File photo
(AFP)

Between the news about the AP hacking and the leak probe into Fox News reporter James Rosen, this has been a distressing week for fans of investigative journalism. Fox News issued a statement that, “We are outraged to learn today that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter. In fact, it is downright chilling. We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press.”

But for Richard Milhous Nixon, the news couldn’t be better.

There is one upside to the increasingly distressing news about the Obama administration’s handling of journalists: In a small plot of land in Yorba Linda, Calif., Nixon sat up and smiled amiably.

“My name has been coming up a lot recently,” he said, “but in a phrase that I’ve seldom heard: ‘Worse than Nixon.’” He smiled a beatific smile. It still looked a little creepy. “Worse! You never hear that.”

Nixon went on: “I’ve been on the bottom of the presidential rankings for so long that James Buchanan, Warren Harding and I have become very close. We often go bowling together. You name the barrel, people stick me at the bottom of it. I was getting used to it, but then this week happened.”

“For once, people are looking at me and looking at someone else, and saying, ‘That Nixon guy was better.’ Can you believe it? Not just better generally — better in my handling of the press!” He started laughing. “Crazy, right? I thought that would be like saying that — I can’t even think of an example that surprises me more.”

The 37th president looked pensive. “It’s not that I haven’t heard these comparisons made before. But usually you can tell that the person making them is a little unhinged because a sentence or two later someone is adding that the president in question is also worse than a Pol-Pot-Hitler hybrid. I don’t hold my breath. It happens every time someone yells at Bob Woodward. Then it evaporates.”

Nixon smiled. “But this time, you’re actually hearing the comparison from the former counsel of the New York Times.Intimidation, threats of prosecution, keeping tabs on their movements and phone records, discouraging any and all leaks, turning investigative journalism into a crime! You’re hearing these ominous statements from leading national security reporters, saying that the effect of all this on their doing their jobs is worse than chilling. If things continue like this James Rosen case, using the very strategy for branding a reporter as a criminal that I suggested with the Pentagon papers, then the sky is the limit. I may be entirely rehabilitated. ‘Ah, how we miss the Nixon era,’ people will say, ‘when the rights of the free press were so widely respected, and nobody subpoenaed reporters’ e-mails.’ Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to read their e-mails, but, look, that technology was not available to me.” 

Nixon rubbed his hands together. “Now I can only hope that we will discover evidence of drunk, late-night phone calls from Bebe Rebozo. Look, even if it turns out that it’s not as bad as it appears, these comparisons have been music to my ears — no, better than music. Like a tape of my own voice.”

Nixon strongly encouraged the Obama administration to continue treating the press exactly the way it has been doing so far. “In fact, more so,” he added. “Leak less. Probe more. Be as opaque as you can. Keep those comparisons coming.”

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.