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'I Am Not A Crook': How A Phrase Got A Life Of Its Own

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'I Am Not A Crook': How A Phrase Got A Life Of Its Own

'I Am Not A Crook': How A Phrase Got A Life Of Its Own

'I Am Not A Crook': How A Phrase Got A Life Of Its Own

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/245830047/245837191" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Forty years ago Sunday, then-President Richard Nixon first uttered the now infamous phrase, "I am not a crook." Nixon made the declaration during a press conference in Orlando, Fla., amid charges related to the Watergate break-in and subsequent scandal. Host Arun Rath explores the five little words that brought down the presidency.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Today marks a fateful anniversary in American history...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: ...one of those days when an American president said five short words that would define his legacy. It was 40 years ago, November 17, 1973, at a press conference in Orlando, Florida. The president was Richard Nixon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: And I want to say this to the television audience. I made my mistakes. But in all of my years of public life, I have never profited - never profited from public service. I've earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice.

RATH: At the time, Nixon was facing a lot of questions about unpaid income taxes, a possible kickback from the milk lobby and, of course, that little thing called Watergate. Nixon told the room in Orlando that he welcomed the examination.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIXON: ...because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: I am not a crook. Five short words that you won't find on the National Mall inscribed in marble. But you might say they're etched into the country's memory.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DAN AYKROYD: (as President Richard Nixon) You know I'm not a crook, Henry. You know that I'm innocent.

JOHN BELUSHI: (as Henry Kissinger) Well...

RATH: On shows like "Saturday Night Live" or "Family Guy" or "Futurama," the words have had a life of their own.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "FAMILY GUY")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am not a crook.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "FUTURAMA")

BILLY WEST: (as Nixon's head) I am not a crook's head.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Less than a year after Nixon said he was not a crook, he said he was also never a quitter. But speaking from the Oval Office in August 1974, he announced he was quitting the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as president at that hour in this office.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. You can follow us on Twitter: @nprwatc. We're back again next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.

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