No Enemies

3 minute read

Nixon meets the press

The scene conjured up images of Daniel in the lions’ den: former President Richard Nixon addressing more than 800 of the nation’s top journalists, including some who had written highly critical stories about his presidency. Instead of animosity, however, Nixon drew long, enthusiastic applause from editors and reporters attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in Washington last week. Said Creed Black, outgoing ASNE president and publisher of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader: “He gave a virtuoso performance.”

Nixon most impressed the editors with an informed survey of American foreign policy, which he delivered without notes. He backed President Reagan’s defense buildup as necessary to match the Soviets’. But Nixon also called for annual summit meetings between the U.S. and the Soviet leaders to defuse tensions and replace confrontation with “détente, peaceful competition, a cold peace.”

After a sweeping state-by-state political analysis, he predicted that Walter Mondale will be the Democratic nominee, sharing the ticket with either Colorado Senator Gary Hart or Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen. And the November winner? Reagan by a whisker. “I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but I’d bet the main house,” said Nixon. “I wouldn’t even bet the outhouse on Mondale.”

The editors asked Nixon repeatedly about Watergate. Characteristically, he brushed them off. “I think ten years of Watergate is enough,” he said. When Robert Phelps, former executive editor of the Boston Globe, asked about the Nixon Administration’s so-called enemies list, which included some of the journalists in the room, Nixon said that others in the White House had drawn up the list and insisted, “As far as I am concerned now, I have no enemies in the press whatsoever.”

It was the first time that Nixon has appeared before a press group since November 1973, when he delivered his notorious “I am not a crook” speech to an Associated Press managing editors’ conference. ASNE President Black said all living former Presidents and Ronald Reagan had been invited to address the meeting, but only Nixon accepted. Confessed Black: “I didn’t know how it would go off.” Judging by the reaction, Nixon may have achieved his own cold peace with the Fourth Estate. Said Christian Science Monitor Editor Katherine W. Fanning: “For him to be able to stand in front of his severest and, in some ways, most vicious critics, and show such resilience, was quite extraordinary.”

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