence of the administration’s recent counterattack to the charges that some of President Nixon’s created or at least condoned a network of political espionage and disruption has been to denounce the newspapers that print them without explicitly discussing them. Behind the strategy lie two assumptions that tell much about the administration’s perceptions of the voters and newspapers that serve them. Judging by recent interviews with Mr. Nixon’s aides, these assumptions seem to be widely shared in his inner circle. First, at the moment, the White House feels, the alleged conspiracy is perceived by most of the public as a distant and even amateurish intrigue far removed from the Oval Office, and thus a denial or even discussion of the charges by the White House would give those charges undeserved visibility and currency. The second is that the public—softened up by three years of speeches from Vice President Agnew—has less than total confidence that what it reads and hears—particularly in the so-called Eastern Establishment media—is true and undistorted by political prejudice. Hence the recent administration attacks on the Washington Post, which has been giving the corruption allegations front-page treatment…. Repeated requests to senior White House aides to get the full story, as they see it, have gone unanswered.… ‘Do you know why we’re not uptight about the press and the espionage business?’ one White House aide… asked rhetorically the other day. ‘Because we believe that the public believes that the Eastern press really is what Agnew said it was—elitist, anti-Nixon and ultimately pro-McGovern.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 169)
President Nixon meets in his hideaway office in the Executive Office Building with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman. Their conversation is captured on Nixon’s secret taping system (see July 13-16, 1973). Haldeman reports that he has learned from his own secret source that there is a leak in the highest echelons of the FBI, a source apparently funnelling information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: “Mark Felt.” Felt, the deputy director of the bureau, is Woodward’s clandestine background source “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Haldeman warns Nixon not to say anything because it would reveal Haldeman’s source, apparently some “legal guy” at the Post. Besides, “[I]f we move on [Felt], he’ll go out and unload everything. He knows everything that’s to be known in the FBI.” According to White House counsel John Dean, there are no legal sanctions that can be taken against Felt, because Felt has broken no laws. Dean is worried that if the White House takes any action, Felt will “go out and get himself on network television.” Nixon snarls: “You know what I’ll do with him, the little b_stard. Well, that’s all I want to hear about it.” Haldeman tells Nixon that Felt wants to be director of the FBI. Nixon’s first question: “Is he Catholic?” “No sir, he’s Jewish,” Haldeman replies. “Christ, put a Jew in there?” Nixon asks. “Well, that could explain it too,” Haldeman observes. (Woodward 2005, pp. 85-86) Acting director L. Patrick Gray will inform Felt of the White House’s suspicions in early 1973, leading Felt to strenuously deny the charge, but Gray will refuse White House demands to fire Felt. (Woodward 2005, pp. 139)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward runs into difficulty with his FBI source, W. Mark Felt, the infamous “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Woodward wants information connecting Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, to the Nixon campaign “slush fund” (see Early 1970), but Felt, apparently afraid of crossing Haldeman (see October 19, 1972), refuses to provide anything specific.
Origin of Error - Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, attempt to secure confirmation of Haldeman’s role in Watergate through the treasurer of the Nixon campaign’s secret fund (see September 29, 1972), Hugh Sloan. The reporters misinterpret Sloan’s cautious statements as indirect confirmation that Sloan had testified to the FBI of Haldeman’s involvement. Additionally, they misinterpret guarded “confirmations” from two other sources. On October 25, the Post publishes a story about Sloan’s supposed assertions.
'All Hell Broke Lose' - Sloan’s attorney denies that his client ever made such an assertion in his testimony (Sloan will later confirm that Haldeman was indeed in charge of the secret fund, but he never testified to that fact). As Woodward later writes, “All hell broke loose.” Woodward and his partner Carl Bernstein, both clearly upset, offer to resign from the Post, an offer that is refused. The White House celebrates the error, calling into question every story Bernstein and Woodward wrote for the Post; Republican supporters such as Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) join in. Post executive editor Ben Bradlee—who stands by the story—will later say that the erroneous story is his personal low point in the history of the entire Watergate coverage.
Repercussions - Felt is furious with Woodward for the erroneous story. They may have lost Haldeman, Felt says, and worse, have spooked other sources that might otherwise have come forward. “You’ve got people feeling sorry for Haldeman. I didn’t think that was possible.… You put the investigation back months. It puts everyone on the defensive—editors, FBI agents, everybody has to go into a crouch after this.” The reporters write another story admitting the error about Sloan’s testimony, but saying that Haldeman did indeed control the secret campaign fund. Woodward even quotes Felt, identifying him as “one source,” an unprecedented breach of the procedures they have established in using Felt as a “deep background” source. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 173-196; Woodward 2005, pp. 88-92)
Days after the Washington Post printed an incorrect story about Watergate grand jury testimony (see October 22-28, 1972), President Nixon tells aide Charles Colson that he plans to use the furor over the story to challenge the television licenses owned by the Post. “They should give some thought to taking on the guy that went into Cambodia and Laos, ran the Cambodian bombing campaign. What do the hell they think they’re doing in there?” Later, Nixon meets with Colson to again discuss his plan to challenge the Post’s television licenses. Nixon decides to abandon the plan, saying: “We’re going to screw them another way.… They don’t really realize how rough I can play.… But when I start, I will kill them. There’s no question about it.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 173-196; Reeves 2001, pp. 539)
Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, mired in contentious Senate hearings about his nomination to permanently take the position (see February 28-29, 1973), says that contrary to media reports, White House counsel John Dean took nothing from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. The White House issues a statement making the same claim. But Gray’s claims are critically undermined by another revelation. In FBI documents released to the Senate by Gray as part of his testimony, and subsequently made available to the public, one document catches the eye of reporters: a memo titled “Interview with Herbert W. Kalmbach.” Kalmbach, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, said in the interview that in August or September 1971, he had obeyed instructions from Nixon aide Dwight Chapin to hire Nixon campaign operator Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and pay Segretti for his services. The interview guts the White House’s claim that it never hired any such agents provacateurs as Segretti, destroys Gray’s (and the FBI’s) credibility with many senators, and vindicates the media’s reporting on the broader Watergate conspiracy. The atmosphere at the Washington Post is jubilant. Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward put together a scathing news analysis based on the discovery, using quote after quote from administration sources and pairing each quote with information disproving the administration claims. Unfortunately, the reporters later write, the article is unintentionally “packaged like an ax murder,” with a row of pictures of Nixon officials that resemble a lineup of mug shots. White House officials later tell the reporters that this single story garners a tremendous amount of hatred and resentment among Nixon officials. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 273-274; Woodward 2005, pp. 13-14)
Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward receive top awards at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner for their early Watergate reporting. President Nixon and a coterie of staffers attend, and Nixon, speaking to the assemblage, draws some laughs when he opens with the line, “It is a privilege to be here… I suppose I should say it is an executive privilege.” He pays tribute to the founder of US News and World Report, David Lawrence, who had recently died, saying, “David Lawrence, who was a charter member of this club 59 years ago, said to me a couple of years ago, ‘There is only one more difficult task than being president of this country when we are waging war, and that is to be the president when we are waging peace.’” After the dinner, Nixon asks chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, “What did you think of the Lawrence quote?” Haldeman replies, “Appropriate.” Nixon says, “I made it up.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 586)
Tempers flare at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. President Nixon and his entourage (including H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Henry Kissinger—see April 14, 1973) sit stolidly through the evening’s entertainment, which contains plenty of biting Watergate humor, but the real fireworks take place between members of the press and Nixon officials. Edward Bennett Williams, the eminent lawyer whose firm represents both the Washington Post and the Democratic National Committee, gets into a heated sparring match with Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan. Buchanan is gloating over the November 1972 re-election landslide (see November 7, 1972), calling Williams a “sore loser.” Williams retorts: “But you did it dirty, Pat. You had to do it dirty. You won, but you had to steal it.” Buchanan says: “The Watergate’s all you had. Some Cubans going in to look at Larry O’Brien’s mail.… You blew it out of proportion.” Williams responds: “Dirty, Pat, dirty election. Aren’t you ashamed? You’re a conservative, and all this law-breaking. And the Washington Post really sticking it to you. Oh, that must have hurt the most.” Buchanan counters: “A little spying. That’s politics.” Buchanan continues by attacking Williams’s client list, which includes ex-Senate aide Bobby Baker and former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa. “There’s a big difference,” Williams says. “I didn’t run any of my clients for president.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 285-287)
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward writes a memo to his editor, Ben Bradlee, largely based on his meetings with his FBI background source, “Deep Throat” (FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt—see May 31, 2005). The memo is full of material that will soon come out in either Senate testimony or the media, but also contains some information that Woodward cannot sufficiently confirm to allow him to write a news report. One of the most explosive items Woodward writes is the line, “Dean talked with Senator Baker after Watergate committee formed and Baker is in the bag completely, reporting back directly to White House.” If this is true, then according to former White House counsel John Dean, now cooperating with the Senate investigation, then the ranking Republican senator on the committee, Howard Baker (R-TN), is a White House “mole,” providing information directly to the White House about the committee’s deliberations, discussions, and future plans. The memo also reports that President Nixon personally threatened Dean and that another White House aide, Jack Caulfield, threatened Watergate burglar James McCord by saying “your life is no good in this country if you don’t cooperate” with the White House efforts to keep the Watergate conspiracy secret. The list of “covert national and international things” done by the Nixon re-election campaign were begun by campaign chief John Mitchell: “The list is longer than anyone could imagine.” According to Felt, “[t]he covert activities involve the whole US intelligence community and are incredible.” Felt refuses to give Woodward “specifics because it is against the law. The cover-up had little to do with the Watergate, but was mainly to protect the covert operations.” Felt has also told Woodward that Nixon himself is being blackmailed by one of the Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt (see June 20-21, 1972), at a total cost of around $1 million; the blackmail scheme involves just about every Watergate-connected figure in the White House. One reason the White House “cut loose” Mitchell was because Mitchell could not raise his portion of the money. Felt also told Woodward that senior CIA officials, including CIA director Richard Helms and deputy director Vernon Walters, are involved to some extent. Dean has explosive information that he is ready to reveal, but “plumber” G. Gordon Liddy is willing to go to jail or even die before revealing anything. Finally, rumors are running through the White House and the law enforcement and intelligence communities that Nixon is having “fits of ‘dangerous’ depression.” Some of this information will later be confirmed and reported, some of it will remain unconfirmed. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 317-321; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) Felt also warns Woodward that he, fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein, and others at the newspaper may be under CIA surveillance and may even be in personal danger. The reporters confirm much of what Felt provided in a discussion with a Dean associate the next day. But both reporters and the Post editors worry that the new information might be part of an elaborate White House scheme to set up the reporters with false, discreditable information. In the following months, information elicted in the Senate committee hearings verifies everything Felt told Woodward, except the warning about being possibly wiretapped by the CIA. That is never verified. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 317-321)
Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward publish the book All the President’s Men, documenting their 26-month coverage of the Watergate scandal. The Post will win a Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate reporting and the book will be made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name. Between the book and the film, All the President’s Men will become the touchstone for defining the complex, multilayered Watergate conspiracy. (Slovik 1996)
A host of tips, leaks, rumors, and wild speculations swirl around President Nixon’s resignation from the presidency and upcoming departure from the White House (see August 8, 1974). Nixon has pardoned himself and all of his aides before resigning, one rumor goes. Nixon has already sneaked out all of his secret tapes of White House conversations to his private residence in San Clemente, California, claims another rumor. Another one, more worrying, has Defense Secretary James Schlesinger informing military commanders not to take orders from the West Wing in case a drunken, suicidally paranoid Nixon refused to leave or ordered a nuclear strike. Vice President Ford’s press secretary, Jerald terHorst, assures reporters that none of the rumors are true. The press listens to terHorst because he is one of them, having resigned a senior position with the Detroit News to take the position in the White House. (Werth 2006, pp. 17)
Unaware that President Ford has already asked Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president (see August 16-17, 1974), the media continues to speculate on who Ford will choose for the position. Newsweek reports that George H.W. Bush “has slipped badly because of alleged irregularities in the financing of his 1970 Senate race.” White House sources tell the magazine, “there was potential embarrassment in reports that the Nixon White House had funneled about $100,000 from a secret fund known as the ‘Townhouse Operation’” into Bush’s losing Texas Senate campaign, which itself failed to report about $40,000 of the money. The news rocks Bush, who is waiting for Ford’s phone call while vacationing at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. (It is unclear who leaked the Bush information or why. Bush always believes it was Ford’s political adviser Melvin Laird; future Ford biographer James Cannon is equally sure it was Ford’s senior aide Donald Rumsfeld, a dark horse candidate for the position.) The “Townhouse Operation” is an early Nixon administration campaign machination (see Early 1970). Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski is investigating the fund; the nomination of Bush over Rockefeller would almost certainly lead Jaworski to discover that up to 18 other GOP Senate candidates received money from the same slush fund. Jaworski will manage to keep Bush’s name out of his final report, but even had Ford not already chosen Rockefeller as his vice president, the Watergate taint is lethal to Bush’s chance at the position. (Werth 2006, pp. 114-116)
President Ford announces the selection of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, a moderately liberal Republican, as his vice president. Ford gives Richard Nixon a courtesy call to inform him of the selection before making the public announcement. Nixon seems “very pleased,” Ford will later write. “He said Nelson’s name and experience in foreign policy would help me internationally, and that he was fully qualified to be president should something happen to me. The extreme right wing, he continued, would be very upset, but I shouldn’t worry because I couldn’t please them anyway.” Ford then telephones George H.W. Bush, who is bitterly disappointed at being passed over. To make the public announcement, Ford enters the Oval Office with Rockefeller at his side. Ford characterizes the decision to select Rockefeller as “a tough call for a tough job.” Rockefeller must be confirmed by the Senate, but no one expects any difficulties on that score. Rockefeller does cause a stir by confirming that Ford has “every intention” of running for president in 1976, though Rockefeller will not confirm that he will also be on the ticket. Most Republicans outside of the hard-core right applaud Rockefeller’s selection. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ), a longtime Ford ally, chides the extremists: “I can’t believe conservative Republicans feel broadening the base of the party is a bad thing—unless they want to keep on losing and keep being a minority—and I just can’t subscribe to that way of thinking.” The mainstream media approves of Rockefeller as well, with CBS’s Eric Sevareid calling the new Ford-Rockefeller administration a triumph of “common sense.” He goes on to say the two are so popular that Democrats, “more deeply divided than the Republicans,” may find themselves in for a “long stretch in the political wilderness.… They thought they could run against Nixon for the next twenty [years]. But as things stand now they can’t run against Nixon even this year.” (Werth 2006, pp. 138-143)
Just hours after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), he sees evidence that the pardon is even more unpopular than he had feared. The White House switchboard is flooded with “angry calls, heavy and constant,” as Ford’s lawyer Philip Buchen will later recall. The response, says resigning press secretary Jerald terHorst (see September 8, 1974), is roughly 8-1 against. TerHorst’s admission to the press that he is resigning over the pardon adds even more fuel to the blaze of criticism. “I resigned,” terHorst tells reporters, “because I just couldn’t remain part of an act that I felt was ethically wrong.” Reporters almost uniformly side with terHorst against Ford; as author Barry Werth will later write, “the press concluded intrinsically that terHorst’s act of conscience trumped the president’s.” TerHorst’s resignation is inevitably compared to Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” (see October 19-20, 1973), and engenders a similar avalanche of press criticism and public outrage. The day after, protesters greet Ford in Pittsburgh with chants of “Jail Ford!” Conservative columnist George Will writes, “The lethal fact is that Mr. Ford has now demonstrated that… he doesn’t mean what he says.” The New York Times calls the pardon a “profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act.… This blundering intervention is a body blow to the president’s own credibility and to the public’s reviving confidence in the integrity of its government.” Ford’s popularity plunges almost overnight from 70 percent to 48 percent; fewer than one in five Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Ford’s biographer John Robert Greene will write that journalists begin “treating Ford as just another Nixon clone in the White House—deceitful, controlled by the leftover Nixonites, and in general no different than any of his immediate predecessors.” Werth will conclude that Ford’s “self-sacrific[e]” is the political equivalent of him “smothering a grenade.” Nixon’s refusal to atone in any fashion for his crimes placed the burden of handling Watergate squarely on Ford’s shoulders, and that burden will weigh on his presidency throughout his term, as well as damage his chances for election in 1976. Ford will later write: “I thought people would consider his resignation from the presidency as sufficient punishment and shame. I thought there would be greater forgiveness.” (Werth 2006, pp. 328-332) Years later, Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, will reflect that the pardon should have “been delayed until after the 1974 elections because I think it did cost us seats [in Congress]. If you say that that is a political judgment, it’s true, but then, the presidency is a political office.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 27)
British interviewer and entertainer David Frost makes a deal with former President Richard Nixon to undertake 24 hours of interviews on a wide range of topics, with six hours each on foreign policy, domestic affairs, Watergate, and a loosely defined “Nixon the Man” interview. Frost intends that the centerpiece of the interviews to be the Watergate session. Nixon agrees to a free, unfettered set of interviews in return for over a million dollars in appearance fees. (Reston 2007, pp. 13-17) (Other sources say that Nixon will be paid $600,000 plus 20% of the profits from the broadcast, which are expected to top $2 million.)
Frost Seen as Unlikely Interviewer - There is also considerable skepticism about the choice of Frost as an interviewer; he is better known as a high-living entertainer who likes to hobnob with celebrities rather than as a tough interrogator. His primary experience with politics is his hosting of the BBC’s celebrated 1960s satirical show That Was the Week That Was. Frost outbid NBC for the rights to interview Nixon, and after all three American television networks refuse to air the shows, Frost has to cobble together an ad hoc group of about 140 television stations to broadcast the interviews. Frost will recall in 2007, “We were told, ‘Half the companies you’re approaching would never have anything to do with Nixon when he was president, and the other half are trying to make people forget that they did.’” (Time 5/9/1977; Segal 4/30/2007) Interestingly, when the Nixon team began negotiating for the interviews in July 1975, they made a point of not wanting any “real” investigative journalists to conduct the interviews—in fact, they considered offering the interviews to American television talk show host Merv Griffin. (Time 5/9/1977) The interviews are to be done in segments, three sessions a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for two weeks in the spring of 1977. (National Public Radio 6/17/2002)
Nixon Team Wants Focus Away from Watergate - While Nixon agrees that six hours of interviews will be on the topic of Watergate, his team wants to define “Watergate” as almost anything and everything negative about the Nixon presidency—not just the burglary and the cover-up, but abuses of power at the IRS, CIA, and FBI, Nixon’s tax problems, the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), disputed real estate sales, the sale of ambassadorships (see March-April 1972), the enemies list (see June 27, 1973), and the Huston Plan (see July 14, 1970). The hope is that Frost’s focus will become diluted and fail to focus on the Watergate conspiracy itself. The hope will not be fulfilled (see April 13-15, 1977).
Frost's Investigative Team - Frost begins hiring a team of investigators and experts to prepare him for the interviews, including author and journalist James Reston Jr. (Time 5/9/1977) , a self-described “radical” who had worked to win amnesty for US citizens who had avoided the draft, and views Nixon as a contemptible figure who, despite his resignation (see August 8, 1974), remains “uncontrite and unconvicted.” (Dallek 7/22/2007) Other members of Frost’s research team are Washington journalist and lawyer Robert Zelnick, freelance writer Phil Stanford, and London TV news executive John Birt, who will produce the interviews. Zelnick will play Nixon in the briefing sessions, going so far as mimicking Nixon’s mannerisms and hand gestures. For his part, Nixon had almost completed his own meticulous research of his presidency for his upcoming memoirs, and is quite conversant with his facts and defense strategies. Nixon’s team of aides includes his former White House military aide Colonel Jack Brennan, chief researcher Ken Khachigian, former speechwriter Ray Price, former press assistant (and future television reporter) Diane Sawyer, and former aide Richard Moore. (Time 5/9/1977)
Nixon's Perceived 'Sweetheart Deal' - In his 2007 book on the interviews, The Conviction of Richard Nixon (written largely in 1977 but unpublished for thirty years), Reston will write that Nixon surely “saw the enterprise as a sweetheart deal. He stood to make a lot of money and to rehabilitate his reputation.” Nixon harbors hopes that he can make a political comeback of one sort or another, and apparently intends to use Frost—best known for conducting “softball” interviews with celebrities and world leaders alike—as his “springboard” to re-enter public service. But, as Reston later observes, Nixon will underestimate the researchers’ efforts, and Frost’s own skill as a television interviewer. (Reston 2007, pp. 13-17, 84) Time will describe Nixon in the interviews as “painful and poignant, sometimes illuminating, usually self-serving.” (Time 5/9/1977)
The research team for David Frost, in the midst of marathon interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), has a week to prepare for the upcoming four-hour interview sessions on Watergate (see April 6, 1977).
Countering the 'Other Presidents Did It, Too' Defense - Researcher James Reston Jr. tackles Frost’s possible response to what Reston feels will be Nixon’s last line of defense: that what he did was simply another instance in a long line of presidential misconduct. “Nixon nearly persuaded the American people that political crime was normal,” investigative reporter Jack Anderson had told Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie, a line that haunts Reston. Brodie gives Reston a study commissioned by the House Judiciary Committee (see February 6, 1974) and authored primarily by eminent Yale historian C. Vann Woodward, a study examining the history of presidential misdeeds from George Washington through Nixon. The study was never used. Brodie says that Frost should quote the following from Woodward’s introduction to Nixon: “Heretofore, no president has been proved to be the chief coordinator of the crime and misdemeanor charged against his own administration as a deliberate course of conduct or plan. Heretofore, no president has been held to be the chief personal beneficiary of misconduct in his administration or of measures taken to destroy or cover up evidence of it. Heretofore, the malfeasance and misdemeanor have had no confessed ideological purposes, no constitutionally subversive ends. Heretofore, no president has been accused of extensively subverting and secretly using established government agencies to defame or discredit political opponents and critics, to obstruct justice, to conceal misconduct and protect criminals, or to deprive citizens of their rights and liberties. Heretofore, no president had been accused of creating secret investigative units to engage in covert and unlawful activities against private citizens and their rights.” Frost will ultimately not use the quote, but the quote helps Reston and the other researchers steer their course in preparing Frost’s line of questioning.
Frost Better Prepared - As for Frost, he is much more prepared for his interrogation of Nixon than he has been in earlier sessions, prepped for discussing the details of legalities such as obstruction of justice, corrupt endeavor, and foreseeable consequence. Nixon undoubtedly thwarted justice from being served, and Frost intends to confront him with that charge. Reston worries that the interview will become mired in legalities to the point where only lawyers will gain any substantive information from the session. (Reston 2007, pp. 112-114)
The scheduled interviews between former President Richard Nixon and British interviewer David Frost (see Early 1976) are postponed until March 1977, due to Nixon’s wife, Pat, being hospitalized with a stroke. In return for the delay, Nixon agrees to five programs devoted to the interviews instead of the originally agreed-upon four. Further, Nixon agrees to talk frankly about Watergate; previously, he had balked at discussing it because of ongoing prosecutions related to the conspiracy. Frost wants the shows to air in the spring of 1977 rather than the summer, when audiences will be smaller; Nixon jokes in reply, “Well, we got one hell of an audience on August 9, 1974” (see August 8, 1974). Nixon welcomes the extra time needed to prepare for the interviews. (Reston 2007, pp. 53)
The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), receive two key documents from Leon Jaworski’s special prosecutor files (see November 1, 1973) that are, in essence, the government’s plan for questioning Nixon if he were to ever take the stand as a criminal defendant in federal court. One document is entitled “RMN [Richard Milhous Nixon] and the Money,” and concentrates on the March 21, 1973, conversation with then-White House counsel John Dean concerning Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s demand for “hush money” (see Mid-November, 1972) and the attempts in the following weeks to explain away the payments to Hunt. The document is divided into five parts: Nixon’s statements about the money; Nixon’s knowledge of the payouts before March 21; the nature of the payment itself; the cover-up of Nixon’s role in the payout; and Nixon’s role in developing a defense against possible obstruction of justice charges. The second document cites excerpts from the June 20, 1972, conversations between Nixon and his then-senior aide Charles Colson (see June 20, 1972 and June 20, 1972). (Reston 2007, pp. 45-47)
The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), finds transcripts of two conversations between Nixon and his then-aide Charles Colson from February 1973 (see February 13, 1973 and February 14, 1973) in a batch of documents surrounding the prosecution of the Watergate burglars (see January 1, 1975). Former Watergate prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton, informally advising the Frost research team, are both keenly interested in the transcripts. “You’ve got something no one else has,” Frampton says. “These transcripts must have been placed in the official exhibit by a clerical error.” The two explain the significance of the conversations between Nixon and Colson: they place Nixon directly in the plot to cover up the Watergate conspiracy six weeks before Nixon says he first learned of it. Frampton shows researcher James Reston Jr. just how he would have used the conversations against Nixon in court, while Ben-Veniste instructs Reston on how Frost should interrogate Nixon as a hostile witness. Frost should ask something like, “Is it still your position, Mr. Nixon, that between 21 March and 30 April, 1973, you acted to stop the cover-up and prosecute the guilty?” When Nixon answers yes, Frost should follow, “But in fact, as late as 16 April, 1973, you were working out ‘scenarios’ with Ehrlichman and Haldeman to make John Dean the Watergate scapegoat, weren’t you?” Other questions to ask include, “By what right were you offering campaign money for the defense of your associates who were charged in a criminal conspiracy?” and “Isn’t it really true that you never made any effort before 21 March to learn the details of a criminal activity that you knew was going on all around you?” (Reston 2007, pp. 50-51)
Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, becomes president of ABC News as well. Arledge brings some of the techniques he pioneered as head of the sports division to ABC’s news broadcast practices, including what many call his “up close and personal” approach to politicians and others of interest to the news. Many at ABC opposed Arledge’s ascension, as he lacks any formal training as a journalist, and they fear Arledge will “dumb down” the way news is presented. Many fear he will bring “glitz, glamour, and lower standards to the network,” as Ken Bode will write in 1994. ABC anchor Ted Koppel will later remember: “Peter Jennings and I were convinced hiring Roone was a big disaster. We went to see Fred Pierce, who was then president of ABC.… Roone was famous for having the vision in sports to look at things like slow-motion television and the ability to freeze a frame and the instant replay that flowed out of that. Others invented those technologies; Roone was the man who saw them and said, ‘Here’s a way of doing something on television that’s never been done before.’ And we all gave him credit for that. But we didn’t believe that was what was needed to turn ABC News into a more powerful news division.… [Pierce] listened to us explain why Roone should never become president of ABC News. Then he very politely ushered us out and ignored us.” Arledge will function as head of both the news and sports departments for 17 years; under his guidance, ABC News will earn a number of prestigious awards and lead the ratings for many years against its two network competitors. “Roone created the forum for each of us,” Koppel will later say. “Barbara Walters got 20/20, Peter Jennings got World News Tonight, I got Nightline, Sam Donaldson got PrimeTime Live, and ultimately Roone created This Week With David Brinkley.” CBS News producer Don Hewitt will say after Arledge’s death in 2002, “Just about everything that’s good in television has a Roone Arledge trademark on it.” (Bode 3/13/1994; Rubenstein 12/29/2002; Disney Legends 2007) Jennings will recall, “There are only a few people in the business who are really good at looking at a piece in draft, either on paper but particularly on tape, and moving it around so that the up-close-and-personal nature of journalism was front and center.” Arledge will focus ABC’s news broadcasts far more on personalities, sophisticated camera and electronic innovations, and “feature” presentations, and less on issues and so-called “hard news,” transforming the way Americans perceive the news. (Rubenstein 12/29/2002) In 2002, Robert Weintraub will deplore Arledge’s penchant for turning journalists and news anchors into celebrities. “[S]ome of his schemes, however brilliant at the time, have made TV sports painful to watch and news almost impossible to finance,” Weintraub will write. “If network executives want to know why TV news is hemorrhaging money, they can start by looking at the anchors’ movie star salaries.” (Weintraub 12/29/2002) Bode will write in 1994: “He [was] determined to give the viewers what they were interested in, not necessarily what they needed to know. On the day Elvis [Presley] died in 1977, Mr. Arledge made that the lead story on the ABC evening news; the other networks led with a Washington story about the Panama Canal treaties. It may be the truest measure of Mr. Arledge’s influence on television that on a comparable news day today, all the broadcasts would lead with Presley’s death.” (Bode 3/13/1994)
Former President Richard Nixon meets with his interviewer, David Frost, for the first of several lengthy interviews (see Early 1976). The interviews take place in a private residence in Monarch Bay, California, close to Nixon’s home in San Clemente. One of Frost’s researchers, author James Reston Jr., is worried that Frost is not prepared enough for the interview. The interview is, in Reston’s words, a rather “free-form exercise in bitterness and schmaltz.”
Blaming Associates, Justifying Actions, Telling Lies - Nixon blames then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman for not destroying the infamous White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973), recalls weeping with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger over his resignation, and blames his defense counsel for letting him down during his impeachment hearings (see February 6, 1974). His famously crude language is no worse than the barracks-room speech of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he asserts. Frost shows a film of Nixon’s farewell address to the nation (see August 8, 1974), and observes that Nixon must have seen this film many times. Never, Nixon says, and goes on to claim that he has never listened to or watched any of his speeches, and furthermore had never even practiced any of his speeches before delivering them. It is an astonishing claim from a modern politician, one of what Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie calls “Unnecessary Nixon Lies.” (Reston 2007, pp. 81-91) (In a 1974 article for Harper’s, Geoffrey Stokes wrote that, according to analysis of transcripts of Nixon’s infamous Watergate tape recordings by a Cornell University professor, Nixon spent nearly a third of his time practicing both private and public statements, speeches, and even casual conversations.) (Stokes 10/1974)
Nixon Too Slippery for Frost? - During the viewing of the tape, Nixon’s commentary reveals what Reston calls Nixon’s “vanity and insecurity, the preoccupation with appearance within a denial of it.” After the viewing, Nixon artfully dodges Frost’s attempt to pin him down on how history will remember him, listing a raft of foreign and domestic achievements and barely mentioning the crimes committed by his administration. “What history will say about this administration will depend on who writes the history,” he says, and recalls British prime minister Winston Churchill’s assertion that history would “treat him well… [b]ecause I intend to write it.”
Reactions - The reactions of the Frost team to the first interview are mixed. Reston is pleased, feeling that Nixon made some telling personal observations and recollections, but others worried that Frost’s soft questioning had allowed Nixon to dominate the session and either evade or filibuster the tougher questions. Frost must assert control of the interviews, team members assert, must learn to cut Nixon off before he can waste time with a pointless anecdote. Frost must rein in Nixon when he goes off on a tangent. As Reston writes, “The solution was to keep the subject close to the nub of fact, leaving him no room for diversion or maneuver.” (Reston 2007, pp. 81-91)
Interviewer David Frost has a difficult time with his subject, former President Richard Nixon, in the day’s early questioning (see April 6, 1977). Frost attempts to recoup with a line of questioning suggested by his adviser James Reston, Jr., one used in the trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman (see January 1, 1975). Were there no limits to what a president can do, even if the president wants to do something plainly illegal? he asks. Could he do anything despite the law? Burglary? Forgery? Even murder? “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon retorts. “Never had his imperialism been so baldly stated,” Reston will later reflect. Frost asks if the dividing line between, for example, a police burglary and the murder of an antiwar protester is only the president’s judgment? Nixon agrees, and adds: “There’s nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven’t read every word, every jot and every tittle, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we’re all talking about.” (Time 5/30/1977; Reston 2007, pp. 102-105; Landmark Cases 8/28/2007)
Former President Richard Nixon, generally acknowledged as having bested his interviewer David Frost in the first rounds of a set of interviews (see April 6, 1977), now defends his support for the infamous Huston Plan, admitted by the plan’s author himself to be illegal in its breathtaking contempt for civil liberties and the rule of Constitutional law. Former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara had told Frost’s aide James Reston Jr. that it was surprising Huston was not taken out and shot. Reston will later write acidly: “Not only was Tom Charles Huston not taken out and shot, the plan was calmly considered and signed by Nixon, and was in force for a week, until J. Edgar Hoover objected on territorial rather than philosophical grounds (see July 26-27, 1970). Only then was approval rescinded (although many felt it remained in effect under the code name COINTELPRO).” Reston will write that during this interview, Nixon paints a picture of an America engulfed in armed insurrection, a portrait so convincing that the Huston Plan actually seems a rational response. Frost fails to press the point that the antiwar protests were largely nonviolent and not a threat to national security. (Reston 2007, pp. 102-105) Frost does ask that if this was indeed so vital to national security, why not ask Congress to make such acts legal? “In theory,” Nixon replies, “this would be perfect, but in practice, it won’t work.” It would merely alert the targeted dissenters and raise a public outcry. (Time 5/30/1977) This part of the interview sessions will be aired on May 19, 1977. (Landmark Cases 8/28/2007)
After 14 hours (of the allotted 24) of the Nixon/Frost interviews (see Early 1976), most of the Frost research team feels that former President Richard Nixon has gotten the best of interviewer David Frost. Nixon has largely been allowed to expound at length on his many self-proclaimed triumphs in foreign policy until the last few sessions, and except for brief moments where Frost tried to corner Nixon over his Vietnam and Cambodia policies, Nixon has escaped with his reputation not only untarnished, but likely even somewhat burnished.
Frost Enabling Nixon's Resurrection? - After the day’s interview (see April 6, 1977), many on Frost’s research team lambast him for not pressing the point that Nixon’s arguments contravene almost everything the US stands for. (One television technician wisecracks after the first round of interviews, “If he keeps talking like that, I may vote for him.”) Team member Robert Zelnick tells Frost, “You sound like two old chums, sitting around a pork barrel, talking about a bowling game, rather than about the incredible divisiveness that Nixon himself deliberately caused.” Frost defends himself by saying that Nixon “admitted what we wanted him to,” but Zelnick retorts: “But how is the audience to know? You have to state the opposite view.” Frost’s producer John Birt adds: “Sniping at him is not good enough anymore. The absurdity of his position must be underlined. If you don’t respond to the absurdity, then it appears as if you not only accept his view, but endorse it.” Frost’s afternoon session with Nixon is more challenging, and later some observers categorize the Huston Plan interview as, in the words of author James Reston Jr., “the most damaging period in all the Nixon interviews” (see April 6, 1977).
Intensive Preparation - But Frost’s team is not satisfied. With a week’s break before the next interview, the team decides to push Frost to prepare more intensively for the upcoming Watergate interview sessions. Reston will later note that the Watergate sessions “had to be solid gold. Otherwise the series was dead—commercially as well as substantively. Did Frost realize the jeopardy we were in now? Worse than that: if Nixon’s guilt and his authoritarian impulses were not clearly demonstrated, Frost would take an equivalent position in the history of television to that of Nixon in the history of politics. The epitaph would read, He paid $1 million for Nixon’s resurrection.” (Time 5/30/1977; Reston 2007, pp. 102-105)
Former President Richard Nixon, generally acknowledged as having bested his interviewer David Frost in the first rounds of interviews (see April 6, 1977), now defends his support for the infamous Huston Plan, admitted by the plan’s author himself to be illegal in its breathtaking contempt for civil liberties and the rule of Constitutional law. Former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara had told Frost’s aide James Reston Jr. that it was surprising Huston was not taken out and shot. Reston will write acidly: “Not only was Tom Charles Huston not taken out and shot, the plan was calmly considered and signed by Nixon, and was in force for a week, until J. Edgar Hoover objected on territorial rather than philosophical grounds (see July 26-27, 1970). Only then was approval rescinded (although many felt it remained in effect under the code name COINTELPRO).” Reston will write that, during this interview, Nixon paints a picture of an America engulfed in armed insurrection, a portrait so convincing that the Huston Plan actually seems a rational response. Frost fails to press the point that the antiwar protests were largely nonviolent and not a threat to national security. (Reston 2007, pp. 102-105) Frost does ask that if this was indeed so vital to national security, why not ask Congress to make such acts legal? “In theory,” Nixon replies, “this would be perfect, but in practice, it won’t work.” It would merely alert the targeted dissenters and raise a public outcry. (Time 5/30/1977) This part of the interview sessions will be aired on May 19, 1977. (Landmark Cases 8/28/2007)
David Frost, the British interviewer conducting a series of interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), spends four hours over three days hammering at Nixon over his involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977. April 13, 1977, April 13, 1977, April 15, 1977, and April 15, 1977). His first question is, “With the perspective of three years now, do you feel that you ever obstructed justice or were part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice?”
Wrestling with Proteus - James Reston, Jr., part of Frost’s research team, later notes that the four hours of interviews as edited for later broadcast becomes what “has been called a television epic. It had all the elements of high drama (and occasional high comedy). The tension started high and built towards an almost unbearable, climactic breaking point. It pitted a feisty, beautifully informed inquisitor (see April 7-12, 1976), playing his surprise cards and rehearsed lines masterfully, aware, finally, of his duty as a surrogate prosecutor, aware of the imperative to prove the guilt that all assumed, creatively using the ploys of judicious contempt and reverse patronizing and deadly humor to reduce his intimidating adversary to apology and mawkishness.” Reston finally comes to believe what he has been saying for weeks, that Frost is “the best man in the world for this ultimate task, far better than any American journalist on the scene.” Frost wrestles with Nixon, the “virtuoso of deception” whom he compares to the shape-changing Greek god Proteus, and ultimately pins him down. (Encyclopedia Mythica 4/10/2001; Reston 2007, pp. 116-118)
Opening Arguments - Nixon dodges the opening question and tries to redefine “Watergate” as just about every illegal, immoral, or questionable action he had performed as president. “Watergate means all of the charges that were thrown at me during the period before I left the presidency,” Nixon says. But instead of accepting Nixon’s definition and spending four hours touching on the surface of each allegation—mentioning it, letting Nixon deny or evade the charges, then moving on, as most American journalists might well have done—Frost homes in on the Watergate conspiracy itself. When Frost begins listing the crimes and unethical actions committed by Nixon’s underlings, Nixon turns to obfuscation: “You have lumped together a number of charges, and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of them.” (Reston later writes, “So facts became charges” in Nixon’s characterization of events.) Nixon asks for Frost’s sources for each charge, but Frost refuses to respond to the question. (Reston 2007, pp. 116-118)
In his Watergate interview with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976 and April 13-15, 1977), David Frost continues from his earlier questioning about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977) to the events of March 21, 1973 (see March 21, 1973). Now that Nixon’s status as a co-conspirator from the outset has been established, Frost wants to know why Nixon claims not to have known about the illegal aspects of the cover-up, or about the blackmail demands of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, until this date. Nixon is cautious, claiming only that he learned of Hunt’s blackmail demands on March 21, and refusing to acknowledge that he knew anything about the $400,000 in payouts during the eight months preceding (see June 20-21, 1972).
Springing the Trap - Frost circles back, hoping for a flat confirmation: “So March 21 was the first day you learned about an illegal cover-up?” Nixon carefully says that March 21 was the day he learned of the “full import” of the cover-up, only having heard “smatterings” beforehand and being reassured by then-White House counsel John Dean that no White House personnel were involved. Frost springs his trap: “In that case, why did you say in such strong terms to [White House aide Charles] Colson on February 14, more than a month before, ‘The cover-up is the main ingredient, that’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal’” (see February 14, 1973). Nixon’s face betrays his shock. “Why did I say that?” he asks rhetorically, trying to gather himself. He fishes around for excuses, quickly settling on media reports at the time that tossed around charges of conspiracies, “hush money” payouts, and promises of executive clemency. That’s all he was referring to in the February 14 conversation, he says: the cover-up itself had to be avoided at all costs. Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “It was an exquisite lie, a superb time warp.”
Error Goes Unnoticed - Only later do Reston and other research team members realize that no such stories had appeared in the media by February 14; in fact, allegations of a cover-up never made it into print until after burglar James McCord wrote his letter to Judge John Sirica on March 19 warning the judge of involvement of “higher-ups” in a conspiracy of silence (see March 19-23, 1973). No one had written publicly of any executive clemency deals until the subject was broached during the Senate Watergate investigative hearings (see February 7, 1973). But few of the millions who will see the interview will have the grasp of the chronology of events necessary to realize the extent of Nixon’s dishonesty.
Second Colson Bombshell - Frost reminds Nixon of his conversation with Colson of February 13 (see February 13, 1973), the day before, when they had discussed which Nixon official will have to take the fall for Watergate. Former campaign director John Mitchell couldn’t do it, the conversation went, but Nixon wants to know about Mitchell’s former deputy, Jeb Magruder. “He’s perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Nixon asked Colson. Frost asks Nixon, “So you knew about Magruder’s perjury as early as February the thirteenth?” Nixon bobs and weaves, talking about events from the year before, how Mitchell and Colson hated each other, how Colson and Ehrlichman hated each other. Frost brings Nixon back on point by reading another quote from the February 13 conversation, where Nixon says that “the problem” will come up if “one of the seven [indicted Watergate burglars] begins to talk…” Frost asks, “Now, in that remark, it seems to be that someone running the cover-up couldn’t have expressed it more clearly than that, could he?” Frost wants to know precisely what the phrase “one of the seven begins to talk” means. Nixon argues, but Frost refuses to be distracted. How can it mean anything else except “some sort of conspiracy to stop Hunt from talking about something damaging?” Frost asks. Nixon retorts, “You could state your conclusion, and I’ve stated my views.”
Nixon's Own Words Prove Knowledge, Complicity - Frost proceeds to pepper Nixon with his own quotes proving his knowledge and complicity, nine of them, a barrage that leaves Nixon nearly breathless. Nixon finally accuses Frost of taking his words out of context. Frost’s final quote is from an April 21 meeting where Nixon told aides John Dean and H. R. Haldeman, “Christ, just turn over any cash we got.” (Reston 2007, pp. 126-134) After the taping, Nixon asks his aides about the Colson transcripts: “What was that tape? I’m sure I never heard that tape before. Find out about that tape.” (Time 5/9/1977)
In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost moves from the erased Watergate tape (see November 21, 1973) to Nixon’s damning conversation with Charles Colson about “stonewalling” the Watergate investigation. This time around, Frost is far more prepared and ready to deal with Nixon’s tactics of obfuscation and misdirection than in earlier interviews (see April 6, 1977).
Surprise Information - Nixon is unaware that Frost knows about his conversation that same day with Colson (see June 20, 1972). Along with what is known about his conversation with Haldeman, the Colson conversation puts Nixon squarely in the midst of the conspiracy at its outset. More important than Frost’s command of the facts is Frost’s springing of a “surprise card” (Frost researcher James Reston Jr.‘s words) on Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate sessions. Nixon obviously must contend with the questions of what else Frost knows, and how he would ask about it. As Frost details excerpts from the Colson conversation, about “stonewalling” and “hav[ing] our people delay, avoiding depositions,” Reston watches Nixon on the monitor. Reston will later recall: “His jawline seemed to elongate. The corners of his mouth turned down. His eyes seemed more liquid. One could almost see the complicated dials in his head turning feverishly. It was a marvelously expressive face. The range of movement both within the contours of the visage and with the hands was enormous.” Frost concludes with the question, “Now, somewhere you were pretty well informed by this conversation, weren’t you?” After some fumbling and half-hearted admissions of some knowledge, Nixon begins justifying his actions in the conspiracy: “My motive was not to cover up a criminal action, but to be sure that as any slip over—or should I say slop over, a better word—any slop over in a way that would damage innocent people or blow it into political proportions.” (Reston 2007, pp. 124-126)
Pinning Nixon down on CIA Interference - Frost asks about the conversations of June 23 (see June 23, 1972), when Nixon told his aides to have the CIA interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the burglary. Nixon tries dodging the point, emphasizing how busy he was with other matters that day and quibbling about the definition of the phrase “cover-up,” but finally says that he had no criminal motive in ordering the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating the matter of the Mexican checks found in Watergate burglar Bernard Barker’s bank accounts. He was merely engaged in political containment, he says, and besides, two weeks later, the FBI traced the checks to a Mexican bank anyway (see Before April 7, 1972 and August 1-2, 1972). Nixon emphasizes his instructions to then-FBI director L. Patrick Gray to move forward on the investigation (see July 6, 1972). (Later, Nixon staff member Jack Brennan will admit that they had almost convinced Nixon to admit to the illegality of the June 23 orders, but Nixon had demurred.)
'You Joined a Conspiracy that You Never Left' - It now falls to Frost to confront Nixon with the strictures of the law and the evidence that he had broken those laws. Frost says, “But surely, in all you’ve just said, you have proved exactly that that was the case, that there was a cover-up of criminal activity because you’ve already said, and the record shows you knew, that Hunt and Liddy [E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, the leaders of Nixon’s “Plumbers”] were involved… you knew that, in fact, criminals would be protected.” Nixon protests, “Now just a moment,” but Frost says, “Period.” Frost lectures Nixon on obstruction of justice, saying: “The law states that when intent and foreseeable consequences are sufficient, motive is completely irrelevant.… If I try to rob a bank and fail, that’s no defense. I still tried to rob a bank. I would say you tried to obstruct justice and succeeded in that period” between June 23 and July 6. Nixon retorts that he does not believe Frost knows much about the details of the obstruction of justice statutes, but fails to move Frost, who has been carefully instructed in the obstruction statutes all week. Frost eventually says: “Now, after the Gray conversation, the cover-up went on. You would say that you were not aware of it. I was arguing that you were part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation.” Nixon repeats, “You’re gonna say that I was a part of it as a result of the June 23 conversation?” Reston later writes, “It was a crucial moment, a moment that took considerable courage for David Frost.” Frost replies: “Yes.… I would have said that you joined a conspiracy that you never left.” “Then we totally disagree on that,” Nixon retorts. Reston later writes: “No journalist in America, I concluded, would have had the courage of Frost in that vital moment. But therein lay the failing of American journalism. For Frost here was an advocate. He was far beyond the narrow American definition of ‘objective journalism.’” (Time 5/9/1977; Reston 2007, pp. 124-126)
In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost asks about what then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman knew on June 20, 1972 (see June 20, 1972), when he and Nixon discussed Watergate in the conversation that would later be erased from Nixon’s secret recordings (see November 21, 1973).
Avoiding Questions - Nixon tries to accuse Frost of putting words in his mouth; Frost refuses to be baited. Nixon then uses diversion, addressing not the June 20 conversation, but instead spinning out a discourse focusing on his lack of advance knowledge of the break-in and accusing the media of pinning unwarranted blame on him. Frost lets him speak, then focuses again on the conversation: “So we come back to, what did Haldeman tell you during the eighteen-and-a-half minute gap?” Nixon dodges the known material in that conversation—the suggested “public relations offensive” to evade criticism and investigation of the burglary, and instead says that he and Haldeman were worried that the Democrats had bugged the Executive Office Building.
Questions about Stennis's Hearing - He tries to segue into a digression about charges of Democratic eavesdropping from the 1950s, but Frost pulls him back, and asks why he offered to allow only one senator, Mississippi Democrat John Stennis (see October 19, 1973), to hear the tapes. Stennis was “alas, partially deaf and very old.” Frost notes that the sound quality of the tapes was often poor, and adds, “If you and [Nixon’s personal secretary] Rose Mary Woods could not hear them clearly, Senator Stennis was not an ideal choice.” Nixon tries to turn Frost’s question into a challenge to Stennis’s intellect and even his integrity, but Frost repeats: “His hearing is crucial. You’ve just said so.” Nixon retorts that he has never noticed a problem with Stennis’s hearing, and even if Stennis had hearing problems, “[a]fter all, there’s an invention called hearing aids…” Frost is clearly enjoying Nixon’s marked discomfiture, but is unaware that he is making a gaffe of his own: Stennis has, by all accounts, perfectly good hearing. However, Nixon knows nothing of Frost’s error, and writhes under Frost’s relentless questioning about Stennis’s alleged inability to adequately hear everything on the tapes. (Frost’s gaffe will not be noticed at the time and will first be revealed in James Reston Jr.‘s 2007 book on the interviews, The Conviction of Richard Nixon.)
Who Erased the Tape? - Frost focuses on the question of who exactly erased the June 20 tape. It has been determined that only three people could have possibly erased the tape: Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary; and Nixon himself. No one was ever indicted for the crime of destruction of evidence because Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski was unable to determine who of the three might have actually performed the erasure. Nixon tells Frost that it could have been rogue Secret Service agents who erased the tape, but that charge falls flat under its own weight of implausibility. Bull had offered to take a lie detector test in denying that he erased the tape. And if Woods had erased the tape, it would have undoubtedly been by accident. The tape was subjected to at least five separate manual erasures, making an accidental erasure unlikely at best. That leaves Nixon as the most likely suspect. Nixon refuses to admit to erasing anything, and Frost says, “So you’re asking us to take an awful lot on trust, aren’t you?”
Avoiding Perjury Charges - After further dodging and weaving, Nixon finally falls back on a legal reason why he won’t answer the question: he had already testified under oath to a grand jury that he had not erased the tape; that Woods most likely erased the tape by accident. Being pardoned for his crimes during his presidency by Gerald Ford (see September 8, 1974) wouldn’t cover his lying under oath after his resignation, he says, and he isn’t going to give a jury a chance to charge him with perjury. (Reston 2007, pp. 118-122)
Interview Airs in May - This interview will air on US television stations on May 4, 1977. (Television News Archive 5/4/1977)
Former President Richard Nixon is nearly 20 minutes late for his second Watergate interview with David Frost (see April 13-15, 1977 and April 13, 1977). Neither Frost nor his team of researchers realize how rattled Nixon is from the last session. Frost begins the interview by asking about the so-called “Dean report” (see March 20, 1973), the results of John Dean’s “internal investigation” of the Watergate conspiracy. Dean’s report would have served two purposes: it would hopefully have removed suspicion from any White House officials as to their involvement in the conspiracy, and, if it was ever pulled apart and shown to be a compendium of lies and evasion, would have pointed to Dean as the central figure in the conspiracy. Dean never wrote the report, but instead became a witness for the prosecution (see April 6-20, 1973. June 3, 1973, and June 25-29, 1973). Since Dean never wrote the report, Frost asks Nixon why he told the deputy attorney general, Henry Peterson, that there was indeed such a report (Nixon had called it “accurate but not full”). Astonishingly, Nixon asserts that Dean did write the report, and that it indeed showed no “vulnerability or criminality on the part of the president… so let’s not get away from that fact.” Frost sees Nixon’s vulnerability. Frost asks when he read the report. Caught, Nixon backs off of his assertion, saying that he “just heard that ah… that he had written a report… ah… the… that… ah… he… ah… ah, considered it to be inadequate.” Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “[Nixon] was firmly skewered. His face showed it. His gibberish confirmed it.”
Ehrlichman's Report - Frost moves on to another report on Watergate by former aide John Ehrlichman, the so-called “modified, limited hangout,” and the offer of $200,000 in cash to Ehrlichman and fellow aide H. R. Haldeman for their legal fees. Nixon had told the nation that Ehrlichman would produce an informative and factual report on Watergate, even though he knew by then that Ehrlichman was himself heavily involved in the conspiracy (see August 15, 1973). “That’s like asking Al Capone for an independent investigation of organized crime in Chicago,” Frost observes. “How could one of the prime suspects, even if he was the Pope, conduct an independent inquiry?” Instead of answering the question, Nixon ducks into obfuscation about what exactly constitutes a “prime suspect.”
Nixon Begins to Crack - Reston later writes that, looking back on the interview, it is at this point that Nixon begins to “crack” in earnest. Frost has cast serious doubts on Nixon’s veracity and used Nixon’s own words and actions to demonstrate his culpability. Now Frost asks a broader question: “I still don’t know why you didn’t pick up the phone and tell the cops. When you found out the things that Haldeman and Ehrlichman had done, there is no evidence anywhere of a rebuke, but only of scenarios and excuses.” Nixon responds with what Reston calls a long, “disjointed peroration… about Richard the Isolated and Richard the Victimized… Nixon was desperate to move from fact to sentiment.” But Nixon is not merely rambling. Woven throughout are mentions of the guilt of the various White House officials (but always others, never Nixon’s own guilt), apology, mistakes and misjudgments. Clearly he is hoping that he can paint himself as a sympathetic figure, victimized by fate, bad fortune, and the ill will of his enemies. (Haldeman is so outraged by this stretch that he will soon announce his intention to tell everything in a book—see February 1978; Ehrlichman will call it a “smarmy, maudlin rationalization that will be tested and found false.”) Nixon says he merely “screwed up terribly in what was a little thing [that] became a big thing.”
Crossroads - Frost tries to ease an admission of complicity from Nixon—perhaps if hammering him with facts won’t work, appealing to Nixon’s sentimentality will. “Why not go a little farther?” Frost asks. “That word mistake is a trigger word with people. Would you say to clear the air that, for whatever motives, however waylaid by emotion or whatever you were waylaid by, you were part of a cover-up?” Nixon refuses. Behind the cameras, Nixon staffer Jack Brennan holds up a legal pad with the message “LET’S TALK” (or perhaps “LET HIM TALK”—Reston’s memory is unclear on this point). Either way, Frost decides to take a short break. Brennan hustles Reston into a room, closes the door, and says, “You’ve brought him to the toughest moment of his life. He wants to be forthcoming, but you’ve got to give him a chance.” He wouldn’t confess to being part of a criminal conspiracy, and he wouldn’t admit to committing an impeachable offense. Nixon’s staff has been arguing for days that Nixon should admit to something, but Brennan and Reston cannot agree as to what. Reston later writes that Nixon is at a personal crossroads: “Could he admit his demonstrated guilt, express contrition, and apologize? Two years of national agony were reduced to the human moment. Could he conquer his pride and his conceit? Now we were into Greek theater.” When the interview resumes, Nixon briefly reminisces about his brother Arthur, who died from meningitis at age seven. Was Frost using the story of his brother to open Nixon up? “We’re at an extraordinary moment,” Frost says, and dramatically tosses his clipboard onto the coffee table separating the two men. “Would you do what the American people yearn to hear—not because they yearn to hear it, but just to tell all—to level? You’ve explained how you got caught up in this thing. You’ve explained your motives. I don’t want to quibble about any of that. Coming down to sheer substance, would you go further?” Nixon responds, “Well, what would you express?” Reston will later write, “Every American journalist I have ever known would shrivel at this plea for help, hiding with terror behind the pose of the uninvolved, ‘objective’ interviewer. The question was worthy of Socrates: Frost must lead Nixon to truth and enlightenment.” Frost gropes about a bit, then lists the categories of wrongdoing. First, there were more than mere mistakes. “There was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not. Yes, it may have been a crime, too. Two, the power of the presidency was abused. The oath of office was not fulfilled. And three, the American people were put through two years of agony, and… I think the American people need to hear it. I think that unless you say it, you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life…”
Apology and Admission - Nixon’s response is typically long, prefaced with a rambling discussion of his instructions to speechwriter Ray Price to include his own name with those of Haldeman’s and Ehrlichman’s in the speech announcing their resignations “if you think I ought to” (see April 29, 1973), a litany of all the good things he did while president, and a short, bitter diatribe against those who had sought to bring him down. He never committed a crime, he insists, because he lacked the motive for the commission of a crime.
Terrible Mistakes - But all this is prelude. Nixon shifts to the core of the issue: he had made terrible mistakes not worthy of the presidency. He had violated his own standards of excellence. He deliberately misled the American people about Watergate, he admits, and now he regrets his actions. His statements were not true because they did not go as far as they should have, and “for all of those things I have a deep regret… I don’t go with the idea that what brought me down was a coup, a conspiracy. I gave ‘em the sword. They stuck it in and twisted it with relish. I guess if I’d been in their position, I’d’a done the same thing.” Nixon will not, or perhaps cannot, plainly admit that he broke the law in working to conceal the facts surrounding Watergate, but he does admit that after March 21, 1973, he failed to carry out his duties as president and went to “the edge of the law.… That I came to the edge, I would have to say that a reasonable person could call that a cover-up.” Reston notes that Nixon has just admitted to a standard of guilt high enough for a civil court if not a criminal court. But Nixon isn’t done. (Reston 2007, pp. 137-155)
Calls Resigning a 'Voluntary Impeachment' - “I did not commit, in my view, an impeachable offense,” he says. “Now, the House has ruled overwhelmingly that I did. Of course, that was only an indictment, and it would have to be tried in the Senate. I might have won, I might have lost. But even if I had won in the Senate by a vote or two, I would have been crippled. And in any event, for six months the country couldn’t afford having the president in the dock in the United States Senate. And there can never be an impeachment in the future in this country without a president voluntarily impeaching himself. I have impeached myself. That speaks for itself.” Resigning the presidency (see August 8, 1974), he says, was a “voluntary impeachment.” (Guardian 9/7/2007)
Reactions - Frost and his researchers are stunned at Nixon’s statements, as will the millions be who watch the interview when it is broadcast. (Reston 2007, pp. 137-155) In 2002, Frost will recall, “I sensed at that moment he was most the vulnerable he’d ever be, ever again. It seemed like an almost constitutional moment with his vulnerability at that point.… I hadn’t expected him to go as far as that, frankly. I thought he would have stonewalled more at the last stage. I think that was probably one of the reasons why it was something of a catharsis for the American people at that time that he had finally faced up to these issues, not in a court of law, which a lot of people would have loved to have seen him in a court of law, but that wasn’t going to happen. So—he’d been pardoned. But faced up in a forum where he was clearly not in control and I think that’s why it had the impact it did, probably.” (National Public Radio 6/17/2002) Not everyone is impressed with Nixon’s mea culpa; the Washington Post, for one, writes, “He went no further than he did in his resignation speech two and a half years ago,” in a story co-written by Watergate investigative reporter Bob Woodward. (Segal 4/30/2007) This interview will air on US television on May 26, 1977. (Steele 5/27/1977)
Following his revelatory apology and roundabout admission of guilt in his interview with David Frost (see April 15, 1977), Richard Nixon says that everything has come together to one single, inescapable conclusion. “I let the American people down, and I have to carry that burden with me the rest of my life. My political life is over. I will never yet and never again have an opportunity to serve in any official capacity.” James Reston, Jr, a member of Frost’s research team, later writes that this admission is “the final success of David Frost’s interviews. The danger that this encounter would lead to Nixon’s rehabilitation (see April 6, 1977) had been smothered. His political and personal corruption had been demonstrated. His personality had been exposed. With recognition, with acknowledgment, with acceptance of his guilt, he was a different man now.” As recently as three weeks earlier, he had spoken confidently of his intention to return to public life. That would never happen now.
Anti-Climax - In a scripted television drama, Nixon’s cathartic admission of guilt would have been the final scene. In reality, Nixon and Frost have another twenty minutes of interview time. True to form, as Reston will write, “Not a minute after he accepted responsibility for his own actions, his natural venality asserted itself.” Nixon revisits his claims of persecution by implacably hateful political enemies, and of his own victimization. He even drags Martha Mitchell (see June 22-25, 1972), the recently deceased wife of former campaign chairman John Mitchell, in to share in the blame—according to Nixon, because Mrs. Mitchell was “emotionally disturbed,” she distracted her husband at key times during the Nixon re-election campaign and therefore she is a root cause of the Watergate conspiracy. Reston will call this accusation “tasteless and lowbrow… ghoulish [and] revolting.” (After this story appears in the press, Mrs. Mitchell’s home town of Little Rock, Arkansas, decides to erect a monument of her as a heroine of Watergate.) The interview ends on a final macabre moment, with Frost delicately asking if Nixon had ever considered suicide. “I’m not the suicidal type,” he replies. “I really ought to be. If [I were], I’d have to be like a cat, I’d’a committed suicide a dozen times.” (Reston 2007, pp. 158-160)
Rehabilitation? - Nixon biographer Conrad Black writes in 2007 that Nixon’s strategy was to rehabilitate himself by admitting his mistakes while refusing to admit to any criminal behavior: “He also knew, but Frost did not, that the first stage in his planned moral renaissance was to resist precisely the desire Frost expressed: that he confess wrongdoing so he could be forgiven. Nixon did not want to be forgiven; he wanted the country to agonize over whether it had unfairly treated him. Apologizing and being forgiven was the easy way out for America, but Nixon wasn’t interested in providing an effortless exit from the moral dilemma he posed to his countrymen.” (Black 9/7/2007) After the interviews, Frost will say that he does not believe Nixon wanted to use the interviews as a way to re-enter public life. (Steele 5/27/1977)
The Watergate portion of the Richard Nixon/David Frost interviews (see April 13-15, 1977) airs on CBS. Forty-five million people, a full third of the US viewing public, watches. Gallup Poll results find that 72 percent of those who watched believe that Nixon is guilty of obstruction of justice and other impeachable crimes; 69 percent think he lied in the interview; 75 percent believe that there is no place for Nixon in public life again. (Reston 2007, pp. 172-173)
Several hundred influential conservatives launch what they call “Peace Through Strength Week,” at a week-long conference in Washington, DC, held by the American Security Council (ASC—see 1978). The primary mission is to convince a majority of senators to vote against the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) arms-reduction treaty, which President Carter had signed five months before. Although the treaty sets equal limits on the number of nuclear missile launchers the US and the Soviet Union may possess, the conventioneers believe that, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, “it merely enshrine[s] American weakness in the face of a growing Soviet nuclear threat.” The convention is timed to coincide with Governor Ronald Reagan’s (R-CA) announcement that he is running for president, and borrows his signature phrase to describe his position on arms control.
'The SALT Syndrome' - The focal point of the ASC’s message is a half-hour film entitled “The SALT Syndrome.” Scoblic will describe it: “Set to a soundtrack fit for a horror movie, it featured image after image of missiles launching, submarines creeping, and nuclear weapons exploding, punctuated by commentary from retired generals and intelligence officials. The ‘syndrome’ was the American tendency to ‘unilaterally disarm,’ which had gripped Washington policy makers after the United States decided to follow [former Defense Secretary Robert] ‘McNamara’s theory of “no defense,” which is called “Mutual Assured Destruction.”’ The movie was a concise, vivid statement of conservative nuclear thought: MAD was a choice.” The movie tells its viewers that US citizens “play an important role in US strategy—that of nuclear hostage.” The film goes on to avow that the Soviets have produced far more missiles, long-range bombers, nuclear submarines, and various missile defenses than the US is willing to concede, giving the Soviets the capability of coercing the US into doing pretty much whatever they demand. “The movie,” Scoblic will write, “was a remarkable, and remarkably effective, piece of propaganda. It combined fact, exaggeration, and outright nonsense—one interviewee claimed the Soviet Union was on the verge of deploying particle beams that would shoot down all incoming missiles—to argue that the United States had left itself nearly helpless against a Soviet behemoth bent on world domination.” The film will play on American television stations some 2,000 times, and will reach, ASC chairman John Fisher will estimate, at least 137 million Americans.
Millions of Dollars Raised to Fight SALT II - The film successfully solicits millions of dollars in contributions from concerned and frightened Americans, much of which will go to advertising efforts to combat SALT II. The ASC will outspend pro-treaty forces by a ratio of 15 to 1. (American Security Council 3/30/1980; Scoblic 2008, pp. 72-73)
Members of the Reagan administration run a secret shadow government that operates outside of official channels and circumvents Congressional oversight. The Miami Herald reports in July 1987: “Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, Congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.” Figures involved in the secret structure include Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, National Security Adviser William Clark, CIA Director William Casey, and Attorney General Edwin Meese. Secret contacts throughout the government act on the advisers’ behalf, but do not officially report to them. The group is reportedly involved in arming the Nicaraguan rebels, the leaking of information to news agencies for propaganda purposes, the drafting of martial law plans for national emergencies, and the monitoring of US citizens considered potential security risks. The secret parallel government is tied to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, originally designed to keep the government functioning in times of disaster. From 1983 to 1986, North reportedly leads the parallel structure from his office in the Old Executive Office Building across from the White House. Sources tell the Miami Herald that North’s influence within the shadow government is so great that he can alter the orbits of surveillance satellites to monitor Soviet activity, launch spy aircraft over Cuba and Nicaragua, and “become involved in sensitive domestic activities,” which apparently include monitoring US citizens with sophisticated surveillance software (see 1980s). The existence of the secret structure is uncovered during investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, but the details of the shadow government are never fully disclosed. During the hearings, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) is prevented from questioning North regarding his involvement (see 1987). In a secret memo to the chairmen of the Iran-Contra committee, Arthur Liman, chief counsel to the panel, writes that behind the arms scandal is a “whole secret government-within-a-government, operated from the [Executive Office Building] by a lieutenant colonel, with its own army, air force, diplomatic agents, intelligence operatives, and appropriations capacity.” Some officials interviewed by the Miami Herald believe the group of advisers first formed during the late stages of Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign (see October 1980). (Chardy 7/5/1987)
An Italian-American disinformation campaign has a profound effect on the US presidential election of 1980. With the assistance of Italian intelligence (SISMI) and the shadowy right-wing organization called “Propaganda Due,” or P-2 (see 1981), American neoconservative Michael Ledeen organizes a smear campaign against Billy Carter, the brother of US President Jimmy Carter. (Billy Carter is a self-proclaimed alcoholic whose escapades have provoked much hilarity among the US press and an equal amount of embarrassment in the White House.) In the weeks before the election, Ledeen publishes articles in the British and American press accusing Billy Carter of having untoward and perhaps illegal financial dealings with Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Billy Carter is forced to admit that he did accept a $200,000 loan from al-Qadhafi’s regime. The ensuing scandal becomes known as “Billygate.” It is not known for sure what impact the scandal will eventually have on the race between President Carter and his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan; what is known is that “Billygate” erupted in 1979, was investigated, and had died down. Then, less than a month before the November 1980 election, Ledeen and Arnaud de Borchgrave write an article for the US’s New Republic and Britain’s Now magazine that falsely alleges Billy Carter took an additional $50,000 from al-Qadhafi, and worse, met secretly with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The articles reignite the scandal in time to affect the election. In 1985, a Wall Street Journal investigation will find that “Billygate” is an orchestrated attempt by Ledeen and SISMI to throw the election to Reagan. Ledeen, who used SISMI sources to unearth financial information on Billy Carter, was himself paid $120,000 by SISMI for “Billygate” and other projects. Ledeen has a code name, Z-3, and is paid through a Bermuda bank account. Ledeen will later admit that his consulting firm, ISI, may have accepted SISMI money, and will claim he can’t remember if he has a coded identity. P-2 operative Francesco Pazienza will be convicted in absentia on multiple charges stemming from the “Billygate” disinformation campaign, including extortion and fraud. Ledeen will not be charged in the Italian court that convicts Pazienza, but prosecutors will cite his participation in their arguments against Pazienza. Ledeen will deny any involvement with either Pazienza or P-2, and deny any connection to any disinformation schemes. In fact, Ledeen will say he doesn’t even believe P-2 exists. After Reagan takes office, Ledeen will be made a special assistant to chief of staff Alexander Haig, and later will become a staff member of Reagan’s National Security Council, where he will play a key role in setting up the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. (Unger 2007, pp. 233-234, 388)
After their stinging loss during the November 1980 presidential campaign, the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, decide that they need to work to inculcate their brand of hard-right libertarianism into the electorate through indirect means (see 1979-1980). Therefore, they begin spending vast amounts of their personal fortunes on what purport to be independent think tanks and other political or ideological organizations. At the same time, the brothers become political recluses, rarely speaking in public and rarely acknowledging the breadth or the direction of their donations. It is hard to know exactly how much the Kochs spend and where they spend it, though public records give some of the picture. Between 1998 and 2008, Charles Koch’s foundation spends over $48 million on political funding. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, controlled by Charles and his wife, spends over $28 million. David Koch’s foundation spends over $120 million. Koch Industries, controlled primarily by Charles, spends over $50 million on lobbying efforts. Their political action committee, KochPAC, donates around $8 million, almost all of it going to Republicans. In 2010, as in other years, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political donations. The brothers spend over $2 million of their personal fortunes on political donations, almost all of it going to Republicans. Ari Rabin-Havt of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will say that the Kochs’ effort is unusual in its marshalling of corporate and personal funds: “Their role, in terms of financial commitments, is staggering.” Lee Fang, writing for the liberal blog ThinkProgress (an arm of the Center for American Progress), calls the Kochs “the billionaires behind the hate.” Some believe that the Kochs have either skirted, or outright broken, laws controlling tax-exempt giving. Charitable foundations must conduct exclusively nonpartisan activities that promote the public welfare. But in 2004, a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group, describes the Kochs’ foundations as being self-serving, and concludes, “These foundations give money to nonprofit organizations that do research and advocacy on issues that impact the profit margin of Koch Industries.” The Kochs also use their charitable foundations to fund hard-right political organizations that, according to reporter Jane Mayer, “aim to push the country in a libertarian direction,” including: the Institute for Justice, which files lawsuits opposing state and federal regulations; the Institute for Humane Studies, which underwrites libertarian academics; and the Bill of Rights Institute, which promotes a conservative interpretation of the Constitution. David Koch acknowledges that the family exerts tight ideological control. “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent,” he tells a reporter. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The made-for-TV movie The Day After airs on ABC. It tells the story of a group of Americans in Lawrence, Kansas—the geographical center of the continental United States—who survive a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the harrowing days and weeks of their existence afterwards, as they slowly die from radiation poisoning and a lack of food and water. “Bootleged” copies of the movie have been available for months, adding to the anticipation and the controversy surrounding it.
Concerns of 'Anti-Nuclear Bias' from White House - The movie, described by Museum of Broadcast Communications reviewer Susan Emmanuel as “starkly realistic,” caused concern in the White House because of what it saw as its “anti-nuclear bias.” (The production had taken place without the cooperation of the Defense Department, which had insisted on emphasizing that the Soviet Union had started the exchange depicted in the movie. The filmmakers did not want to take a political stance, and preferred to leave that question unclear.) To address the White House’s concerns, ABC distributed a half-million viewers’ guides to schools, libraries, and civic and religious groups, and organized discussion groups around the country. It will also conduct extensive social research after the broadcast to judge the reactions among children and adults. A discussion group featuring Secretary of State George Shultz takes place immediately after the broadcast. Its original broadcast is viewed by roughly 100 million viewers, an unprecedented audience. It is shown three weeks later on Britain’s ITV network as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament recruitment drive. Emmanuel will later write, “Not since then has the hybrid between entertainment and information, between a popular genre like disaster, and the address to the enlightened citizen, been as successfully attempted by a network in a single media event. ” (Lometti 1992; Scoblic 2008, pp. 133; Emmanuel 1/26/2008) Even though the filmmakers tried to remain politically neutral—director Nicholas Meyer says his film “does not advocate disarmament, build-down, buildup, or freeze”—proponents of the “nuclear freeze” movement hail the movie and conservatives call it a “two hour commercial for disarmament.” (ABC’s social research later shows that the film does not have a strong impact on viewers either for or against nuclear disarmament.) Conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell threatens, but does not execute, a boycott of the commercial sponsors of the film. Some Congressional Democrats ask that the movie be made available for broadcast in the Soviet Union. (Lometti 1992)
Powerful Impact on President Reagan - The movie has a powerful impact on one viewer: President Reagan. He will reflect in his memoirs that the film leaves him “greatly depressed” and makes him “aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write: “If it seems vaguely ridiculous for a Cold War president to reach this conclusion only after watching a made-for-TV movie, remember that Reagan biographers have long noted that his connection to film was often stronger than his connection to reality. He also became far more intellectually and emotionally engaged when presented with issues framed as personal stories, rather than as policy proposals.” Reagan’s visceral reaction to the film heralds a fundamental shift in his approach to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 133)
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decides that the Fairness Doctrine, in place since 1949 (see 1949 and 1959), is no longer needed to control political discussions on American broadcasts. The Fairness Doctrine requires that broadcasters provide “reasonable opportunities” for the presentation of differing views on controversial public issues. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45) The FCC’s leadership is now populated largely with Reagan administration political appointees, conservatives who have a strong interest in deregulating the broadcast industry. First among these appointees is FCC chairman Mark Fowler, formerly a broadcast lawyer who has little patience for the idea that broadcasters have a unique role or bear special responsibilities to ensure broad discourse. “The perception of broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced by a view of broadcasters as marketplace participants,” Fowler says. In 1983, he said that television is “just another appliance—it’s a toaster with pictures.” He endorses near-complete deregulation, having said in 1983, “We’ve got to look beyond the conventional wisdom that we must somehow regulate this box.” The only regulations Fowler supports are those that help corporations manage frequency licensing. Fowler came into the FCC vowing to repeal the Fairness Doctrine, and spends his time as chairman working towards that goal, arguing that the doctrine violates broadcasters’ First Amendment rights. Though the doctrine remains law, the FCC stops enforcing it. (Rendell 2/12/2005)
A federal appeals court agrees with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the Fairness Doctrine, which mandates that broadcasters provide opportunities for different sides of controversial political and social issues (see 1949 and 1959), is no longer needed (see 1985). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45) In the case Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the court rules 2-1—with Reagan administration appointees Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia overriding the third judge—that Congress had not actually made the Fairness Doctrine an actual law. Bork writes, “We do not believe that language adopted in 1959 made the Fairness Doctrine a binding statutory obligation” because the doctrine was imposed “under,” not “by,” the Communications Act of 1934. In Bork’s opinion, the 1959 amendment established that the FCC could apply the doctrine, but is not legally obliged to do so. Therefore, the FCC can retain or drop the rule as it likes. According to the Media Access Project, “The decision contravened 25 years of FCC holdings that the doctrine had been put into law in 1959.” (Rendell 2/12/2005; Museum of Broadcasting 1/27/2008)
ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. (Boyd 3/17/1987; Nation 3/28/1987)
Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter listens with horrified fascination as Oliver North testifies to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987) about the 1985 apprehension of the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro. North accuses unnamed members of Congress of being untrustworthy by leaking the military details of the hijackers’ capture to the press. Alter is fully aware that North is lying—in fact, North himself leaked the information about the capture to reporters. Alter is sure that North believes he will not be exposed because reporters do not, as a rule, reveal their sources. Though North did not speak to Alter himself about the Achille Lauro capture operation, Alter exposes North as the leaker. Alter will later write: “This didn’t exactly make me Mr. Popularity with my colleagues or with North, who threatened to sue. But I would do it all over again.” (Alter 10/13/2003)
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” (Stearns 7/31/1987) Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” (Siegel 7/9/1987)
Congress attempts to bring back the Fairness Doctrine (see 1987), a provision that mandates the broadcasting of differing viewpoints on controversial political and social issues (see 1949 and 1959). Though the legislation passes both houses of Congress by wide margins, President Reagan vetoes the legislation, and Congress is unable to muster enough votes to override the veto. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The end of the Fairness Doctrine paved the way for talk radio as we know it today (see 1990-1993). Neither hosts nor stations currently have an obligation to provide balance or to open their programs to those of competing views.” (Rendell 2/12/2005; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45)
Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” (Associated Press 7/6/1989; Noyes 1/25/2008; Dickinson 5/25/2011) After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. (Salon 1/26/2011) Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. (Noyes 1/25/2008)
The Bush presidential re-election campaign, trailing Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, in the polls, decides on a “two-track” campaign strategy. The strategy is crafted by campaign manager Lee Atwater. The “high road” track will be taken by President Bush and the campaign directly, attacking Dukakis’s record on law enforcement and challenging his reputation as having led Massachusetts into a period of economic growth (the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle”). The “low road,” designed by Atwater to appeal to the most crude racial stereotypes (see 1981), is to be taken by ostensibly “independent” voter outreach organizations. Because of a loophole in campaign finance rules, the Bush campaign could work closely with “outside groups” and funnel money from “independent” organizations to the outside groups, while denying any connections with those groups were they to run objectionable or negative political ads. Atwater wants to avoid a potential backlash among voters, who may turn against the campaign because of their antipathy towards “attack politics.” Atwater and his colleagues determine that the outside groups will use “brass knuckle” tactics to attack Dukakis, and because the ads come from these “independent” organizations, the Bush campaign can distance itself from the groups and even criticize them for being too negative. In 1999, InsidePolitics.org will write: “In so doing, Bush’s presidential effort would train a generation of campaign operatives how to run a negative campaign. Its ‘two-track’ approach would become a model of how to exploit campaign finance laws and use outside groups to deliver hard-hitting messages on behalf of the candidate. Over the course of the following decade, this strategy would become commonplace in American elections.” The idea of “outsourcing” attack ads had been popularized by the 1980 Reagan presidential campaign, which used what it called “independent expenditures” to finance “outside” attacks on its Democratic opponent, President Jimmy Carter. In 1988, “independent” conservative groups spend $13.7 million on the Bush campaign, most of which goes towards attacks on Dukakis. In comparison, progressive and liberal groups spend $2.8 million on behalf of Dukakis—an almost five-to-one discrepancy. Most of the outside money is spent on television advertising. InsidePolitics will write, “Increasingly, candidates were discovering, electoral agendas and voter impressions could be dominated through a clever combination of attack ads and favorable news coverage.” (Inside Politics (.org) 1999) The result of Atwater’s “two-track” strategy is the “Willie Horton” ad, which will become infamous both for its bluntly racist appeal and its effectiveness (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). An earlier “independent” ad attacking Dukakis’s environmental record provides something of a template for the Horton ad campaign. The so-called “Boston Harbor” ad, which depicted garbage floating in the body of water, challenged Dukakis’s positive reputation as a pro-environmental candndate. The ad helped bring Dukakis’s “positives” down, a strong plus for Bush, whose record as an oil-company executive and reputation as a powerful political friend to the oil companies hurts him in comparison with Dukakis. In July 1988, Readers Digest, a magazine known for its quietly conservative slant, publishes a profile of Horton titled “Getting Away With Murder.” The Bush campaign reprints the article and distributes it by the tens of thousands around the country. (Simon 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org) 1999)
The “Willie Horton” ad campaign, a pair of ads launched by an “independent” organization on behalf of the Bush re-election campaign and by the Bush campaign itself (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988), is considered an immediate success by veteran political observers, in spite of what many call its overtly racist appeal. Because the first ad, “Weekend Pass,” was the product of an ostensibly independent organization, the Bush campaign is able to keep a distance between itself and the ad. In the last weeks of the campaign, some polls show that voters blame President Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis almost equally for the negative tone of the campaign. While the ads only ran a relatively small number of times, news networks run the ads repeatedly, often adding their own analysis while the images of the ads run in the background. According to InsidePolitics, only once does any journalist challenge the “deceptive information from Bush’s crime ads.… By amplifying Bush’s claims, news reporters gave the ads even greater legitimacy than otherwise would have appeared. News accounts quoted election experts who noted that Bush’s tactics were effective and that Dukakis’ failure to respond was disastrous. Because these assessments appeared in the high credibility framework of news broadcasts, they came across as more believable than had they been aired only as paid advertisements.” The “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door” ads have a palpable effect on the electorate, energizing voters who cite “law and order” as one of their major concerns for the nation, and driving many of them towards voting for Bush. Less discussed but equally powerful is the racial effect of the ads. Polls show that many white voters feel fearful because of the ads, and feel that Bush, not Dukakis, will make them safer from crime. InsidePolitics notes that the Bush campaign “had picked the perfect racial crime, that of a black felon raping a white woman.” Later research will show that many viewers saw the Horton case as more about race than crime; many subjects exposed to news broadcasts about the Horton case responded in racial terms, with studies finding that the ads “mobilized whites’ racial prejudice, not their worries about crime.” InsidePolitics will write: “Viewers became much more likely to feel negatively about blacks in general after having heard the details of the case. It was an attack strategy that worked well on several different levels for Republicans.” (Inside Politics (.org) 1999; Cross 11/18/2009) After the election, a New York Times voter poll will rate the “Revolving Door” ad as the single most influential ad of the campaign. The ad was particularly effective among white women, many of whom said that after watching it during the campaign, they began to view Bush as “stronger on crime” and as the candidate who would keep them “safer.” In 1999, InsidePolitics will write that voters often conflated the two ads, and it is unclear from poll responses whether they differentiated between the independently produced ad and the Bush campaign ad. InsidePolitics also notes the powerful impact of the Horton ad’s clear reference to rape. Dukakis’s campaign manager Susan Estrich will say: “The symbolism was very powerful… you can’t find a stronger metaphor, intended or not, for racial hatred in this country than a black man raping a white woman.… I talked to people afterward.… Women said they couldn’t help it, but it scared the living daylights out of them.” (Inside Politics (.org) 1999)
African-American writer Anthony Walton writes for the New York Times Magazine his thoughts on the overtly racist “Willie Horton” ad campaign launched the year before by the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988). Walton writes: “George Bush and his henchmen could not have invented Willie Horton. Horton, with his coal-black skin; huge, unkempt Afro, and a glare that would have given Bull Connor or Lester Maddox [infamous white supremacists who abused African-Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s] serious pause, had committed a brutal murder in 1974 and been sentenced to life in prison. Then, granted a weekend furlough from prison, had viciously raped a white woman in front of her fiance, who was also attacked. Willie Horton was the perfect symbol of what happened to innocent whites when liberals (read Democrats) were on the watch, at least in the gospel according to post-Goldwater Republicans. Horton himself, in just a fuzzy mug shot, gave even the stoutest, most open, liberal heart a shiver. Even me. I thought of all the late nights I had ridden in terror on the F and A trains, while living in New York City. I thought Willie Horton must be what the wolf packs I had often heard about, but never seen, must look like. I said to myself, ‘Something has got to be done about these n_ggers.’” Walton recounts several instances where he himself has been the victim of racism, and notes that in many eyes, he and Horton are interchangeable: “If Willie Horton would become just a little middle-class, he would look like me.… [I]n retrospect, I can see that racism has always been with me, even when I was shielded by love or money, or when I chose not to see it. But I saw it in the face of Willie Horton, and I can’t ignore it, because it is my face.” (Walton 8/20/1989)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh admits to a Newsday reporter that he made two racially inflammatory remarks during his earlier radio days. He admits to telling a black caller, while doing a music radio show in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” He also admits to making a much more recent statement on his current broadcast, telling his listeners, “Have you ever noticed that all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble [black civil rights leader] Jesse Jackson?” Limbaugh tells the reporter that it would be wrong to conclude that he is racist because of those remarks, says he is “the least racist host you’ll ever find,” and says he feels guilty about the “bone in the nose” comment. (Rendall 10/7/2009; Snopes (.com) 10/13/2009)
American radio undergoes a sea change. AM stations, formerly the leading radio broadcast medium, find themselves increasingly abandoned by their listeners, who prefer music broadcast over FM stations. Over 5,000 AM stations, facing bankruptcy and the prospect of closing down, turn to political talk radio broadcasts to attract listeners. By 1993, according to FCC chairman Reed Hundt, “one out of every seven dollars that broadcasters earned in radio” comes from talk radio. The first national “superstar” of talk radio is conservative host Rush Limbaugh, a former disc jockey and sports announcer. In upcoming years, hundreds of Limbaugh imitators will land lucrative national, regional, and local contracts, and conservative viewpoints will come to dominate American talk radio well into the next millennium. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45)
American journalists, with their camera and sound crews, begin pouring into Baghdad, causing an enormous strain on the US Embassy personnel. The embassy personnel quickly decide to house them in the US Information Service Cultural Center across the street from the embassy, where the journalists will not interfere with embassy’s operations but can still file their stories and images using the embassy’s direct telephone and satellite connections. By and large, the embassy staff, from Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson on down, welcome the media representatives, because, as Wilson will later write, “we thought it important that the story be covered as fully and openly as possible from Iraq.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 118)
The New York Times prints a long article based on a highly classified memo written about US diplomat Joseph Wilson’s meeting with Saddam Hussein two days before (see August 6, 1990). Neither Wilson nor anyone else at the US Embassy in Baghdad leaked the memo, Wilson will aver; he believes the memo was leaked by a senior government official in Washington. The Iraqis are understandably furious at the public revelation of the events of the Hussein-Wilson meeting. When the Iraqis demand to see the US response to Hussein’s proposals as advanced in the meeting, Wilson is instructed by a senior State Department official to tell the Iraqis to “turn on CNN” for the American reply. CNN is broadcasting footage of American C-5 transport planes filled with military equipment bound for Saudi Arabia; the US is beginning its deployment of troops to the region in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 7, 1990). (Wilson 2004, pp. 124-125)
Nine days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton creates a front organization, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” almost entirely funded by Kuwaiti money. Hill & Knowlton’s point man with the Kuwaitis is Craig Fuller, a close friend and political adviser to President Bush (see July 23, 1986). Veteran PR reporter Jack O’Dwyer will later write, “Hill & Knowlton… has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm.” (Regan 9/6/2002; Stauber and Rampton 6/3/2007) Citizens for a Free Kuwait is one of about twenty PR and lobbying groups formed by the Kuwaiti government. Other American PR firms representing these groups include the Rendon Group and Neill & Co. Citizens for a Free Kuwait will spread a false story of Kuwaiti babies being killed in their incubators by Iraqi troops, a story that will help inflame US public opinion and win the Bush administration the authority to launch an assault against Iraq (see October 10, 1990). Another public relations and lobbying effort includes a 154-page book detailing supposed Iraqi atrocities, entitled The Rape of Kuwait, that is distributed to various media outlets and later featured on television talk shows and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The Kuwaiti embassy also buys 200,000 copies of the book for distribution to American troops. Hill & Knowlton will produce dozens of “video news releases” that are offered as “news stories” to television news broadcasters throughout America; the VNRs are shown on hundreds of US television news broadcasts, usually as straight news reports without being identified as the product of a public relations firm. (Stauber and Rampton 6/3/2007)
As tensions escalate between the US and Iraq, Iraqi officials circulate a note to all the embassies in Baghdad, directing them to register all of the civilians in their care with the authorities. Failure to comply can result in execution, the note implies. Such registration can only be done in person at Iraqi governmental offices; Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Baghdad, knows that bringing American citizens in for registration may well result in those Americans being taken hostage. He is housing some 60 Americans at the ambassador’s residence for their protection. He will later write: “It was clearly a way for the Iraqis to replenish their stock of hostages. The choice, theoretically, was either to turn over Americans or to defy the note and risk execution.” Instead of making the choice, Wilson uses the order to publicly defy the Iraqis. He schedules a press conference and has a Marine make him a hangman’s noose. Wearing the noose, he tells reporters that if Saddam Hussein “wants to execute me for keeping Americans from being taken hostage, I will bring my own f_cking rope.” The press conference, like all of the embassy press conferences, is off the record, but journalists release the story anyway. A garbled, erroneous version from a French news outlet has the Iraqis planning to hang Wilson by sundown. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, angered and embarrassed by the press coverage, attempts to dress down Wilson that evening, but Wilson refuses to back down. Instead, the Iraqis withdraw the request. Soon after, President Bush sends Wilson a cable lauding his courage and his outspokeness (see November 29, 1990). (Wilson 2004, pp. 153-154; Unger 2007, pp. 311) Conservative columnist Robert Novak co-writes a piece about Wilson that says, “He shows the stuff of heroism.” Novak will later reveal the covert CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as an act of political retaliation (see July 14, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 153-154)
A New York Times editorial derides a recent effort by a conservative political action committee to label political opponents with slanderous epithets. According to the editorial, GOPAC, the GOP Political Action Committee chaired by Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA), has issued a glossary mailed to Republican state legislative candidates urging them to use the following words to characterize their Democratic opponents: “sick,” “traitors,” “bizarre,” “self-serving,” “shallow,” “corrupt,” “pathetic,” and “shame.” GOPAC later “regretted” including the word “traitors” in that list of characterizations, the editorial reports, but has continued to back the use of the other epithets. The glossary is part of a pamphlet entitled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” and features a letter from Gingrich advising the candidates to step up the personal invective against their opponents because, he writes, vilification works. The Times writes: “Mr. Gingrich’s injunction represents the worst of American political discourse, which reached a low during the dispiriting presidential campaign of 1988 (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Then, more than ever before, negative argument displaced reasoned discussion about how a nation might best be governed. The sound bite reigned. Attack commercials flourished. The signs this year aren’t any better. Evidence that negative campaigning can come back to sink the sender has had little impact. The races for governor in California and Texas have already seen the same slash and burn. No doubt the proceedings will grow more rabid still as November nears. Negative discourse serves democracy poorly. The temptation to avoid serious debate is already great. It increases as the stakes soar and slander becomes a rewarding, easy option. The issues of the day go untended. The whole affair takes on the character of the gladiator’s art. The GOPAC glossary may herald a descent into even lower levels of discourse. It comes blessed by a politician of some influence—the Republican whip in the House—and it is intended for candidates on the state level, many of them presumably running for the first time. Even though Mr. Gingrich himself may not have seen the list before it was mailed, this is a disturbing document. The nakedness of the GOPAC offering also makes it useful. There must be limits to the negative politics that voters will bear; the bald appeal to invective will certainly probe those limits. For now, it should be said that some adjectives in the glossary aptly describe the glossary itself: shallow, sensationalist, and, yes, shame(ful).” (New York Times 9/20/1990; Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002; Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002) Later in the year, the pamphlet will win the Doublespeak Award from the National Conference of Teachers of English. (Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002) Gingrich and GOPAC will expand upon the original pamphlet in 1995, after Gingrich becomes speaker of the House (see 1995).
The televised Congressional hearings of Iraqi atrocities against the Kuwaiti people, featuring the emotional testimony of a young Kuwaiti girl who tells the wrenching tale of Iraqi soldiers murdering Kuwaiti babies in their incubators (see October 10, 1990), sparks an outcry among both lawmakers and members of the US public. The story is later proven to be entirely false, but only long after the story, the product of an American public relations firm (see August 11, 1990), has had its desired impact (see January 9-13, 1991). The story is repeated over and over again, by President Bush, in subsequent Congressional testimony, on television and radio broadcasts, and even at the UN Security Council. Bush says that such “ghastly atrocities” are like “Hitler revisited,” and uses the images of “babies pulled from incubators and scattered like firewood across the floor” to excoriate Congressional Democrats reluctant to authorize the impending invasion. Author John MacArthur will later write, “Of all the accusations made against the dictator [Saddam Hussein], none had more impact on American public opinion than the one about Iraqi soldiers removing 312 babies from their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold hospital floors of Kuwait City.” American public opinion remains deeply divided about the necessity of a war with Iraq; the US Senate authorizes the war by a bare five-vote margin (see January 9-13, 1991). Journalists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton will later write, “Given the narrowness of the vote, the babies-thrown-from-incubators story may have turned the tide in Bush’s favor.” (Peterson 9/6/2002; Regan 9/6/2002; Cohen 12/28/2002; Stauber and Rampton 6/3/2007) In 1995, Bush’s National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft will say: “We didn’t know it wasn’t true at the time.… [I]t was useful in mobilizing public opinion.” (Peterson 9/6/2002)
The US Defense Department begins censoring war reporting from the Persian Gulf. (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996)
National Guardsman Timothy McVeigh (see January - March 1991 and After, November 1991 - Summer 1992, and June 1992) writes a letter (some sources will call it an “editorial”) that is published in the Lockport, New York, Union-Sun & Journal. His letter, published under the title “America Faces Problems,” reads in part: “What is it going to take to open up the eyes of our elected officials? AMERICA IS IN SERIOUS DECLINE. We have no proverbial tea to dump; should we instead sink a ship full of Japanese imports?… Is a civil war imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that! But it might.” McVeigh continues: “Crime is out of control. Criminals have no fear of punishment. Prisons are overcrowded so they know they will not be imprisoned long.… Taxes are a joke. Regardless of what a political candidate ‘promises,’ they will increase. More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement. They mess up, we suffer. Taxes are reaching cataclysmic levels, with no slowdown in sight. The ‘American Dream’ of the middle class has all but disappeared.… Politicians are further eroding the ‘American Dream’ by passing laws which are supposed to be a ‘quick fix,’ when all they are really designed for is to get the official reelected. These laws tend to ‘dilute’ a problem for a while, until the problem comes roaring back in a worsened form. (Much like a strain of bacteria will alter itself to defeat a known medication.)” McVeigh then writes: “Racism on the rise? You had better believe it… ! At a point when the world has seen communism falter as an imperfect system to manage people; democracy seems to be heading down the same road.… Maybe we have to combine ideologies to achieve the perfect utopian government.… Should only the rich be allowed to live long?” Lockport is a small town north of Buffalo, and serves McVeigh’s home town of Pendleton. McVeigh will have a second letter published in March 1992, that one mainly focusing on the joys of hunting and extolling the “clean, merciful shot” of the deer hunter. Both letters are signed “Tim” and have a preprinted address label pasted beneath the signature. McVeigh will be accused of detonating a massive fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma City; the Union-Sun & Journal managing editor, Dan Kane, will inform the FBI of McVeigh’s letters after McVeigh is taken into custody (see April 21, 1995) on suspicion of perpetrating the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and reprint them. Kane will speculate: “I think the letter was triggered by something that happened in the service. Here’s a man who just got through seeing a lot of blood” in the Persian Gulf war. He was dissatisfied in general with the way the government was operating, and politicians in particular.” Kane will add: “There was one paragraph in particular that made my heart stop a little bit. It was the one that said, ‘shed blood…’ After Oklahoma City, I certainly look at it as a sort of eerie and prophetic statement.” (Willman 4/27/1995; Barron 4/27/1995; PBS Frontline 1/22/1996; Serrano 1998, pp. 53; CNN 12/17/2007) McVeigh’s letter is in response to a previous letter he wrote to US Representative John LaFalce (D-NY), the representative of his home district, which received no response. McVeigh’s letter primarily focused on his concerns about the illegality of private citizens possessing “noxious substances” such as CS gas for protection. (Serrano 1998, pp. 53)
During the Republican National Convention, Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) challenges the Democratic Party’s claims to embrace the values of the family. In a speech to the party faithful, Gingrich derides the Democrats’ claim that “governments don’t raise children, people do,” and says: “If they had tried to use the words ‘families raise children’ in Madison Square Garden [which hosted the Democratic National Convention days before], half their party would have rebelled and they would have had a bloody fight. So they tried to finesse it, to sound conservative without being conservative.” Gingrich gives the following example of what he calls Democratic “family values”: “Woody Allen having non-incest with a non-daughter to whom he was a non-father because they were a non-family fits the Democratic platform perfectly.” (Media Research Center 3/12/1998; Tapper 3/9/2007) (Gingrich is referring to film director and comedian Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his former lover Mia Farrow. Previn was of the age of consent when she and Allen began their affair, though Allen had served as Previn’s putative stepfather and many perceive the relationship as incestuous; they will eventually marry.) (Toufexis, Sachs, and Willwerth 8/31/1992; CNN 12/24/1997) The Washington Post’s David Broder calls Gingrich’s charges “feeble,” and Newsday writes, “For spewing the weekend’s best non sequitur, Trash Watch nominates Newt for the Hall of Surly Surrogates.” Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton (D-AK) says that Gingrich’s remark is “off the wall and out of line,” and says Gingrich “has no shame.” (Media Research Center 3/12/1998)
The Waco Tribune-Herald begins what it calls the “Sinful Messiah” series of articles on Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, formerly Vernon Howell (see November 3, 1987 and After). Based on interviews with former members of the sect, the series accuses Koresh of being a “cult leader” who physically abuses children and takes underage brides, even raping one of them. (England and McCormick 3/3/1993; XTimeline 7/2010) Two weeks into the standoff, Newsweek will publish an article on Koresh and the Davidians that draws heavily on the Waco Tribune-Herald series. (Kantrowitz et al. 3/15/1993) An August 1992 investigation by the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) found no evidence of such claims (see April 1992).
Sexual Abuse Claims - Koresh, the series claims, advocates polygamy for himself, declaring himself the husband of multiple females of the community. The articles say he claims to be entitled to 140 wives or more, can legitimately claim any of the women in the community, has fathered at least a dozen children, and that some of his brides are as young as 12 or 13. The sources claim that Koresh annulled all the marriages among the Davidians, and told the men that they would receive their “perfect mates” in heaven. For the time they are on Earth, he told them, only he would have wives. Koresh keeps the men and women rigidly separated except during Bible studies. (England and McCormick 3/3/1993; XTimeline 7/2010)
Physical Abuse Claims - The articles claim that Koresh beats children as young as eight months of age. Former Davidian Michelle Tom testified in a Michigan court custody case that Koresh beat her daughter Tarah Tom with a wooden spatula until the girl’s bottom was bruised and bloody. The girl had cried when placed on Koresh’s lap, Tom testified. A former Davidian who refuses to be identified confirms Tom’s story, saying that the little girl’s “bottom was completely black and blue.” During the same court case, Tom and other former Davidians claimed that Koresh was particularly harsh with his own son Cyrus. When Cyrus was three and living with Koresh (then Howell) in Pomona, California, Koresh once tied him to the garage for the night, after telling him that there were rats in the garage who liked to eat children. Tom and others recall hearing Cyrus scream as his father beat him.
Bringing the Apocalypse - Koresh, according to the articles, claims to be the Lamb of Heaven whose mystical task it is to open the Seven Seals of the Biblical Apocalypse, thus bringing about the end of the world. The Davidians, according to the articles, intend to slay all non-believers (whom Koresh calls “the Babylonians”) once the Apocalypse begins, and Koresh’s male children will rule at his side thereafter. Koresh says: “If the Bible is true, then I’m Christ. But so what? Look at 2,000 years ago. What’s so great about being Christ? A man nailed to the cross. A man of sorrow acquainted with grief. You know, being Christ ain’t nothing. Know what I mean?… If the Bible is true, I’m Christ. If the Bible is true. But all I want out of this is for people to be honest this time.” The sources say Koresh uses “mind control” techniques to indoctrinate his followers, including marathon sermons and Bible study sessions lasting up to 15 hours at a stretch. One former member who refuses to be named says of the sessions: “You don’t have time to think. He doesn’t give you time to think about what you’re doing. It’s just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.” Other methods employed by Koresh include confusing, rapid-fire discourses about abstruse Biblical topics, and a propensity to force community members to listen to sermons at odd hours of the night. Another former member, also refusing to be named, says: “You felt like you were in the know. Others in the world might consider you average. Let them. They were unbelievers. But you knew something they didn’t—something that put you into the ultimate In Crowd, the ones who wouldn’t be taking a dip in the Lake of Fire.”
Sources - The sources for the article include Australians Marc Breault, described as a former “confidant” of Koresh’s who has spoken against Koresh since 1990; Breault’s wife Elizabeth Baranyi; and Jean Smith. Breault, an aspiring musician, admits to feeling resentment towards Koresh—he joined the group in hopes that he and Koresh, himself an accomplished musician, would form a successful rock band, an aspiration that would not be fulfilled. They are joined by former Indiana disk jockey David Jewell, who was never a member of the sect but who sued his ex-wife, Davidian Sherri Jewell, for custody of their daughter Kiri. Breault and other former members say Sherri Jewell was one of Koresh’s wives. Kiri lives in Michigan with her father, while Sherri remains with Koresh. (In 1995, Kiri Jewell will testify that she was raped by Koresh between the ages of 10 and 14—see July 21, 1995). Other sources include Robyn Bunds, one of Koresh’s first “wives” among the community (married to him at age 17, she says, when Koresh and his small group of followers lived in Pomona and La Verne, California). Bunds claims that Koresh told her he raped the 12-year-old sister of his wife Rachel Howell, who, Bunds says, crawled into bed with him to “get warm” and was forced to have sex with him. Koresh has denied the story, and claims to have had only two children, Cyrus and Star, both with his wife Rachel. However, birth certificates for many Davidian children are incomplete; the sources say that Koresh is the father of many of the children, and routinely has the mothers leave his name off the certificates. Bunds tells reporters: “When Vernon came along, he… said you had to give him all your money. You had to live on the property. You had to give up everything else. You had to give him your mind… your body.” She claims her parents gave well over $10,000 to Koresh’s sect and bought a house in Pomona for $100,000 in Koresh’s name (then Howell). She admits to having been jealous over having to share Koresh with his other wives, and says Koresh is the father of her son Shaun, whose birth name was Wisdom Bunds; she says Shaun is terrified of Koresh because he beat him. (Koresh says Bunds, not him, beat her son, an allegation which she admits, though she says Koresh also beat the child.) She says she left Koresh in Pomona after he began having sex with her mother Jeannine, and when he attempted to kidnap Shaun and raise him among the Waco Davidians. Jeannine Bunds is also a source, having left the Waco community shortly after her daughter left Koresh. (Don Bunds, Jeannine’s husband and Robyn’s father, remains in Waco with the Davidians.) Another source is Karl Henning or Hennig (the article uses both spellings), a Vancouver teacher who lived with the sect for two months. He says Koresh holds a “truly amazing accumulation of knowledge.” Also, the article relies on the recollections of Bruce Gent, a former Davidian who says he allowed Koresh to sleep with his teenaged daughter Nicole. Yet another source is Barbara Slawson, a member during the time of Koresh’s predecessors Lois and George Roden, who says she was never impressed with Koresh and left during the time he was solidfying his grasp on the leadership of the group. Slawson says she has two grandchildren in the group. “My primary reason for trying to help is the children,” Breault says. “They have no one else to help them. If people say we were stupid, well, that may be true. But the children aren’t.” Breault says he finally left the group after Koresh had sex with a 13-year-old Australian girl he had brought to Waco merely for sexual purposes. “I realized it wasn’t a matter of Biblical anything,” Breault later testifies during the Jewell custody case. “He just wanted to have sex with her.” Koresh says that Breault sees himself as a rival prophet attempting to convince his followers to join with him against Koresh, and says that Breault is the source of the stories of his alleged sexual relations with underage girls. Breault admits telling Australian Davidians that he, too, is a prophet, though he says he eventually confessed that he had lied to get the Davidians away from Koresh, and that for a time he attempted to create a breakaway, rival sect of the Davidians.
Emotional Control - Jeannine Bunds says Koresh does not physically restrain his members. “I’m over 21, intelligent,” she says. “I could have walked at any time. I chose to stay. He doesn’t keep you. You can leave. What you have to understand, though, is he keeps you by emotion. When you’re down there, it’s all so exciting. You don’t know what he’ll come up with next. I guess everyone is looking for Utopia, Shangri-La. You don’t want any problems. It wasn’t all bad times, you know. The people in this are great. They’ll give you the shirt off their back. They’re nice, like everyone else in the world. Except they believe this.”
Newspaper Asked to Hold Off Publishing Stories - Tribune-Herald managing editor Barbara Elmore says the newspaper put eight months of research into the stories, and held off printing them after federal authorities asked her “not to run anything.” The head of the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) task force investigating Koresh (see June-July 1992) says the stories did not influence the agency’s decision to raid the Davidian compound near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). (England and McCormick 3/3/1993) After the BATF raid, Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott defends his newspaper’s decision to publish the story, saying: “We’d been working on this story for eight months. It contained a lot of information the public ought to know. We decided it was time to let the public know about this menace in our backyard.… I’m under siege. There has been the suggestion that somehow we are responsible for this tragedy.” BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler says the bureau has no complaints about Lott or the Tribune-Herald, but an unidentified BATF agent has allegedly said part of the responsibility for the deaths of four BATF agents during the raid rests on the local press. The bureau asked Lott to hold off publishing the series a month before the raid; the newspaper gave the bureau a day’s warning before running the first installment. (Carter 3/1/1993; Kantrowitz et al. 3/15/1993)
Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) prepare to serve arrest and search warrants against members of the Branch Davidian religious sect, housed in a compound they call Mt. Carmel, on a hill just outside Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993). The Branch Davidians are a Christian group currently led by David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), who is the prime focus of the arrest and search warrants. Koresh and the Davidians are known to have large stashes of firearms, many of which authorities suspect are illegal to own by US citizens—automatic rifles, machine guns, and the like. Koresh has preached that the End Times, or Apocalypse, will begin sometime around 1995, and the Davidians must arm themselves to prepare for the coming conflict. As a result, Koresh and a number of Davidians have been amassing weapons since 1991, along with gas masks, bulletproof vests, and military-issue MREs, or “meals ready to eat.” (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995; US Department of Justice 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995)
Large-Scale Raid Launched - After four days of preparation (see February 24-27, 1993), the BATF forces close on the compound: some 80 government vehicles, including two covered cattle trailers containing 70 BATF agents in full SWAT gear, reach the staging area near the compound by 7:30 a.m. Two or perhaps three Texas National Guard helicopters are deployed. (Labaton and Verhovek 3/27/1993; Dean M. Kelley 5/1995; Bryce, Ellis, and Moore 6/23/2000) The raid was originally planned for March 1, but was moved forward when the Waco Tribune-Herald began publishing its “Sinful Messiah” series about Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). BATF spokesman John Killorin will later say the BATF feared the cult might become more alert to the possibility of a raid once the series started. Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott will say that the newspaper alerted federal authorities the day before the first installment ran, giving the BATF a chance to review its raid plans. (Labaton and Verhovek 3/27/1993)
Davidians Alerted - A local news reporter’s discussion with a US postal official inadvertently “tips off” the Davidians to the impending raid (see Before 9:45 a.m. February 28, 1993).
BATF Decides Element of Surprise Unnecessary - Koresh is visibly agitated at the news of the impending raid; he tells Robert Rodriguez, whom many Davidians correctly suspect to be a BATF undercover agent (see January 11, 1993 and After): “Neither the ATF nor the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once, and they’ll never get me again.” Looking out of a window, he adds: “They’re coming, Robert, they’re coming.… The time has come.” Fearing that he will be caught on the premises when the raid begins, Rodriguez makes an excuse and hurriedly leaves. Once off the grounds, he alerts the BATF raid commanders that Koresh knows the agents are on their way. Rodriguez reports via telephone to his immediate superior, BATF tactical coordinator Charles Sarabyn, who relays word to Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge of the raid. The commanders ask if Rodriguez has seen any signs of alarm or guns being distributed. Rodriguez says he has not, though he tells them that Koresh is so agitated that he is having trouble speaking and holding on to his Bible. According to a Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993): “Sarabyn expressed his belief that the raid could still be executed successfully if they hurried. Chojnacki responded, ‘Let’s go.’ A number of agents informed the Treasury investigative panel that Sarabyn said things like, ‘Get ready to go; they know we are coming.’” Chojnacki and Sarabyn decide to rush the raid, hoping to deploy before the Davidians are mobilized. (Smolows, Riley, and Woodbury 5/3/1993; Hancock 8/28/1993; Chua-Eoan 10/11/1993; Dean M. Kelley 5/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) Rodriguez will testify that he attempts to find Sarabyn and appraise him of his fears that the Davidians are preparing to resist with violence, but will say that by the time he arrives at the BATF command post, on the Texas State Technical College campus, Sarabyn and his companions have already departed. Rodriguez will testify: “At that time, I started yelling and I said: ‘Why, why, why? They know we’re coming, they know we’re coming.‘… [E]verything was very quiet, very quiet, and if I remember right, everybody was really concerned. I went outside and I sat down and I remember starting to cry.” Sarabyn and Chojnacki will later testify that while they understood Rodriguez’s fears, neither of them believe Koresh is aware of the impending raid; testimony from Rodriguez and another BATF agent, Roger Ballesteros, will contradict their claims. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) A Los Angeles Times report later makes a similar claim, apparently based on Rodriguez’s recollections; the BATF will deny that report entirely. A Waco Tribune-Herald article later reports that just before the raid, a voice comes over BATF radios saying: “There no guns in the windows. Tell them it’s a go.” Two weeks after the raid, Newsweek will incorrectly report that Rodriguez, whom the article does not identify, “apparently thought little of the call [alerting Koresh of the impending raid] at the time,” left the compound, and reported an “all clear” to his colleagues. (Kantrowitz et al. 3/15/1993) Other reports have Davidians telling one another, “The Assyrians are coming,” and making preparations to resist an assault. (Smolows, Riley, and Woodbury 5/3/1993) In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that Chojnacki and Sarabyn’s decision to go ahead with the raid even though the element of surprise had been lost was a “reckless” error: “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28” (see August 2, 1996). (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Davidians Resist - The Davidians successfully resist the raid (see 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993), in the process killing four BATF agents (see 11:00 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993) and bringing about a standoff between themselves and the FBI (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).
The evening after the failed raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh gives three interviews: two with Dallas radio station KRLD and a nationally broadcast telephone interview on CNN. (Carter 3/1/1993; Moore 1995) The interviews follow a demand from Koresh that KRLD broadcast a statement saying that federal agents are holding their fire and will not attack further, a demand that was granted. (US Department of Justice 10/8/1993) During one of the radio interviews, he says, “All that is happening here is the fulfillment of prophecy!” In the CNN interview, he tells viewers: “If the scholars of this world, if anybody, ministers that claim that God talks to them, will contact me, and I hope it’s soon. If they’ll call me and show the world what the Seven Seals are and where they’re at in the prophecies, then I’ll be satisfied. And then we’ll all come out to you.” Koresh promises to begin releasing children “two by two” if his religious message is broadcast over Dallas radio station KRLD (see March 1, 1993). The CNN interview lasts about 20 minutes, and is rebroadcast periodically throughout the night. The same evening, the syndicated television show A Current Affair conducts a telephone interview with Koresh, and broadcasts it the evening of March 1. The Current Affair program also reports a threat from Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider, who says if federal agents attempt to conduct a second raid, the Davidians will again fire on them. In 1995, author Carol Moore will explain that Koresh and some Davidians believe that the raid on their compound comprises the opening of the Fifth Seal of the Book of Revelation, one of the so-called “Seven Seals” that must be breached for the Apocalypse to begin, and that they are living the events predicted in that seal. Koresh and his most devoted followers believe that the Davidians killed during the raid were slaughtered for “preaching God’s word” and the surviving Davidians only would have to “rest a little longer” until the “remainder” also were put to death. “Thus would begin the countdown to the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ,” she will write. “Davidians believed that the siege was a God-given opportunity to spread Koresh’s message to the world and that humanity was being given its last opportunity to hear God’s word and repent.” (Carter 3/1/1993; US Department of Justice 10/8/1993; Moore 1995) Koresh tells telephone interviewers that he has been shot in the stomach and is bleeding badly. But, the New York Times will report, during his Tuesday audio broadcast (see March 2, 1993), “his voice sounded strong and firm.” (Carter 3/1/1993) Former Davidian Marc Breault tells the Waco Tribune-Herald that Koresh might be indulging in what he calls a “bit of theatrics” with his claim of being wounded. “Vernon [Howell, Koresh’s given name] was always saying he was sick and near death,” Breault says. “He’s real big on stomach sickness. He always complained about his stomach, saying he was in pain because of the people’s sins.” (Verhovek 3/2/1993)
The Branch Davidians, currently besieged inside their Waco, Texas, compound by the FBI (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), issue another promise to depart the compound after Passover (see April 1-4, 1993). They also hang out more banners for the press to see, including one that reads, “Rodney King, We Understand.” They are referring to Los Angeles motorist Rodney King, who is pressing charges against Los Angeles police officers for beating him during a routine traffic stop. (Moore 1995)
The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). (PBS Frontline 10/1995)
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. (PBS Frontline 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. (van Biema, Shannon, and Taylor 5/3/1993)
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons 2002) (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” (England 1/30/2000) Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. (PBS Frontline 10/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995)
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. (PBS Frontline 10/1995)
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” (PBS Frontline 10/1995)
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. (PBS Frontline 10/1995)
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995)
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. (PBS Frontline 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” (Verhovek 4/20/1993) Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. (PBS Frontline 10/1995) A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995) In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” (PBS Frontline 10/1995) Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested (PBS Frontline 10/1995) , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. (Verhovek 4/20/1993) One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” (Verhovek 4/20/1993)
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. (PBS Frontline 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” (Boyer 5/15/1995) But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” (PBS Frontline 10/1995) In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. (Verhovek 4/20/1993)
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. (PBS Frontline 10/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995) Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” (PBS Frontline 10/1995) Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” (PBS Frontline 10/1995)
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” (PBS Frontline 10/1995)
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. (PBS Frontline 10/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995) Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. (PBS Frontline 10/1995)
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. (Boyer 5/15/1995)
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. (Boyer 5/15/1995)
A New York Times op-ed excoriates the federal government for allowing the FBI to assault the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas, a decision that resulted in the fiery deaths of 78 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). “[T]here was nothing divinely ordained by yesterday’s catastrophe,” the op-ed states, and says that Attorney General Janet Reno’s later explanation of events (see April 19, 1993) clearly shows “time was on the authorities’ side, and they threw it away.” The op-ed finds Reno’s characterization of the assault as an incremental increase in pressure on the Davidians to be specious: “[A]ssault by an armored vehicle equipped to poke holes in buildings seems like a large escalation of force more likely to make cultists think that D-Day had indeed arrived.” The op-ed credits the FBI agents on site with restraint in not returning fire when the Davidians fired on them, but says both the bureau and Reno “sadly… miss the point” of the debacle. “The miscalculation was near-total,” it says. The op-ed concludes: “The Koresh affair has been mishandled from beginning to end (see March 27, 1993). It started with a bungled attack by Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents in which four agents and unknown number of cultists were killed (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and ended in yesterday’s FBI misjudgment. The hard lesson is that patience and determination do not cost lives, but impatience does. Does anyone now doubt that it would have been better to let the standoff in Waco continue?” (New York Times 4/20/1993)
Time magazine publishes a lengthy series of articles on David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After) and the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidians (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) titled “Tragedy in Waco.” Among its articles is a profile of Koresh that characterizes him as a cult leader and a psychopath. Of his near-total control over his followers, Time writes: “In the manner of cult leaders before him, Koresh held sway largely through means that were both more subtle and more degrading. Food was rationed in unpredictable ways. Newcomers were gradually relieved of their bank accounts and personal possessions. And while the men were subjected to an uneasy celibacy, Koresh took their wives and daughters as his concubines” (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). The profile notes Koresh’s “mangled theological rationale” as the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ in a sinful, mortal form. It discusses what it calls his “creamy charm and a cold-blooded willingness to manipulate those drawn to him,” and says “students of cult practices” readily recognize his type: “He was the most spectacular example since Jim Jones, who committed suicide in 1978 with more than 900 of his followers at the People’s Temple in Guyana. Like Jones, Koresh fashioned a tight-knit community that saw itself at desperate odds with the world outside. He plucked sexual partners as he pleased from among his followers and formed an elite guard of lieutenants to enforce his will. And like Jones, he led his followers to their doom.” UCLA psychology professor Louis West calls Koresh a psychopath, and explains: “The psychopath is often charming, bright, very persuasive. He quickly wins people’s trust and is uncannily adept at manipulating and conning people.” Former Davidian David Bunds, who left the Waco compound in 1989, says Koresh was preparing his followers for the Apocalypse and mortal death for years. “Koresh would say we would have to suffer, that we were going to be persecuted, and some of us would be killed and tortured,” Bunds recalls. Psychologist Murray Miron, who advised the FBI during the standoff, says: “The adulation of this confined group work on this charismatic leader so that he in turn spirals into greater and greater paranoia. He’s playing a role that his followers have cast him in.” In a sense, the article concludes, both Koresh and the Davidians gave one another what they needed. The Davidians confirmed Koresh’s belief that he was the son of God and destined for a martyr’s death. He helped them bring their spiritual wanderings to a close. The article concludes with the following: “In the flames of last week, they all may have found what they were searching for.” (Lacayo, Cole, and Woodbury 5/3/1993)
In interviews conducted for the Justice Department’s probe of the FBI’s 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993), several FBI agents present during the siege and/or final assault say the bureau abandoned negotiations much too early and instead implemented aggressive measures that were counterproductive (see March 23, 1993). The interviews will not be included in the Justice Department’s report, and will not be released until December 1999, when they are made available to the special counsel investigating the FBI’s conduct during the final assault (see September 7-8, 1999).
Negotiators 'Had the Rug Pulled Out from under Them' - Some negotiators say during their interviews that because the FBI used punitive paramilitary actions (see March 12, 1993, March 14, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, March 21, 1993, March 22, 1993, March 23-24, 1993, March 25-26, 1993, April 7, 1993, April 10, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), many Davidians chose to remain inside the compound rather than leave. Gary Noesner, the FBI’s negotiation coordinator for the first weeks of the siege, says, “The negotiators’ approach was working until they had the rug pulled out from under them” by aggressive tactical actions. Noesner’s replacement, Clint Van Zandt, agrees, saying the negotiators’ position was “akin to sitting on the bow of the Titanic and watching the iceberg approach.” Former FBI profiler Pete Smerick, who warned early in the siege that the aggressive tactics being used by the FBI might backfire (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 7-8, 1993), says that the FBI “should not send in the tanks, because if they did so, children would die and the FBI would be blamed even if they were not responsible.… The outcome would have been different if the negotiation approach had been used. More people would have come out, even if Koresh and his core never did.”
Negotiators Submitted Own Plan for Tear-Gas Assault - Noesner says that on March 22, he and other negotiators submitted their own plan for gassing the compound, in hopes that their more moderated plan would be chosen over a more aggressive plan from the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). “This showed a clear realization… that the negotiations were basically over. They knew they were at an impasse,” Noesner says of FBI negotiators. “They recommended that tear gas be used because they realized this was going to happen anyway and they wanted to control it, to use it with leverage in the negotiations. The tactical interests just wanted to throw the gas in.” The negotiators’ plan became the blueprint for the plan accepted by Attorney General Janet Reno. “It would be allowed to work by letting them sit in it. The idea was to increase pressure but not in a way to provoke a violent response,” Noesner says.
Negotiators' Positions Disputed - FBI agent Byron Sage, one of the senior agents present during the siege, disagrees with some of his colleagues’ comments. In an interview repeatedly cited in the Justice Department report, Sage says: “Could we have gotten a few more people out [had the FBI used different tactics]? Maybe so, and God knows, any life that we could’ve saved would’ve been important. But it’s a total what-if. The fact remains that we did everything we could.” According to former White House counsel Webster Hubbell, also interviewed for the Justice Department report, Sage told him in a phone call that further negotiations were useless, and that some kind of assault on the compound was the only way to resolve the situation. Sage disputes Hubbell’s recollections, saying, “I never said negotiations were abandoned or at a total impasse.” Van Zandt, speaking to reporters in 1999, will say that he is not surprised to learn that Sage, and not Van Zandt, received Hubbell’s phone call. “I probably would’ve told him a lot different,” Van Zandt will recall. “When anyone from Washington asked who should we talk to, [on-site commander Jeffrey] Jamar strongly suggested Sage because he would speak the company line.… I don’t say [Sage] was Jeff Jamar’s man in a negative sense. But Jamar trusted him and knew he’d be working for Jamar when this was all over.” Van Zandt will recall warning “whoever would listen” that the plan was too risky and wouldn’t work. “That fell on deaf ears. I said we’re playing into Koresh’s prophecies. We’re doing what he wants.” Van Zandt will say that shortly before the assault he told the other negotiators what was coming. “It was a very deep, sobering time,” he will recall. Sage will dispute Van Zandt’s recollections also. “I don’t remember anyone jumping up and disagreeing,” he will say. “Hindsight is 20/20. We all agreed that we had reached a point where we would try to force the issue. If that meant the exercise of some force, then tear gas was the lowest level of force available.” (Hancock 12/30/1999; USA Today 12/30/1999)
The Media Access Project (MAP), a telecommunications law firm, defends the now-expired Fairness Doctrine in a Washington Post editorial. The editorial reads in part: “The Supreme Court unanimously found [the Fairness Doctrine] advances First Amendment values (see June 9, 1969). It safeguards the public’s right to be informed on issues affecting our democracy, while also balancing broadcasters’ rights to the broadest possible editorial discretion.” (Rendell 2/12/2005)
Conservative radio show host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see March 23, 1974) advises his listeners to shoot agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) if those agents come “to disarm you.” Libby also advises his listeners to “go for a head shot.” Liddy’s remarks come in response to the February 1993 BATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Liddy says: “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.… They’ve got a big target on there, ATF. Don’t shoot at that, because they’ve got a vest on underneath that. Head shots, head shots.… Kill the sons of b_tches.” The day after, Liddy tells reporters, “So you shoot twice to the body, center of mass, and if that does not work, then shoot to the groin area.” Three weeks later, he expounds on the topic, saying: “If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms insists upon a firefight, give them a firefight. Just remember, they’re wearing flak jackets and you’re better off shooting for the head.” Liddy talks on the topic so much that his callers will begin to use the phrase “head shots!” to express their agreement with him. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 4/29/2005) In 2003, Liddy will tell interviewer John Hawkins that his statements were taken out of context. Asked if he regrets making his comments, Liddy will say: “Well, no. Because as usual, people remember part of what I said, but not all of what I said. What I did was restate the law. I was talking about a situation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms comes smashing into a house, doesn’t say who they are, and their guns are out, they’re shooting, and they’re in the wrong place. This has happened time and time again. The ATF has gone in and gotten the wrong guy in the wrong place. The law is that if somebody is shooting at you, using deadly force, the mere fact that they are a law enforcement officer, if they are in the wrong, does not mean you are obliged to allow yourself to be killed so your kinfolk can have a wrongful death action. You are legally entitled to defend yourself and I was speaking of exactly those kind of situations. If you’re going to do that, you should know that they’re wearing body armor so you should use a head shot. Now all I’m doing is stating the law, but all the nuances in there got left out when the story got repeated.” (John Hawkins 2003)
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) links Democrats to Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who murdered her two children in 1991 and attempted to blame the killings on an unnamed black male. “I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things,” he says. “The only way you get change is to vote Republican.” Referring to the upcoming midterm elections, Gingrich says, “That’s the message for the last three days.” Asked if Republicans being voted into office would stop such crimes from being committed, Gingrich says: “Yes. In my judgment, there’s no question.” Investigators learned that Smith was repeatedly brutalized and raped by her stepfather, Beverly Russell, a South Carolina Republican leader and local organizer for the Christian Coalition; Russell was still abusing Smith just two months before she murdered her children. (Solomon 4/26/2000; Tapper 3/9/2007)
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) expands on his 1990 pamphlet advising Republican candidates for office to characterize their opponents as “sick” “traitors” (see September 20, 1990). His political action committee, GOPAC, in a package given to freshmen House and Senate Republicans, includes a video, “We Are a Majority,” and an accompanying memo written by Gingrich that avows the committee is working to fulfill the requests of candidates across the country, who, according to the memo, have flooded its offices with “plaintive plea[s]” of “I wish I could speak like Newt.” The memo responds: “That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.” The memo advises candidates to “[r]ead them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.” The list is divided into two parts: “Optimistic positive governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community” and “Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic Party.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse 1996) Communications professor Margaret Zulick will later call the package “a rudimentary rhetorical handbook, providing inexperienced political speakers with a lexicon of terms that drive a wedge of distinctions between themselves and members of the opposing party. At the same time it educates them in a common language that will give evidence of their solidarity with the speaker of the House and his goals for the Republican majority.” (Zulick 2010)
"Optimistic Positive Governing Words - The memo states: “Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!” The words include: activist; building; candid(ly); care(ing); challenge; change; children; choice/choose; citizen; commitment; common sense; compete; confident; conflict; control; courage; crusade; debate; dream; duty; eliminate good time in prison; empower(ment); fair; family; freedom; hard work; help; humane; incentive; initiative; lead; learn; legacy; liberty; light; listen; mobilize; moral; movement; opportunity; passionate; peace; pioneer; precious; premise; preserve; principle(d); pristine; pro- (issue): flag, children, environment, reform; prosperity; protect; proud/pride; provide; reform; rights; share; strength; success; tough; truth; unique; vision; and we/us/our.
Contrasting Words - The memo states: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals, and their party.” The words include: abuse of power; anti- (issue); flag, family, child, jobs; betray; bizarre; bosses; bureaucracy; cheat; coercion; “compassion” is not enough; collapse(ing); consequences; corrupt; corruption; criminal rights; crisis; cynicism; decay; deeper; destroy; destructive; devour; disgrace; endanger; excuses; failure (fail); greed; hypocrisy; ideological; impose; incompetent; insecure; insensitive; intolerant; liberal; lie; limit(s); machine; mandate(s); obsolete; pathetic; patronage; permissive; attitude; pessimistic; punish; (poor…); radical; red tape; self-serving; selfish; sensationalists; shallow; shame; sick; spend(ing); stagnation; status quo; steal; taxes; they/them; threaten; traitors; unionized; urgent(cy); waste; welfare. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse 1996)
Fox News registers the slogan “fair and balanced” as a trademark for its news and opinion broadcasts. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will note that conservative-slanted Fox News (see October 7, 1996 and December 20, 2004) lives up, in a sense, to its promise of “fair and balanced” news and opinion by “simply inviting liberal guests—not by ensuring that their ideas will receive compatible time.” They will note, “The notion of different amounts of access is important, because we know that in highly controlled settings, mere exposure to signs and symbols produces a preference for them.” Fox disproportionately exposes its audience to conservative messages and arguments more than moderate or liberal ones. As a result, the authors observe, “[a]n audience that gravitates primarily to conservative sources whose message is consistent and repetitive is more susceptible to alternate points of view in approximately equal amounts.” The authors will continue, “Fox’s claim that Fox is unbiased because it is ‘fair and balanced’ is made with a wink and a nod.” They will quote conservative editorialist Robert Bartley of the Wall Street Journal (see January 20, 2003) and conservative financier Richard Viguerie (see July 2004) to bolster their argument. (Collins 8/12/2003; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 49)
Brandon M. Stickney, a reporter for the Union Sun & Journal of Lockport, New York, receives a frantic phone call from his editor, Dan Kane, ordering him to go immediately to an address in Pendleton, New York, eight miles away. The man identified as a suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995), is from Pendleton, and his family still lives there. The address is of the McVeigh family home. Stickney, who will later write a book on McVeigh entitled All-American Monster, begins interviewing friends and family members over the following days and writing articles about McVeigh for his newspaper. Initially, some of the information Stickney garners is incorrect: one of his first articles reports that McVeigh was said to have hung out with a “less than reputable crowd” during his high school days at nearby Starpoint High, a statement that is contradicted by friends such as Pam Widner, who accurately characterizes McVeigh as an honor student. Widner steers Stickney towards people who knew McVeigh well, and the picture that Stickney compiles of McVeigh is that of a bright, personable young man with a strong interest in computers and a shy, awkward demeanor towards women, whose broken, troubled family life may have presaged his later actions (see 1987-1988). Widner “proved how easily the mass media could misrepresent McVeigh,” Stickney will later write. (Stickney 1996, pp. 11-16, 74-75)
The New York Times receives a letter from the so-called “Unabomber,” who calls himself “the terrorist group FC.” This is not the first time the Unabomber has identified himself through these initials (see June 24, 1993). The author, who is as yet unidentified, promises to stop sending bombs if a lengthy article written by the “group” is printed in a national periodical such as the Times, Newsweek, or Time magazine. The writer promises to wait three months; if the publications do not print his article, he writes, he will “start building our next bomb.” (BBC 11/12/1987; Thomas and Weiser 4/13/1996; Washington Post 1998) The letter is actually one of four copies mailed out together on April 20, 1995. (Goldston 5/28/1995) According to the letter, the Unabomber was disappointed in the relatively small amount of damage done by the early bombs (see May 25-26, 1978, May 9, 1979, November 15, 1979, June 10, 1980, and May 5, 1982). “Our early bombs were too ineffectual to attract much public attention or give encouragement to those who hate the system,” he writes. He adds that after the early bombs, he took “a couple of years off to do some experimenting. We learned how to make pipe bombs that were powerful enough, and we used these in a couple of successful bombings (see December 11, 1985, December 10, 1994, and April 24, 1995) as well as in some unsuccessful ones.” Of his attempt to bomb a Boeing passenger flight in 1979 (see November 15, 1979), the letter states: “The idea was to kill a lot of business people who we assumed would constitute the majority of passengers. But of course, some passengers would likely have been innocent people—maybe kids or some working stiff going to see his sick grandmother. We’re glad now that that attempt failed.” Of the injury suffered by secretary Janet Smith (see May 5, 1982), he writes, “We certainly regret that.” However, he expresses no compunctions about having killed his recent victims, timber industry lobbyist Gilbert Murray (see April 24, 1995) and advertising executive Thomas Mosser (see December 10, 1994). He writes, “[W]hen we were young and comparatively reckless we were much more careless in selecting targets than we are now.” Of Mosser, he writes: “We blew up Thomas Mosser last December because he was a Burston[sic]-Marsteller executive.… Burston[sic]-Marsteller is about the biggest organization in the public relations field. This means that its business is the development of techniques for manipulating people’s attitudes.” (Lardner and Adams 4/14/1996) The manuscript shows that he targeted Mosser because he believed Mosser’s firm was involved in helping Exxon minimize public criticism of its actions surrounding the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The letter also denies targeting random university professors or academics: “Some news reports have made the misleading statement that we have been attacking universities or scholars,” it reads. “We would not want anyone to think that we have any desire to hurt professors who study archaeology, history, literature, or harmless stuff like that. The people we are out to get are the scientists and the engineers.” (Goldston 5/28/1995) The letter will later be shown to be the work of former college professor and recluse Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski (see April 3, 1996). The Washington Post will print his article, which will trigger his identification (see September 19, 1995). “FC” will later be found to stand for “Freedom Club.” (Booth 1/23/1998)
With the news that the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) was not carried out by foreign terrorists (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After) but apparently by Timothy McVeigh, a former US soldier from upstate New York (see April 21, 1995), the news media suddenly begins exploring what the New York Times calls “the murky world of the extreme right, of paramilitary groups with names like The Order, Aryan Nation Group, White Aryan Resistance, Posse Comitatus, Bruder Schweigen, or Duck Club, whose members rail against Jews, blacks, Communists, Muslims, and bankers, train with weapons, and above all, [despise] the federal government.” Journalism professor James P. Corcoran, who wrote Bitter Harvest, a book about one of the heroes of the far right, Gordon Kahl (see February 13, 1983 and After), tells the Times: “The one common thread [between these organizations] is Big Government. There are shadings in how they blame it—some believe Jews control the government, others that moneyed interests do, others that it’s too big, too intrusive, that it’s planning to take away their guns, their money. But government is always evil.” (Schmemann 4/24/1995) People magazine reporter Michelle Green reports: “[I]t is clear that [McVeigh] and his cohorts have emerged from America’s most chilling microculture—homegrown resisters who believe the federal government is bent on destroying the very people from whom it derives its power. Reactionaries who have organized themselves into paramilitary units like the Michigan Militia (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, January 1995, and April 21, 1995), which claims over 12,000 members, they share the belief that the Justice Department is determined to stamp out individual liberty and the right to bear arms. Their battle cry: ‘Remember Waco’ (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Like McVeigh, who made a bitter pilgrimage to the ruins of the Branch Davidian compound in Texas (see March 1993), the most radical are convinced that the cultists who died in the attack… were martyrs targeted by Big Brother. In fact government investigators believe that the massacre in the federal building in Oklahoma City, headquarters for some of the agents who stormed the Davidians’ compound, was timed for the second anniversary of the Waco disaster—and intended as a payback.” (Green 5/8/1995)
The San Francisco Chronicle publishes an article about the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the lengthy spate of bombings attributed to the “Unabomber” (see May 25-26, 1978 and April 24, 1995). The first person quoted in the Chronicle article is Tom Tyler, a social psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Unbeknownst to Tyler or the Chronicle, the Unabomber is Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, a former mathematics professor at Berkeley (see April 3, 1996). Tyler, who will later say he was not at Berkeley when Kaczynski taught there, receives a letter from the Unabomber shortly after the article is published. The letter is addressed to Tyler, and identifies him as “head of the social psychology group,” the same incorrect title he was given in the Chronicle. It contains a long manuscript written by the Unabomber (see April 24, 1995) and asks him to read it. “I said in the article that the Oklahoma City bomber and the Unabomber were examples of people who had exaggerated feelings that the government was out to get them,” Tyler later recalls. “The Unabomber objected to that characterization of him.” The letter asks Tyler to read his document, which he had sent to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and three other media outlets (see September 19, 1995). Tyler responds that he welcomes Kaczynski’s suggestion that revolution “need not be violent or sudden,” says that Kaczynski is not alone in feeling discontented with today’s society, and that “it is wrong to simply say that people who are dissatisfied are in some way non-rational.” However, Tyler disagrees with his argument that industrial-technological society cannot be reformed. (Lambropoulos 7/5/1995; Lardner and Adams 4/14/1996)
Dan Kane, the managing editor of the Lockport, New York, Union-Sun & Journal, testifies about two letters to the editor his paper printed that were written by Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh (see February 11, 1992). Kane testifies before a grand jury hearing evidence of McVeigh’s involvement in the bombing. A Union-Sun & Journal employee recently told a reporter: “We have a longstanding policy; we print every letter.… We have a fair amount of that kind of mail, and it’s probably encouraged because we allow it” to be published. (Willman 4/27/1995)
Michael Fortier, a suspected co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, March 1993, May-September 1993, February - July 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, December 16, 1994 and After, 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, and April 19, 1995 and After), tells a CNN interviewer that neither he nor accused bomber Timothy McVeigh had any involvement in the bombing. Of McVeigh, Fortier says: “I do not believe Tim blew up any building in Oklahoma. There’s nothing for me to look back and say: ‘Yeah, that might have been. I should have seen it back then.’ There’s nothing like that.” He continues: “People cannot make a judgment on his guilt by what they read in the paper. But by what I see on TV, they have. They want his blood. In America, we believe people are innocent until proven guilty. Everyone must remember that. Whoever says, ‘Forget the judiciary system, let’s just hang him now,’ those people are not Americans. They may think they are, but they are not Americans.” Fortier refuses to speculate on the identity of the so-called “John Doe No. 2” (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, and April 29, 1995), instead continuing to defend McVeigh. “I just want to tell him to be strong. You are not alone. Right now, he might feel like there isn’t anyone on this earth who is any way supportive of him. But there is. Everyone should be supportive of him because he’s an innocent man.” Fortier is lying about his lack of knowledge of McVeigh’s involvement, and his own (see April 23 - May 6, 1995). (Thomas 8/9/1995; Serrano 1998, pp. 243) In August 1995, Fortier will testify as to his involvement with McVeigh in the bombing plot, and will admit that McVeigh told him of his intentions to bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see August 8, 1995).
Reporter Peter J. Boyer publishes an article in the New Yorker depicting the almost-mesmerizing attraction the scene of the 1993 Branch Davidian massacre (see April 19, 1993) has over radical right-wingers. The site of the Branch Davidian compound, on a hill outside Waco, Texas, has been razed and burned over, but enough debris remained for Amo Bishop Roden to come to the site, fashion a crude shack from fence posts, pallets, and sheet metal, and take up residence there. Roden, the wife of former Davidian leader George Roden (see November 3, 1987 and After), says God told her to come to the site to keep the “end-time church” of Davidian leader David Koresh alive. She makes money by selling Davidian memorabilia, including T-shirts and photos. “People come by every day,” she says. “And usually it’s running around a hundred a day.” Most of the people who come to the site are tourists, she says, “but some are constitutional activists.” Boyer writes that Roden’s “constitutional activists” are “members of that portion of the American extreme fringe which believes the FBI raid on the Davidian compound exemplified a government at war with its citizens.” Boyer writes that those radical fringe members regard the Davidian compound as “a shrine,” and view April 19, the date of the Davidians’ destruction, as “a near-mystical date, warranting sober commemoration.” Last April 19, two things occurred to commemorate the date of the conflagration: the unveiling of a stone monument listing the names of the dead, and the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh, has himself made the pilgrimage to Waco (see March 1993). Alan Stone, a professor of psychiatry and law at Harvard, says the mistakes made by the federal government at Waco will continue to fuel right-wing paranoia and conspiracy theories until the government acknowledges its mistakes: “The further I get away from Waco, the more I feel that the government stonewalled. It would be better if the government would just say, ‘Yes, we made mistakes, and we’ve done this, this, and that, so it won’t happen again.’ And, to my knowledge, they’ve never done it.” (Boyer 5/15/1995; Amo Roden 2010) Religious advocate Dean Kelley writes that Roden collects money from tourists and visitors, ostensibly for the Davidians who own the property, but according to Kelley, the Davidians never receive any of the donations. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995) Four years after Boyer publishes his article, a similar article, again featuring an interview with Roden, is published in the Dallas Morning News. Paulette Pechacek, who lives near the property, will say of her and her husband, “We expected it [the visits] for months afterwards, but it surprises us that people still come.” (Plohetski 6/27/1999)
The New York Times reports that Timothy McVeigh, accused of executing the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995), has claimed responsibility for the bombing. The Times’s sources are two people who have spoken with McVeigh during his continuing incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma; they spoke to Times reporter Pam Belluck in return for anonymity. McVeigh, the sources claim, told them he chose the Murrah Federal Building as a target because it housed so many government offices, and because it was more architecturally vulnerable than other federal buildings. The sources say McVeigh said he knew nothing of the day care center in the building, and was surprised to learn that children had died in the bombing. McVeigh told the sources that he was not “directly involved” with armed civilian paramilitary groups (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, January 1995, and April 5, 1995), though he admitted to having “relationships and acquaintances with a few people who have similar views,” primarily people he met at gun shows, the sources say. They say McVeigh acknowledges responsibility for the bombing, but does not believe he committed a crime. They say that McVeigh told them the planning for the bombing began at least nine months ago (see September 13, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, November 5, 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, March 1995, March 31 - April 12, 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, and 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), and he had considered targets throughout the Midwest, from Denver to Kansas City to Texas and South Dakota. They say that McVeigh told them he had gone to the bomb site at least once (see October 20, 1994 and April 16-17, 1995) but had not gone inside the building. Federal officials say the Murrah Building was extremely vulnerable to explosive damage because of its large glass windows, its nine floors which could collapse upon one another, and because of the absence of any courtyard or plaza separating the building from the street, where a truck carrying a bomb could be parked. McVeigh’s alleged statements to the two sources suggest that those factors greatly influenced his choice of the building. The sources say that McVeigh was motivated to carry out the bombing in part because of the 1992 killing of white supremacist Randy Weaver’s wife and son during a standoff with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (see August 31, 1992), and because of his fury over the Branch Davidian debacle outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). McVeigh was also driven, they say, by a more general hatred of the government, which may be fueled in part by his failure to land a well-paying job when he left the Army (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). The sources say McVeigh did not single out any one experience that triggered his desire to plan and execute the bombing. McVeigh also noted, they say, that he did not specifically target the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), some of whose agents in Oklahoma City participated in the Davidian siege. Rather, they say, McVeigh wanted to target as many government agencies as possible in one strike. McVeigh talked about the significance of the date of the bombing, April 19; not only was it the date of the Davidian tragedy, but it was the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, where in 1775 the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. The sources provide few details of the bombing plot, and it is unclear if McVeigh divulged any such details. The sources say McVeigh did not speak much of his accused co-conspirator, Terry Nichols (see March 1995, April 16-17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995, 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995, and May 11, 1995), nor did he speak of others who might have been involved in the plot. They say that McVeigh did mention his acquaintance Steven Colbern (see May 12, 1995), and said that Colbern was not involved in the plotting. The sources say that while McVeigh carefully plotted the bombing itself, the escape he planned was less well thought out (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). He forgot to transfer the license plate from a Pontiac he traded (see January 1 - January 8, 1995) onto his getaway car, a Mercury Marquis (see April 13, 1995); the failure to transfer the plate caused him to be pulled over by a highway patrol officer. McVeigh told the sources he had no money with him and no back-up person to help him if he was detained. “I don’t know how to explain that gap in his planning or his organization,” one of the sources says. “The primary objective was obviously the building itself.” One of the sources adds: “He’s very anxious, obviously, because of the position he’s in. He’s anxious to see what the next step is in the process and when this will be resolved.” (Belluck 5/16/1995)