Henry Kissinger's career has been guided by one principle: If you have friends, use them.
As the transcripts of phone conversations between Kissinger and other notables recently made public by a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive show, Kissinger was never shy about calling on his pals in the press for favors, sympathetic treatment, or a soft shoulder to cry on. And they were always eager to host him and wife Nancy at their chummy Washington dinner parties.
One of the secretary of state's best media friends was New York Times columnist James "Scotty" Reston, and at least18 conversations between the two are captured in the transcripts, which can be found on the Department of State's FOIA electronic reading room Web site.Reston volunteers to approach fellow Times columnist Anthony Lewis and ask him to moderate his anti-Kissinger screeds and offers to plant a question in a press conference for the secretary.(See "Kissing up to Kissinger" for the details.)
Such was the coziness of their relationship that when Kissinger got caught saying embarrassing things about his ex-boss, President Richard Nixon, he called on Reston to assist him in damage control. A live microphone had captured Kissinger's unguarded comments during the six courses of a private state banquet thrown in his honor in Ottawa. Journalists gathered in another room eavesdropped on the remarks, and an enterprising radio reporter recorded the comments for posterity.
The Washington Post broke the story on Page One on Oct. 16, 1975, under the headline "Kissinger Calls Nixon 'Unpleasant,' " reporting that Kissinger told his Ottawa dinner companions that Nixon was "an odd man" and "a very artificial man," incapable of being spontaneous. "He really dislikes people," Kissinger said.
Kissinger, the man who assigned his secretaries and aides to eavesdrop on his telephone and make transcriptions unbeknownst to his callers, was livid that somebody had captured his private moments and was broadcasting them.
Times reporter David Binder talked to Kissinger on the phone on the 16th at 5:25 p.m. As was his custom, Kissinger didn't want his comments on the record—"I don't want to carry this further," he says—but proceeded to put his spin on the gaffe.
As Binder read to Kissinger from the Ottawa transcript, you can almost see Kissinger's head inflating with rage.
"Are you going to run the whole thing?" said Kissinger.
"I am afraid we have to," said Binder.