“Let’s look at the record”
Richard Nixon is often the subject of errors – some deliberate, some inadvertent, but all in need of correction to advance historical accuracy.
We invite you, if you find something that needs correcting, to let us know so we can include it on this page.
Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman
The New York Times
September 5, 2018
Chief White House correspondent Peter Baker and White House correspondent Maggie Haberman wrote an article titled, “Trump Lashes Out After Reports of ‘Quiet Resistance’ by Staff” published by The New York Times on September 5, 2018.
“During the final days of Richard M. Nixon’s presidency, when he was depressed, drinking and railing against his fate as the Watergate scandal closed in on him, Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger instructed the military not to carry out any nuclear launch order from the president without checking with him or Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.”
There is no evidence to substantiate this claim.
Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman cite and link to Garrett Graff’s Politico article titled, “The Madman and the Bomb” as their source. Graff writes in the endnotes for his own book Raven Rock that the “extent to which this contemporaneous story is true remains under debate. No documents or other accounts have emerged to confirm Schlesinger’s account of his actions during this period.”
May 11, 2018
On the opinion page of Bloomberg.com, author and historian Sam Tananhaus published an op-ed entitled, “For Liberals, the Watergate Hangover Has Been Excruciating.”
“Technically, of course, Nixon resigned. In practical terms, he was forced out by the threat of impeachment and conviction and by the delegation of Republicans (led by Senator Barry Goldwater) who told him he would not survive the trial.”
On August 5, 1974, the president informed his chief of staff that he planned to resign within a few days, and initiated the orderly and dignified process that culminated three days later on August 8.
Far from precipitating his resignation, the August 7 meeting with the Republican congressional leaders was part of that unfolding process.
Nixon had been a fighter from the beginning of his political career almost three decades earlier. It was far from a foregone conclusion that an impeachment trial, unfolding over several months and allowing the president to make the defense the other forums had precluded, would result in a conviction.
Nixon’s decision to resign was based on his assessment that Watergate had reached the point where he was unable to do his job effectively. The loss of congressional support made any legislative activity virtually impossible during the long course of an impeachment trial. And, in view of the tense situation around the world, he did not feel he could leave the country without an effective leader during the several months a Senate trial could take.
In his resignation speech, he expressed this clearly:
I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.
“Nixon was elected — and re-elected — in a time of bitter disagreements over wrenching issues like the Vietnam War and civil rights. His approach was to pit one group against another. This ‘positive polarization’ exploited what his speechwriter William Safire called the ‘us-against-them syndrome.’”
In America in 1968, no one needed a strategy to pit one group against another. The nation was the most divided it had been since the Civil War. Nixon described the situation in his August 8 speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination:
As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night. We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad. We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home.
And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish: Did we come all this way for this?
Nixon won by a hair’s breadth over incumbent Vice President Humphrey; the numbers reflected the electorate’s, and the nation’s, bitter division.
On the morning after the election, in his first statement as President-Elect, Nixon referred to a sign a teenager had held at a campaign rally in Ohio: “Bring Us Together Again.” He said that “the great objective” of his administration would be to bring the American people together.
Four years later, when President Nixon ran for re-election in 1972, America was demonstrably more united. Nixon won with an historic landslide of over 60 percent of the vote, and 18 million votes more than George McGovern — to this day the widest popular vote margin in presidential history. In an election when more Americans voted than ever before, the majority voted for Nixon (47 million out of 77 million votes cast).
Considering the division that had plagued America four years earlier, the demographics of Nixon’s re-election were revealing. He won overwhelmingly with youth (in the first election in which 18 year-olds could vote), women, ethnic voters, and in every region of the country.
President Nixon achieved that historic re-election victory by political inclusiveness and the implementation of big ideas. He ended the Vietnam War, and brought prestige back to America through strategic diplomacy with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union.
Domestically, he built a strong record of success that enjoyed broad support among the American people, including landmark legislation in protecting the environment, dramatically increasing the hiring of women in the federal government in senior positions, broadening worker protections, and advancing Civil Rights, including the peaceful desegregation of Southern schools.
“After the ‘hard hat riot,’ in which New York construction workers, some holding signs that said ‘America, Love It or Leave It,’ physically assaulted antiwar demonstrators, Nixon invited the head of the construction workers union to the White House — and later made him secretary of labor.”
Mr. Tanenhaus’ account of the New York construction workers incident is selective and could be misleading. He also incorrectly, and unfairly, implies that Nixon made Peter Brennan, president of the Building and Construction Council of New York his Secretary of Labor as a reward for allowing union construction workers to rough up Vietnam War protestors.
The New York confrontation began on May 8, 1970 after Mayor John Lindsay ordered City Hall’s American flag to fly at half-staff following the May 4th shootings at Kent State University. Anti-war protestors, marching with Vietcong flags, and demanding the release of all “political prisoners” in the United States and an end to military research, had provocatively occupied lower Manhattan, where the construction workers were on job sites, for three days before the incident occurred. As the Wall Street Journal reported, there were “inflamed tempers on both sides.”
Peter Brennan’s support of the president was a testament to the unprecedented and historic inroads the Nixon administration had made with traditionally Democratic-supporting labor.
In 1972 the AFL-CIO declined to endorse Senator McGovern, and Nixon won more than half the votes of union families. Secretary Brennan’s 1973 appointment was largely popular with organized labor, and he was widely respected across the political aisle for his commitment to workplace safety, and protecting workers’ wages and pensions.
“And like Trump’s, Nixon’s White House was a hotbed of conspiratorial thinking. One of his most brilliant advisers, the Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, publicly claimed that reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post were ‘hostile to American society and American government.’”
Nixon had some reason to feel that the American media was out of step with the American people and not giving his administration unbiased coverage. Though Nixon won more than 61 percent of the popular vote, an independent study showed that 81 percent of the media voted for McGovern in 1972.
CBS Sunday Morning
March 11, 2018
On CBS Sunday Morning, John Dickerson made the claim that Richard Nixon “ran against Humphrey as the law and order candidate with a secret plan to end the war.”
“The Republican nominee was Richard Nixon. He ran against Humphrey as the law and order candidate with a secret plan to end the war.”
This myth of Nixon’s “secret plan” has been thoroughly and widely debunked.
Nixon never said he had a plan — “secret” or otherwise.
William Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter and columnist for the New York Times, once called the “secret plan” a “non-quotation [that] never seems to go away.”
February 19, 2018
In USA TODAY, Ray Locker reviewed Joseph Rodota’s book The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address.
It was Anna Chennault, then working for Republican Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, who helped sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks.
She acted as a go-between for Nixon to the South Vietnamese government, telling them not to agree to Lyndon Johnson’s deal to attend the talks that would end the war in Vietnam.
Although it is widely believed that Mr. Nixon and Mrs. Chennault acted in concert and dishonorably, there is no proof, and only flawed evidence, for that belief. It is based on a few inconclusive documents and tendentious suppositions made by journalists, politicians, scholars, and conspiracy theorists who are, in many if not most cases, Nixon critics.
In their memoirs, President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey both confirmed that there was no evidence that candidate Nixon had any involvement with, or knowledge of, any attempts to influence the decisions of the South Vietnamese government.
Mr. Locker’s extravagant and erroneous statements require individual attention.
“It was Anna Chennault, then working for Republican Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, who helped sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks.”
Anna Chennault was not working for Nixon’s presidential campaign; her only, tangential, involvement was as the co-chair (with Mamie Eisenhower) of a fund-raising organization of Republican women.
There is no proof that candidate Nixon or Mrs. Chennault “helped sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks.”
In fact, there were no “Paris peace talks” to be sabotaged. There had been ongoing low-level desultory meetings between the US and North Vietnamese delegations, in which the South Vietnamese government played no part.
“She acted as a go-between for Nixon to the South Vietnamese government, telling them not to agree to Lyndon Johnson’s deal to attend the talks that would end the war in Vietnam.”
There is no proof that Mrs. Chennault told the South Vietnamese not to send a delegation to Paris after President Johnson reversed his promises, and ignored his previous demands, and declared a bombing halt six days before the 1968 presidential election.
”Nixon, Chennault told the South Vietnamese, would give them a better deal if they did not go to Paris.”
There is no proof of this statement. The South Vietnamese, who were closely attuned to American politics and sentiments (because their very lives depended on them), had only to read each morning’s newspaper to know that candidate Nixon’s approach to Vietnam was almost totally opposite to candidate Humphrey’s.
Even if this statement were true, it would be either naïve or disingenuous. Telling President Thieu that Nixon’s position on Vietnam was preferable to Humphrey’s would be the equivalent of “telling” an astronomer that the sun rises in the east.
“They stayed home; the peace talks failed; South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975.”
This short but tightly packed sentence may be grossly misleading. The South Vietnamese didn’t stay home for very long. An official delegation arrived in Paris and talks began on January 25, 1969 — ten weeks after the purported Nixon/Chennault scuttling. The talks immediately reverted to the long-standing deadlock about the shape of the table at which the participants would sit. The talks failed because, until the winter of 1973, the North Vietnamese “negotiating” position was insistence on a settlement entirely on their terms.
February 7, 2018
In an interview on CNN on February 7, 2018, Joe Biden said he was around during “Nixon’s impeachment.”
“I’ve been around a long time. I was around, I got here during Nixon’s impeachment…”
President Nixon was not impeached. Only two Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998.
Ted Van Dyk
The wall street journal
January 25, 2018
Ted Van Dyk’s account of Richard Nixon’s actions in October 1968 is so factually challenged that it must be dealt with sentence-by-sentence.
“Real collusion took place in October 1968, when Republican nominee Richard Nixon directed Anna Chennault, his campaign co-chairman and a longstanding Asia hawk, to intervene with the South Vietnamese government to stop peace negotiations with North Vietnam.”
Nixon’s campaign manager was John Mitchell; there was no campaign co-chair. Anna Chennault and Mamie Eisenhower were co-chairs of Republican Women for Nixon, an ancillary fundraising operation that was completely separate from the political campaign.
There is no evidence to support the statement that Nixon directed Mrs. Chennault “to intervene with the South Vietnamese government to stop peace negotiations with North Vietnam.” Nor were there “peace negotiations” of the kind that could be stopped.
“Ms. Chennault urged Saigon to boycott the talks because Nixon would continue to support the South Vietnamese war effort, whereas his Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, had said he’d end the war in 1969.”
There is no evidence to support the statement that Mrs. Chennault urged Saigon to do, or boycott, anything. In Mr. Van Dyk’s defense, this is a widely held notion; but, lacking factual evidence, it is a widely held notion based on the interpretations and opinions of journalists, historians, and conspiracy theorists, unfriendly to Nixon.
The South Vietnamese government hardly needed Anna Chennault to tell them what they were reading in every day’s American newspapers about Vice President Humphrey’s determination to end the American involvement in Vietnam by simply withdrawing.
“The White House learned of the initiative through intelligence intercepts. President Lyndon B. Johnson convened his national-security advisers to determine his response. Principally on the advice of Defense Secretary Clark Clifford, he decided to do nothing.”
President Johnson personally ordered a friend at the FBI to surveil and wiretap Mrs. Chennault – a private citizen who was involved (albeit tangentially) in a political campaign of the opposition party. In addition to revealing that questionable action, going public about “the initiative” would also have disclosed FBI taps on the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, and a CIA tap in President Thieu’s office in Saigon.
There was also the inconvenient truth that Mr. Van Dyk overlooks or fails to mention –that both LBJ and Hubert Humphrey, in their separate memoirs, mention that there was no proof that Nixon was personally involved or even knowledgeable about any of Mrs. Chennault’s alleged activities.
“Humphrey did not denounce the Nixon intervention publicly, presuming Nixon would call it a last-minute election lie. He did, however, issue a strong statement two days before the election stating that if the South Vietnamese government refused to come to the table, he would negotiate a peace without them.”
In his memoirs, Vice President Humphrey doesn’t mention that presumption. Perhaps Mr. Van Dyk has another source, or is channeling Mr. Humphrey’s thoughts. The Vice President’s strong statement confirmed that President Thieu didn’t need any intermediaries to know that the Humphrey campaign was moving toward unilateral withdrawal, while the Nixon campaign was talking about peace with honor.
At the new Nixon Library here in Yorba Linda, there is a Chennault exhibit that includes the phone calls between President Johnson, candidate Nixon, and Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen; a transcript of an oral history with Tom Charles Huston; and analytical excerpts from books by Evan Thomas (Being Nixon) and Michael Cohen (American Malestrom).
The New York Times
January 7, 2018
In the New York Times, Jeff Shesol reviewed Lawrence O’Donnell’s book Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics.
The review said, rightly, that Mr. O’Donnell is a skilled writer who knows how to tell a story. It took him to task, equally rightly, for his tendency to dramatic overstatement, his failure to consult new material, and his overdependence on single sources.
As an example of the latter, Mr. Shesol mentions Mr. O’Donnell’s embarrassing reliance on the 1969 book An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968. Another example is his essential re-telling of Ken Hughes’ conspiratorial polemic Chasing Shadows for his account of Richard Nixon’s actions and motives in the last weeks of the campaign.
Mr. Shesol uncritically accepts Mr. O’Donnell’s uncritical acceptance of John A. Farrell’s misinterpretation of H. R. Haldeman’s notes of his late night telephone conversation with candidate Nixon on October 22nd 1968.
Mr. Farrell disserves his readers by failing even to mention the context of that conversation. Earlier on the 22nd, Nixon had received word that, despite his assurances to the contrary, and in order to tilt the increasingly close election to his Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, President Johnson was going to declare a surprise bombing halt in Vietnam in the last days before the election.
Haldeman writes “N mad as hell,” and most of his four pages of notes deal with Nixon’s plan to let Johnson know that his duplicity had been discovered, and dissuade him from announcing the bombing halt.
By failing to provide his readers with this vital contextual information, Mr. Farrell has convinced many that Nixon wanted to “monkey wrench” LBJ’s hope for peace in Vietnam, rather than convince the President not to announce such a strategically risky and politically motivated “October Surprise.”
The story and backstory of the Nixon/Haldeman telephone conversation may be found here: Misunderstanding A Monkey Wrench.
Michael Starr Hopkins
Tucker Carlson Tonight
September 11, 2017
Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins claimed on Tucker Carlson Tonight that “the campaign slogan of Donald Trump was the campaign slogan that Richard Nixon used it to divide people.”
“Let’s Make America Great Again” was the 1980 campaign slogan of Ronald Reagan. Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign slogan was “Nixon Now.” His 1972 slogan was “President Nixon. Now More Than Ever.”
In the 1968 campaign, Candidate Nixon declared that he had a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, campaigned on that promise, and reneged on it once in office.
John Avlon, The Daily Beast, September 5, 2017 – link
Albert B. Wolf, The Hill, August 22, 2017 – link
Bob Hennelly, SALON, August 1, 2017 – link
Rick Hampson, USA Today, July 9, 2016 – link
Phyllis Bennis, MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell, April 28, 2016
Lawrence Korb, Politico Magazine, February 11, 2016 – link
David Corn, Mother Jones, July 24, 2015 – link
Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post, July 20, 2013 – link
This myth has been thoroughly and widely debunked. Nixon never said he had a plan — “secret” or otherwise. William Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter and columnist for the New York Times, once called the “secret plan” a “non-quotation [that] never seems to go away.”
the los angeles times
June 21, 2017
In an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times, Pulitzer-winning biographer Kai Bird uncritically accepts John A. Farrell’s interpretation of handwritten notes by H. R. Haldeman of a conversation with presidential candidate Richard Nixon on the night of October 22nd 1968.
Mr. Bird writes:
“Democrats in particular have painful memories of the 1968 “October surprise,” in which Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon passed messages to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, telling him to stall on the peace talks. Nixon always denied the allegation. But we now know from the private diary of H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, recently discovered by the presidential historian John Farrell, that Nixon was lying.”
Mr. Farrell, strictly speaking, is not a presidential historian; he is a former journalist whose books before Richard Nixon: The Life were a biography of House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and of attorney Clarence Darrow. The Haldeman notes were not from a private diary (he did, in fact, keep a private diary) but typical of the notes Mr. Haldeman made on yellow pads of meetings he had with Nixon — both as candidate and as president.
In his op-ed, Mr. Bird provides a link to a New York Times article by Peter Baker about Mr. Farrell’s interpretation of the Haldeman notes. In that article Mr. Baker made the point that some historians agree with Mr. Farrell’s interpretation, but others don’t. He wrote:
“Still, as tantalizing as they are, the notes do not reveal what, if anything, Mr. Haldeman actually did with the instruction, and it is unclear that the South Vietnamese needed to be told to resist joining peace talks that they considered disadvantageous already.
Moreover, it cannot be said definitively whether a peace deal could have been reached without Nixon’s intervention or that it would have helped Mr. Humphrey. William P. Bundy, a foreign affairs adviser to Johnson and John F. Kennedy who was highly critical of Nixon, nonetheless concluded that prospects for the peace deal were slim anyway, so “probably no great chance was lost.”
Luke A. Nichter, a scholar at Texas A&M University and one of the foremost students of the Nixon White House secret tape recordings, said he liked more of Mr. Farrell’s book than not, but disagreed with the conclusions about Mr. Haldeman’s notes. In his view, they do not prove anything new and are too thin to draw larger conclusions.”
The Nixon Foundation has posted a different interpretation of the Haldeman notes that takes into account their textual context and the specific circumstances in which the phone call took place. The Foundation’s post is here: “Misunderstanding a Monkey Wrench.”
Of course, Mr. Bird, like Mr. Farrell, is entitled to his interpretation of the Haldeman notes. But it is disappointing that a writer and biographer of Mr. Bird’s rigor and stature did not inform his readers that there is disagreement among historians about the significance of Mr. Farrell’s discovery, and what it actually means; and that there is an at least equally plausible interpretation.
May 26, 2017
In a commencement address at Wellesley College delivered May 26, 2017, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton stated that Richard Nixon was impeached.
“We were furious about the past presidential election of a man [Nixon] whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice…”
President Nixon was not impeached. Only two Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998.
March 28, 2017
MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle on Morning Joe:
“More young men were killed in Vietnam post-Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1969 than had died in the war prior to 1969. It’s very troubling.”
American lives lost during the Vietnam War are as follows:
1956 to 1968: 36,956
1969 to 1973: 21,195
In fact, more Americans died in Vietnam during just the last two years of the Johnson administration than during the entire 5 ½ years of the Nixon administration.
[SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration https://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html]