Deep in the basement of the Washington Post newsroom, national security reporter Walter Pincus is rediscovering 40 years worth of handwritten notes, White House telephone records and declassified spy photos. As the Post prepares to move into a new building in December, he's digging up details on many of the historical stories he's worked on. (Jorge Ribas and Jayne W. Orenstein/The Washington Post)

Before the Post moves to its new building, hundreds of the paper’s reporters have to clean out their desks and drawers. While many have a few boxes worth of knick-knacks, Defense reporter and Post legend Walter Pincus has more than 60 boxes worth of documents spanning almost half a century of history—from JFK’s assassination to the trial of CIA mole Aldrich Ames.

This is the second in a series of installments focusing on the files of Walter Pincus. You can read the first one here.

Before presidents used shows like “The Colbert Report” and “Between Two Ferns” to connect with the youth of America, there were weddings.

It was 2002 and Walter Pincus was working with CBS on a print series and documentary on the 30th anniversary of Watergate. In collect material from the Nixon presidential archives he stumbled upon White House files that outlined the intricate song and dance of Patricia Nixon’s wedding plans as plotted by her family and her father’s aides.

Q: Why were you looking at these files and what did you find?

Nixon had resigned and his personal files had been made public, so I was looking at them in the National Archives building where they were stored.

Inside I found memos detailing Nixon’s hope to use the story of his eldest daughter’s wedding to Edward Cox for publicity to help him connect with younger voters in the 1972 elections.

There was pressure on who to invite to that year’s White House St. Patrick’s Day party since it was there that the Nixon-Cox engagement was to be a surprise announcement.


The first page of Patricia Nixon’s wedding and reception guest list for the 1971 ceremony. (Courtesy of Walter Pincus)

Q: What can you tell us about the planning for the wedding?

While the coverage leading up to the big day was carefully manicured by the commander-in-chief and his aides – the bride made the cover of LIFE magazine — the wedding was quickly eclipsed in The New York Times.

On its front page Sunday June 13, the Times had a two-column photo of Nixon and Tricia over a report of the wedding.

But one column away and running three columns across was the Times first story about the Pentagon Papers.

[White House weddings: It’s no piece of cake]


A sharply worded memo from Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to his Press Secretary, Ron Zeigler, about the wedding plans. (Courtesy Walter Pincus)

Q: How did the wedding turn out?

As the June 12, 1971 wedding day approached, Nixon supervised various aspects, including a late call from the president to the Air Force to see if early morning rain that day would clear for the Rose Garden wedding.

While the coverage leading up to the big day was carefully manicured by the commander-in-chief and his aides – the bride made the cover of LIFE magazine — the wedding was quickly eclipsed in The New York Times.

On its front page Sunday June 13, the Times had a two-column photo of Nixon and Tricia over a report of the wedding. But one column away and running three columns across was the Times first story about the Pentagon Papers.


Notes from Al Haig, Nixon’s deputy assistant for national security affairs, on the Pentagon Papers the day of their publication. The notes indicate the Nixon administration’s immediate strategy the day the papers were released in the New York Times and the Washington Post. In the notes, Haig calls the publication of the documents “criminally traitorous” and that “we need to keep clear.” (Courtesy Walter Pincus)

Q: What was Nixon’s reaction?

Nixon and his aides decided to use the Pentagon Papers first to attack the press for printing secrets and then to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg – which set in motion one of the actions which would get Nixon impeachment charges.

But promotion of the wedding continued and the White House actually got two networks to show documentaries based on it over the next two weeks.