Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the Press: A Historical Retrospective

By Louis W. Liebovich | Go to book overview

Prologue

Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1969 marked one of the strangest and most unexpected comebacks in political history and the turning point in America’s tumultuous social rebirth. It accompanied a shift in political values and served as a prologue to the most tragic episode in American presidential politics. These obvious themes are yardsticks by which most scholars have measured the Nixon presidency.

Yet, a generation later, evidence points to trends that have carried beyond the dysfunctional 1970s. The Nixon legacy includes deteriorating press-president relations and the loss of public confidence in the Washington news-gathering process. Documenting that evolution will be the goal of this book as it examines the press structure of the Nixon White House, a prototype for modern White House-reporter antagonism. The break-in at the Watergate hotel and office complex launched a drama that deposed a president and changed American attitudes about government, but the break-in was only a minor manifestation of a long-range strategy outlined by a White House clique who never grasped their primary responsibilities and who approached their obligations with unparalleled vindictiveness. Watergate was ordained by marred White House logic, evident in the earliest Oval Office conversations and lasting until the president’s farewell speech in 1974 on the White House lawn. It was not so much the nature of the underhanded malfeasance that led to the administration’s destruction as it was the underlying convictions that justified them. As part of the White House’s siege mentality, Nixon and his subordinates created a communications structure in January 1969 that signaled a changing presspresident relationship and almost guaranteed a tragedy.

Indeed, what followed were wholesale violations by men who understood that they were breaking the law. We have been reminded repeatedly of the consequences: imprisonment of some of the nation’s most powerful leaders, a di

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