Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press: A Historical Perspective

Article excerpt

Liebovich, Louis W. Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press: A Historical Perspective. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2003. 143 pp. $45.95.

In his latest book, journalism historian Louis Liebovich posits that the Nixon administration changed presidential media relations in a way that not only fed the Watergate scandal but influenced how later presidents dealt with the news media.

Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press: A Historical Perspective covers many of the same themes of one of Liebovich's three previous books, The Press and the Modern Presidency: Myths and Mindsets from Kennedy to Clinton (1998). But this new book focuses on Nixon's two terms in office and uses solid, original source material, including the Nixon tapes released since 1996, to get inside the minds of the president and his chief hatchetman, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, in particular.

From the day he became president, Liebovich writes, Nixon obsessed over the media as enemies to harass and intimidate. Nixon and Haldeman planned the details of press strategy, while his press secretary and his communications director became mere mouthpieces for the Oval Office. Tolerating no criticism, Nixon and Haldeman soon compiled an enemies list of hostile reporters, and by 1970 the homes of some journalists were being wiretapped and the FBI was spying on others. Avoiding news conferences, Nixon used television to bypass media gatekeepers and take his message directly to the public. He often tried to get the public to sympathize with him in his battle against the media, portraying himself as a victim of media that he claimed were too liberal. Other authors have noted most of these abuses and tactics, but Liebovich documents and weaves them together in richer detail and in a readable writing style.

But this is not just a book about Watergate, which is only discussed in the second half of the book. The major events of Nixon's two terms are chronicled to show how his confrontational attitude toward the press helped develop the reckless attitude that led to the failed burglary and cover up. …