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Nixon and The Press – almost legendary in its sheer antagonism as the Watergate scandal lumbered along in 1973. As an example of the fighting back and forth and the hate-hate relationship that had developed, here (to go along with the complete press conference) are some printed excerpts to remind you just how contentious things got:
Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you could share with us your thoughts, tell us what goes through your mind when you hear of people who love this country and people who believe in you say reluctantly that perhaps you should resign or be impeached?
A. (President Nixon): Well, I’m glad we don’t take the vote of this room, let me say. And understand the feelings of people with regard to impeachment and resignation.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Rather, you may remember, that when I made the rather difficult decision I thought the most difficult decision of my first term on Dec. 18—the bombing of—by B‐52s —of North Vietnam—that exactly the same words were used on the networks —I don’t mean by you, but they were quoted on the networks—that were used now—tyrant, dictator, he’s lost his senses, he should resign, he should be impeached.
But I stuck it out and as a result of that we not only got our prisoners of war home, as I’ve often said on their feet rather than on their knees, but we brought peace to Vietnam, something we haven’t had and didn’t for over 12 years.
It was a hard decision and it was one that many of my friends in the press who had consistently supported me on the war up to that time disagreed with.
Now, in this instance, I realize there are people who feel that the actions that I’ve taken with regard to the dismissal of Mr. Cox are grounds for impeachment.
I would respectfully suggest that even Mr. Cox and Mr. Richardson have agreed that the President had the right—the constitutional right—to dismiss anybody in the Federal Government.
And second, I should also point out that as far as the tapes are concerned, rather than being in defiance of the law I am in compliance with the law. As far as what goes through my mind, will simply say that I intend to continue to carry out to the best of my ability the responsibilities I was elected to carry out last November. The events of this past week I know, for example, in your head office in New York some thought it was simply a blown‐up exercise, there wasn’t a real crisis. I wish it had been that. It was a, real crisis. It was the most difficult crisis we’ve had since the Cuban confrontation of 1962.
But because we had had our initiative with the Soviet Union, because I had a basis of communication with Mr. Brezhnev, we not only avoided a confrontation but we moved a great step forward toward real peace in the Mideast.
Now as long as I can carry, out that kind of responsibility, I’m going to continue to do this job.
Disposition of Tapes
Q. Mr. President, after the tapes are presented to Judge Sirica and they are processed under the procedure outlined by the U. S. Court of Appeals, will you make those tapes public? A. No, that is not the procedure that the court has ordered and it would not be proper. Judge Sirica under the Circuit Court’s order is to listen to the tapes and then is to present to the grand jury the pertinent evidence with regard to its investigation. Publication of the tapes has not been ordered by the Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Sirica, of course, would not do anything that would be in contravention of what the Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered.
Q. Mr. President, Harry Truman used to talk about the heat in the kitchen, and—A. I know what he meant. Q. A lot of people have been wondering how you are bearing up emotionally under the stress of recent events. Can you discuss that?
A. Well, those who saw me during the Middle East crisis thought I bore up rather well, and, Mr. Storrs, I have a quality which is, I guess I must have inherited it from my Midwestern mother and father, which is that the tougher it gets the cooler I get. Of course it isn’t pleasant to get criticism; some of it is justified, of course. It isn’t pleasant to find your honesty questioned, it isn’t pleasant to find for example that speaking of my friend Mr. Rebozo, that despite the fact that those who printed it and those who said it knew it was untrue, said that he had a million‐dollar trust fund for me that he was handling. It was nevertheless put on one of the networks—knowing it was untrue. It isn’t pleasant, for example, to hear, or read, that a million dollars in campaign funds went into my San Clemente property, and even after we have a complete audit, to have it repeated.
Those are things which of course do tend to get under the skin of the man who holds this office. But as far as, I’m concerned, I have learned to expect it, It has been my lot throughout my political life, and I suppose because I’ve been through so much, that maybe, one of the reasons is when I have to face an international crisis I have what it takes.
13. Watergate Influence on Mideast
Q. Mr. President, I’d like to ask you a question about the Mideast. To what extent do you think your Watergate troubles influenced Soviet thinking about your ability to respond in the Mideast, and did your Watergate problems convince you that the U.S. needed a strong response in the Mideast to convince other nations that you have not been weakened?
A. Well, I noted speculation to the effect that the Watergate problems may have led the Soviet Union to miscalculate. I tend to disagree with that, how, ever. I think Mr. Brezhnev probably can’t quite understand how the President of the United States wouldn’t be able to handle the Watergate problems. He’d be able to handle it all right if he had them.
But I think what happens is that what Mr. Brezhnev does understand is the power of the United States, What he does know is the President of the United States.
What he also knows is that the President of the United States, when he was under unmerciful assault at the time of Cambodia, at the time of May 8th, when I ordered the bombing and the mining of North Vietnam, at the time of Dec. 18th, still went ahead and did what he thought was right. The facts that Mr. Brezhnev knew that regardless of the pressures at home, regardless of what people see and hear on television night after night, he would do what was right. That’s what made Mr. Brezhnev act as he did.
14. Criticism of Television
Q. Mr. President, you’ve lambasted the television networks pretty well. Could I ask you, at the risk of reopening an obvious wound—you say after you’ve put on a lot of heat, that you don’t blame anyone. I find that a little puzzling. What is it about the television coverage of you in these past, weeks and months that has so aroused your anger? A. Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. Q. I have that impression. A. You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.
A bit more civil than press conferences of late, but nonetheless contentious and agitated as the Watergate scandal was. Here is the whole press conference as it was broadcast on October 23, 1973.