Nixon Papers Portray Fear Of News Plot

March 19, 1998

At first blush, it sounds like a memo that could have been addressed to President Clinton by one of his loyal supporters, railing against “the conspiracy of the newspaper people” out to get him and urging “a gloves off” response.

“It hurts me to sit here and see these sons of bitches hit the President and seemingly get away with it,” the memo says.

Long withheld on a claim of national security, the document is 26 years old, addressed to President Richard M. Nixon by his ambassador to Great Britain, Walter H. Annenberg, a Philadelphia media magnate angry about the unfavorable publicity Nixon was getting even before the Watergate break-in.

Dictated to Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods, the March 30, 1972, note was among some 168,000 pages of previously classified Nixon White House documents made public yesterday by the National Archives. Most of the papers were generated by Nixon’s National Security Council, dealing with such issues as the Paris peace talks and the massive Christmastime bombing of North Vietnam. Many others, like the Annenberg memo, had little relation to national security even though they had been kept secret under that rubric.

“This is the largest single release of security classified information by any presidential library or project,” said Karl Weissenbach, acting director of the Nixon Presidential Materials Project. He said the documents were being made public under a 1995 Clinton executive order that put more of a burden on the classifying agencies to continue keeping old records secret.

In his memo, Annenberg said the ongoing press criticism of Nixon “turns my stomach” and suggested counterattacking with a supplement that could be sold at newsstands titled “The Conspiracy Against Richard Nixon.” He said it was “the kind of thing I could easily print in my rotogravure department -- lot of photographs.”

“This has to be a gloves off, rough and tumble job,” Annenberg emphasized. “The only way you can do this is to go after the principles [sic] themselves -- Kay Graham [publisher of The Washington Post], [Arthur Ochs] Sulzberger [publisher of the New York Times], Otis Chandler [publisher of the Los Angeles Times], Andrew Heiskell [chairman of Time Inc.].”

In the headlines at the time were allegations of a payoff by the International Telephone and Telegraph Co. in return for favorable settlement of an antitrust case. Life magazine was accusing the administration of tampering with justice, and columnist Jack Anderson was writing about an ITT effort to block Salvador Allende’s election as president of Chile.

“Life Magazine is desperate,” Annenberg charged. “You have to go after Heiskell and the others. . . . Anderson is really engaging in treasonable activities.”

Concerns at The Post about retaliation by the administration increased after the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. On Aug. 9, 1972, in another memo made public yesterday, White House adviser John D. Ehrlichman suggested that Nixon allay Katharine Graham’s concerns in that respect, citing a tip from columnist Joseph Alsop.

“Joe Alsop says that Kay Graham’s anti-RN attitude is exacerbated by the fact that she believes we are going to lift the TV licenses of some of her stations in the event that we succeed in the election,” Ehrlichman told the president. “This is a matter that I would like you to follow up on personally through someone who has access to the top Post people. . . . You can point out that this Administration has an impeccable record over the past 3 1/2 years of never interfering with TV licenses.”

Ehrlichman then added, for Nixon’s “confidential information,” that Ehrlichman would examine “this whole matter of licenses after the election” and would be very interested in Nixon’s recommendations. “This has to be handled . . . by you alone,” the memo added, “without talking to anyone else about it.”

As Graham wrote in her memoir “Personal History,” “Of all the threats to the company during Watergate . . . the most effective were the challenges to the licenses of our two Florida television stations,” all filed between Dec. 29, 1972, and Jan. 2, 1973, by groups that included Nixon’s chief Florida fund-raiser and the former general counsel of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.

The effort may have begun in earnest on Oct. 27, 1973, the first day of a two-part CBS documentary on Watergate that relied heavily on The Post’s coverage and that angered Nixon greatly. “That finishes them [CBS],” he told H.R. Haldeman the next morning. Other records already public show that White House aide Chuck Colson was already busy, asking a staff member on Oct. 27 to “check for me when any of The Washington Post television station licenses are up for renewal.”

Where Hillary Rodham Clinton has seen a “right-wing conspiracy” against her husband, Nixon saw the coverage of him and his policies as a left-wing product. After reading a report in the May 16, 1969, issue of the Boston Globe by Robert Healey, asserting that the administration was escalating the fighting in Vietnam, Nixon said in a memo, “Healy, of course, is a doctrinaire leftist.”

Weeks later, following a July 6 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Richard Dudman, calling the prospects of a non-communist political victory in Vietnam “poor and worsening,” the president said, according to another memo released yesterday, that Dudman was “a violent leftist” and that the statements in the article were “completely opposite from the truth.”

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