July 3, 2017


'I Have Passed the Point of Reacting': How the Watergate News Cycle Reads Today (JON MEACHAM, JULY 2, 2017, NY Times Book Review)

Afterward, she couldn't recall who had the idea first. It was Tuesday, Sept. 4, 1973, and Elizabeth Drew, a newly hired Washington writer for The New Yorker, came in to see the magazine's editor, William Shawn, after Labor Day weekend. "I told him that I had an intuition that within a year this country would change vice president and president," Ms. Drew recalled in an introduction to a 40th-anniversary edition of her 1974 book, "Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall." Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, a popular figure with the growing conservative base of the Republican Party, was facing suspicions of accepting bribes for services rendered during his years as governor of Maryland. More important, President Richard M. Nixon seemed incapable of putting Watergate -- a catchall term for the White House's involvement in political espionage, break-ins and subsequent cover-ups -- behind him. The result of the conversation: Ms. Drew would begin to write a journal of life in Washington for the magazine. [...]

The power of the Drew volume comes from the slow but steady accretion of detail. When it is reported that the Nixons had paid $792.81 in income taxes in 1970 and $878.03 in 1971, a White House spokesman says only this: "We consider that the President's tax returns are private, just like any other citizen's, and we're not going to comment further." The pace of events was dizzying. Agnew resigns and pleads no contest in court. Nixon's men authorize a break-in at the office of the Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Breathtaking White House tapes dribble out. "The city seems to be reeling around amidst the events and the breaking stories," Ms. Drew writes. "In the restaurants, the noise level is higher. At the end of the day, someone says, 'It's like being drunk.'"

There was no respite. "One gets a picture of the president and several of his formerly most trusted aides circling each other, each of them in a position to put the knife to the others," Ms. Drew writes. "It is the court of the Borgias. It is the government of the United States." The labor leader George Meany speculates openly about Nixon's "dangerous emotional instability," and Nixon pounds the press, advising Americans to beware "frantic, hysterical reporting." When Carl Albert, the speaker of the House, is asked his view of the disappearance of key conversations from the White House tapes, he says simply, "I have passed the point of reacting." Nixon's assistant John Ehrlichman, musing about the nature of the Republic, says: "The president is the government." The whole political life of the nation beggared belief. "It is harder than ever to know where reality stops and fantasy begins," Ms. Drew wrote. "When, time after time, the incredible proves to be fact, it's quite an achievement for something to remain incredible."

Posted by at July 3, 2017 5:38 AM