• U.S.

The Press: White House Scoop

3 minute read

Veteran White House Reporter Garnett (“Jack”) Horner, 63, described it as “my biggest beat, the high point of 45 years in the newspaper world.” It was all of that. Two days after the election, the Washington Star-News printed Horner’s exclusive interview with Richard Nixon. While Nixon’s revealing look into the future was being headlined around the country—with credit to the reporter and his paper—the Star-News followed with a second Horner interview, this one with Presidential Adviser John Ehrlichman, which included specifics about Administration fiscal plans. It, too, received wide attention.

Horner and the Star-News were the envy of the profession.* Still, everyone knows that a presidential interview is granted, not obtained. Why that reporter and that newspaper? Ironically, the “credit” seems to belong to the Washington Post, the Star-News’s morning rival and the Administration’s nettlesome enemy. A White House aide confirmed that suspicion. “The whole idea [in granting the interviews],” he told TIME, “was to screw the Washington Post. The thinking was, ‘How can we hurt the Post the most?’ They seem to relish the frontal attacks. The answer is to get people thinking, ‘I wonder what’s in the Star-News today?’ ”

The Administration ploy was part of a long feud with the Post, exacerbated in recent months by the paper’s relentless pursuit of the Watergate and other political-espionage stories. Reverting to “frontal attacks” after the Horner stories appeared, Presidential Special Counsel Charles W. Colson accused the Post of “McCarthyism” in its use of anti-G.O.P. allegations. Colson described Post Executive Editor Benjamin Bradlee as the “self-appointed leader of a tiny fringe of arrogant elitists.” Remarked Bradlee: “I just don’t think I’m going to answer that stuff from Mr. Colson.” His reaction to the White House gift of exclusives to the Star-News? “So be it.”

Horner acknowledges that his paper has been “more favorable than unfavorable” to Nixon. But he emphatically denies—with justice—insinuations that the Star-News is an Administration mouthpiece. On the other hand, he did not exactly cross-examine the President; he asked no questions about Watergate, and Viet Nam came up on Nixon’s initiative. Horner explains that he was interested in Nixon’s “basic philosophy and what the next four years would be like.”

Revival. The scoop helps the Star-News at a time when it is already picking up momentum. For years the morning Post had held a commanding position in terms of economic strength and journalistic prestige while the two afternoon papers were faltering. Last July the Star absorbed the News. The combined paper has increased advertising and reached a weekday circulation of 415,884 (compared with the Post’s 519,795). It could operate in the black this quarter for the first time since 1970. In the long run, the Star-News’s revival could benefit Washington readers and the Post in particular by generating real competition.

*By White House count, the President has given seven previous, on-the-record interviews: to TIME, the New York Times, each of the TV networks (CBS twice), and the London Sunday Telegraph.

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