Listening to Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover diss Katharine Graham.

Media criticism.
Sept. 26 2007 5:33 PM

Dick and J. Edgar Diss Kay Graham

Eavesdropping on a Nixon-Hoover telephone call.

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What possessed Nixon and Hoover to carry on like this? I leave it to Hoover mavens to explain his Graham problem. But Nixon's hatred of the Post is legendary. It may have taken root in the late 1940s, as he became one of editorial cartoonist Herblock's favorite subjects. Scholar Stephen J. Whitfield writes that Herblock first drew Nixon in 1948 as one of three Puritans burning a witch—the witch being the Statue of Liberty.

Nixon's antipathy for the Post and Katharine Graham could have easily been related to the political activism of her husband, Philip Graham, who preceded her as Post publisher: He was a major Democratic Party power broker. But I can find no record of Nixon directly lashing out at him.

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In 1952, the Post editorial page called upon Nixon to leave the presidential ticket over what was described in the press as a secret political fund. Herblock continued to pour it on, penning a 1954 cartoon that showed Nixon climbing out of a sewer. The cartoon was still extracting pain from its target 25 years later, when Nixon published his memoirs, RN. He "resented being portrayed as a demagogue or a liar or as the sewer-dwelling denizen of Herblock cartoons in the Washington Post." Also in 1954, Nixon canceled his home and office Post subscriptions in reaction to a critical editorial the paper wrote about him.

Nixon's hatred of the press fully manifested itself when he became president and immediately assigned Vice President Spiro Agnew to hammer the media in a series of speeches. But there is no denying his special animus for the Post, which he regarded as overtly liberal in its news coverage. 

"He was convinced that the Post had it in for him," Henry Kissinger told Graham for her memoir, Personal History. Kissinger professed not to know where Nixon's hatred came from but said that whenever the Post ran an unfavorable article about him, he'd send notes prohibiting his people from talking to the paper.

Nixon and his people loved to make the political as personal as possible. A year after this Nixon-Hoover conversation, Attorney General John Mitchell warned Post reporter Carl Bernstein over the phone that Graham would find her tit in a wringer if the Post published its latest scandalous findings.

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If you find an example of Nixon trashing Phil Graham, please forward it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.