News Organizations Delight in Latest Nixon Book

Article excerpt

Media feeding frenzies come easy when their fodder is both lurid and convenient.

In the last 72 hours, print and broadcast have feasted upon two notions launched by Irish muckraker Anthony Summers, who claims in a new book that former President Richard Milhous Nixon took mind-altering drugs and hit his wife.

Released Monday, "Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon" is 544 pages. The two rumors, however, have gotten all the attention and often were treated as fact.

News reports incessantly repeated things like "Nixon took drugs, beat wife," sometimes in tandem with unflattering old film footage of Mr. Nixon.

Many news organizations called the book a "biography," while ABC said it revealed "the ex-president's dark side and erratic behavior, even before the scandal which became his undoing."

The pace was set Sunday by the New York Times, which ran a substantial preview of the book and its claims, noting that Mr. Nixon took "a mood altering prescription drug," was depressed, neurotic and virtually powerless over his military - all in the first two paragraphs.

The story gave considerable space to Dilantan, the drug in question, and to the physical abuse of Pat Nixon, quoting from the book directly: "I'm not talking about a smack . . . he blackened her eye." The paper described Mr. Summers as "an Irish journalist."

The Times has not given Mr. Summers such credibility in the past, but instead praised his prose.

A 1985 review of "Goddess," his book on Marilyn Monroe - which included a shocking autopsy photo of the actress - said the author was deft at "taking worn-out subjects and making them seem fresh and alive again."

The review lauded Mr. Summers' "welter of details," but states "one cannot swear that Mr. Summers hasn't done it all with mirrors, so to speak."

The Monroe book proved so controversial at the time that ABC's "20/20" canceled a 13-minute report on it because network President Roone Arledge thought it was "gossip-column stuff" and "does not live up to its billing. …