Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October 10, 1972

A little explanation.

You have to understand that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein didn't, in any even vaguely direct sense, bring down Richard Nixon. I haven't much mentioned press coverage of Watergate to date, and I won't much in the future. To the extent that press coverage was important, a lot of it was just normal reporting on public events -- indictments, trials, hearings; the certainty that such things would be widely known constrained and influenced actors throughout the process.

And yet, it's too strong to say that investigative reporting was entirely irrelevant. Without it, the story is even less in the news in 1972. Maybe that takes the pressure off enough that it allows the White House to find an improbable solution to what eventually became an impossible position. Maybe without it, the president stays popular enough for long enough. No one can prove any of this, one way or another. My impulse (and Fred Emery's) is to downplay the role of investigative reporting to the unraveling of Watergate, and so overall I'm not going to talk about it very much. But it is in the background; stories are reported, and the public is gradually, in a very roundabout and random way, learning bits and pieces about Richard Nixon's presidency.

So: October 10, 1972, from Haldeman's diary:


...the P told Ziegler to quit trying to pander to those who are philosophically against us. Any generous move toward them only shows weakness from their viewpoint. He says the press liberals hate our guts. Not personally, but because they hate our beliefs, so we should not make any nice, personal gesture to an ideological enemy, because they misinterpret it. On the Post's Watergate story today, Ziegler should just stonewall it. That the P is concerned about whether there is a leak in Colson's office somewhere that's causing this, and he came back to that several times during the day, wanting it checked out. He poured it out directly to Colson, who said absolutely not, but naturally that's what he would say.


What Post Watergate story are they upset about? This one:


FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats

By Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Washington Post Writers
Tuesday, October 10, 1972; Page A01

FBI agents have established that the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon's re-election and directed by officials of the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President.

The activities, according to information in FBI and Department of Justice files, were aimed at all the major Democratic presidential contenders and -- since 1971 -- represented a basic strategy of the Nixon re-election effort.

During their Watergate investigation, federal agents established that hundreds of thousands of dollars in Nixon campaign contributions had been set aside to pay for an extensive undercover campaign aimed at discrediting individual Democratic presidential candidates and disrupting their campaigns.

"Intelligence work" is normal during a campaign and is said to be carried out by both political parties. But federal investigators said what they uncovered being done by the Nixon forces is unprecedented in scope and intensity.

They said it included:

Following members of Democratic candidates' families and assembling dossiers on their personal lives; forging letters and distributing them under the candidates' letterheads; leaking false and manufactured items to the press; throwing campaign schedules into disarray; seizing confidential campaign files; and investigating the lives of dozens of Democratic campaign workers.

In addition, investigators said the activities included planting provocateurs in the ranks of organizations expected to demonstrate at the Republican and Democratic conventions; and investigating potential donors to the Nixon campaign before their contributions were solicited.


Click through for the full treat. It includes, as a centerpiece the "Canuck letter" smear which had a part in bringing down Ed Muskie before the New Hampshire primary, and generally focuses on the Donald Segretti dirty tricks campaign. Which is basically a sideshow to the main Watergate events (and what's more, Woodward and Bernstein didn't really get the story right after all, since they make the Segretti operation out to be the main story -- although, as Emery points out, they were closer to the truth than the prosecutors were at that point). But again, it probably adds to the basic willingness of both Washingtonians and ordinary folks to believe the main revelations when they are revealed in the future.

Beyond that, there aren't very many items now because there's very little to report. The cover-up so far is a qualified success: just the seven men indicted, with the trial held over until after the election. Perjury protected everyone else; hush money to the defendants would keep them happy. The Post's story, however, gets Watergate churning a little again, even though it certainly won't be enough to affect the election.


  1. It's amazing to me that, less than a month before the election, the press was reporting that there was "a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon's re-election and directed by officials of the White House," and nobody cared. He still won the election, and won it in a landslide.

  2. I remember my Republican Aunt refusing to believe any of it. In her eyes, Nixon was a good man and the press was picking on him. But lots of Democrats had to vote for Nixon, too in order for him to win in such a big landslide. McGovern was seen as just too liberal for them. Apparently better a crook than a liberal.


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