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

By Louis W. Liebovich | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
A Cancer on the Presidency

Richard Nixon’s landslide victory over George McGovern came to be one of the most conflicted triumphs in U.S. political history. While Nixon was burying McGovern publicly, he was entombing his presidency privately. The events of the immediate post-Watergate era are seen differently a generation later because of the release of the Abuse of Government Power tapes. While the chain of events that ensued after the break-in are perhaps some of the most widely discussed in the history of the presidency, the taped conversations provide a much different spin on the Nixon inner circle’s culpability.

There are also a number of retrospective questions that have been addressed only superficially and that bear discussion here. Some examples: Who ordered the Watergate break-in, and who knew what when? Was a formal press strategy developed within the White House inner circle to lead reporters away from the Watergate-related dirty tricks campaign, thus explaining why only the Washington Post was interested in the story? Also, this chapter will provide a wide sample of newspaper and news magazine press coverage for the period of June 18 to December 31, 1972, to illustrate just how well the print media covered Watergate before, during, and just after the 1972 general election campaign, and to discover whether leading newspapers and magazines really did ignore Watergate.

As to the first question about the person behind the burglary: Nixon always claimed that he had no prior knowledge of Watergate. In his memoirs he asserted that the first he knew of the break-in was when he read a small article on the front page of the Miami Herald on Sunday, June 18, 1972, while he was vacationing with his friend Bebe Rebozo in Key Biscayne, Florida. He wrote that he spoke with Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman on Saturday, the day the burglars were arrested (June 17), but they did not discuss the incident. After reading the article, he spoke by telephone with Haldeman, aide Charles Col

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