New Tapes Offer Unvarnished View of Nixon

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Newly released tapes and documents offer fresh insights into the character of former President Richard Nixon. The tapes reveal details of Nixon's interactions with his wife and staff, and his views on African-Americans and Jews.

DANIEL SCHORR: Now, about Richard Nixon.


NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Oh no, not again, I hear you saying. But my endless fascination with the first president to be forced to resign from office is constantly stimulated by the release of further tapes and documents. In this case, 78,000 pages from which little nuggets can be mined.

For example, in a number of memos, Nixon seems quite concerned about his public image. A December 1970 memo to Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman expressed anger and pain that his staff still has not succeeded in establishing him as a warm and caring person. As an example of his warmth, he notes that he treats Cabinet members like dignified human beings and not dirt under my feet.

A May 1970 memo to Haldeman, from TV adviser Roger Ailes - now the president of Fox News - he advises that Nixon should pay more attention to his wife, Pat, when they're in public. From time to time, he should talk to her and smile at her, he says. And Ailes notes that Nixon walked away from his wife at a recent event and she had to run to keep up with him.

And a June 1972 note from aide Donald Rumsfeld - future secretary of defense -tells Haldeman that Nixon should show voters his capacity for feeling, citing the danger of appearing harsh and tough.

Image aside, Nixon reveals his true character in a number of taped discussions. November 1972, after his landslide re-election victory, in a telephone conversation with his aide, Chuck Colson, he criticizes Ronald Reagan for bad leadership in California.

President RICHARD NIXON: Basically, your leadership in the states is so bad. I mean - and frankly, in California, it's Reagan. And you can't do it around him. He's got to do it, and Reagan is a drag.

SCHORR: He also talks of replacing the elder George Bush as U.N. ambassador. And then there's discussion of naming Walter Washington, the first black mayor of Washington D.C. to the U.N. post.

Pres. NIXON: You know, basically, we don't owe the blacks a damn thing, anyway.

Mr. COLSON: Oh hell no. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, I think it's a bad signal to put a black in the Cabinet. I told them and I say...

Pres. NIXON: I think maybe you're right.

SCHORR: And of Leonard Garment - White House lawyer - Nixon says:

Pres. NIXON: Let him be the house Jew.

SCHORR: Amazing how we continue to learn about his character, we thought we knew all about 30 years ago. If there's more archived material released, I do not promise to withhold it from you.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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