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

By Louis W. Liebovich | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
After the Resignation

But I have followed, as you have, the press briefings by Mr. Ziegler. His job
is difficult because he must serve two masters: He must serve the President
of the United States, and he must serve the press. He must serve each with
equal loyalty and devotion.

Richard Nixon to reporters, April 14, 19731

As with many public statements by Richard Nixon, there was no truth to what he told White House correspondents in 1973. Nixon saw Ronald Ziegler as strictly a mouthpiece for Nixon’s ideas and attitudes. Ziegler had no independence whatsoever, and by the time Nixon resigned, the office of the press secretary had been badly damaged. “Ziegler did only what he had to do,” presidential counsel John Dean recalled thirty years later. “Ziegler just came in every day and got his instructions and he did whatever the president wanted, including sometimes playing games with the press.”2 Whether the destruction of the office of press secretary would be permanent was still an open question. Gerald Ford had it within his power to restore to that office the prestige that had existed during John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Ford attempted to do so, but in the end he failed miserably. After 1974, it was difficult for any press secretary to gain a decent relationship with reporters. Eventually, the image and purpose of the office changed drastically.

This was but one of many short-term and long-term problems that followed the Nixon administration and the Watergate scandal. One immediate problem in the summer of 1974 dominated the rest and led to a public review of the press secretary’s role. In August and into September Ford wrestled with what to do about Nixon’s culpability in the Watergate cover-up. A comprehensive pardon might put the Watergate mess behind the country once and for all, but

-109-

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