Nixon and the Press

By Hernandez, Debra Gersh | Editor & Publisher, June 25, 1994 | Go to article overview

Nixon and the Press


Hernandez, Debra Gersh, Editor & Publisher


There were a handful of journalists that the late president didn't hate, but most were viewed as ideological enemies

Except, Perhaps, for his ubiquitous five o'clock shadow and a couple of suits, there were few shades of gray about Richard Nixon, especially when it came to his feelings about the press.

While there were a handful of journalists Nixon didn't hate, for the most part, members of the press were viewed as ideological enemies.

The recently deceased president's enmity toward the press comes through in the recently published diaries of his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, in Nixon's own memoirs and in E&P interviews with those who knew and observed him.

In his diary, Haldeman recalled a discussion about the press on a November morning in 1970 between himself, Nixon and Henry Kissinger, assistant to the president for national security affairs.

The president, Haldeman wrote, "Made [the] whole thesis that they [the medial all suffer from excess intellectual pride, totally self-centered, hence can't admit they're wrong and can't tolerate being proven so. Thus their hatred for Nixon, who's proved them wrong so often.

"Also none has integrity, no religious quality, because of their intellectual arrogance," Haldeman wrote.

In a February 1972 entry, Haldeman reported that after a prayer breakfast, Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham had a "considerable discussion of the terrible problem arising from the total Jewish domination of the media, and [there was] agreement that this was something that would have to be dealt with."

Appointed by Nixon, Herb Klein became the first White House director of communications. Now editor in chief of Copley Newspapers in San Diego, Klein said there was a love-hate relationship between Nixon and the press.

"I think it's clear that he felt he was treated unfairly by the press," Klein said. "On the other hand, while he felt that way, he recognized the importance of the press to reach the people."

Nixon also "felt there was a liberal bias, which started early in his career, and it continued on," Klein said.

"There were times when the press was more favorable - and less - when emotions got involved. The same was from the White House point of view. If he [Nixon] saw a story he thought was unfair, he would expand that to the whole press corps," Klein commented.

Nixon, Klein said, "recognized the importance of the press more than most people ever gave him credit. He was a pioneer, really, in television news, and I think that he gave them more news than I'm sure any president in history, good or bad."

One of Nixon's legacies, in fact, was that while others complained about coverage, he "had a concentrated team working on press bashing as a political strategy," observed media analyst Ellen Hume, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Washington Program who also teaches at the Medill School of journalism's Washington Program.

"Many presidents have picked up on that since and have done well with that," she said, adding that Nixon and his aides characterized "the press as this out of touch, establishment, liberal pack of animals.

"They had a very concentrated propaganda campaign. The press all too often fell right into their hands by acting like the picture that was painted of them," Hume said. "That has proven to be a workable strategy. The public seems very, very ready to assume the worst about the press."

Cheryl Arvidson, director of media relations at the Freedom Forum, said she thinks "a lot of public disdain for the press was spawned during the Nixon administration.... It was delivered and received and grew. In terms of Nixon and the press, I think it's important to remember his enemies list. I think there was a lot of heavy-handedness that went on in that administration against the press.

"Reporters who were objects of those actions, or were watching them, or were there when it happened are not likely to forget," she said. …

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