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The Nixon Memo: Political Respectability,…

The Nixon Memo: Political Respectability, Russia, and the Press

by Marvin Kalb

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Marvin Kalb had his phone lines tapped by the Nixon White House. Several years later he was intrigued by a story in The New York Times that reported the contents of a memo written by Richard Nixon castigating the Bush administration for failing to provide a higher level of support for Russian democratic endeavors. And this in the middle of the 1992 campaign.

His search to discover the reason Nixon should pick this particular time to release the document is revealed in The Nixon Memo. His research revealed much about the symbiotic relationship the press has with politicians and how politicians manipulate the media for their own purposes — in this case, the continued rehabilitation of a disgraced former president. Reporters need news and conflict to survive. Nixon, a man who had resurrected himself more times than Rasputin, had become an expert in using this basic truth to his benefit. He had always hated the press, blaming them for his defeats, but the press could provide his path back to eminence.

Nixon began planning his rehabilitation shortly after leaving office. Within six years, after traveling to Europe and China, and writing several books, he was back, successfully advising the new Republican president, Ronald Reagan. John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy, reported that Nixon was, in fact, the guiding hand of Reagan’s foreign policy. Nixon was concerned with more than just his personal rehabilitation. He was genuinely dismayed by the Bush administration’s lackadaisical attitude toward events in Russia. Bush, flush from his Persian Gulf victory, and aware of Buchanan’s anti-internationalist challenge on the right, was reluctant to take on any foreign policy initiative that might possibly backfire and ruin his chances for a second term. Nixon was aghast. He had never thought much of Bush’s foreign policy ability, and he resolved to steer the administration to support Yeltsin, whom he saw as the only alternative to a new Russian authoritarianism. Economic news from the former Soviet capital was dismal, echoing the period in Germany before WW II when Hitler discovered it was so easy to seize power.

The result was Nixon’s now famous memo that was to redefine the foreign policy debate in the middle of an election year. Its theme was “Who lost Russia?” Nixon knew he was throwing a live hand grenade at the White House. The memo would surely leak — indeed he did everything possible to make sure it leaked — and explode on the front pages and on the evening news. That was his intention.

At a conference organized by Nixon and his staff, Nixon continued his peroration though without overt condemnation of Bush. Despite the enormous reaction to the memo and his conference speech, the substance of it was not terribly radical or new. Yet his presentation, done without TelePrompTer or notes, had such an appearance of genuineness, that a public grown weary of immediate clarifications by staff following a Reagan speech and by Bush’s hunched myopic attention to TelePrompTers, were taken in by what appeared to be a total command performance, even as they were being unwittingly manipulated.

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  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226422992, Hardcover)

An absorbing example of political journalism, The Nixon Memo is a case study of Richard Nixon's relentless quest for political rehabilitation. At issue is the key role of this former president of the United States (best known for his involvement in the famous "watergate" scandal) in the post-cold war debate about aiding Russia in its uncertain revolution.

The story begins on March 10, 1992. Nixon had written a private memo critical of president George Bush's policy toward Russia. The memo leaked and exploded on the front page of The New York Times. Why would Nixon attack Bush, a fellow party member fighting for re-election? Why on an issue of foreign affairs, which was Bush's strength? The questions are as intriguing as the answers, and distinguished journalist and scholar Marvin Kalb offers a suspenseful, eye-opening account of how our conventional wisdom on United States foreign policy is shaped by the insider's game of press/politics.

This story of Nixon's Machiavellian efforts to pressure the White House, by way of the press, into helping Boris Yeltsin and Russia sheds new light on the inner workings of the world inside the government of the United States. Marvin Kalb read the documents behind the Nixon memo and interviewed scores of journalists, scholars, and officials in and from Washington and Moscow. Drawing on his years of experience as a diplomatic correspondent, he identifies and illuminates the intersection of press and politics in the fashioning of public policy.

"An absorbing and often compelling argument that Richard Nixon directed his own political rehabilitation on the world stage, using presidents, lesser politicians, and the press as his supporting cast. This is a first-class job of unraveling a complex and usually unseen tapestry."—Ted Koppel

"With Marvin Kalb's captivating account, Richard Nixon continues to fascinate us even in death."—Al Hunt

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:05 -0400)

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