The First Informer
THE TRUTHTELLER, by convention, is a person of character, but the informer, who also tells the truth, is not. An informer may be a courageous penitent or a despised stool pigeon rewarded by the police, but however motivated he is still under a cloud because his truthtelling results in the punishment of another. That the punishment of the guilty may be healthy for society does not necessarily absolve the informer, either in his own eyes or in the eyes of others, for except when one testifies against the most disreputable of criminals, there is an inevitable odor of treachery and betrayal. Even at best, the health of society is a fairly remote abstraction.
At critical moments in his career Richard Nixon would use informers eagerly; no other president has so benefited from this kind of testimony. In the end he was destroyed by informers on his presidental staff, and by releasing transcripts of the presidential tapes—in advance of the Supreme Court order—he became an extraordinary informer in his own right, an informer most of all against himself.
As a lawyer he had little to do with police informers since he specialized in tax and corporate law rather than criminal law. He did handle divorces, however, and must have seen how husbands and wives could become informers on each other. Informing is, whether we like it or not, a universal experience, rooted in childhood, and Richard Nixon, like every other child, would have experienced the often agonizing difficulty of distinguishing between truthtelling and tattling on friends. How his parents responded to his and his brothers' telling about each other's small sins we don't know, although the general failure of trust among the Nixon brothers as adults may suggest that as children they