Watergate opened floodgate of media watchers

Nixon was never to far from <I>Variety</I> reports

The revelation that the former numero due at the FBI, W. Mark Felt, was Deep Throat instantly brought back those politically charged months leading up to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Variety was very much in on that act — which was amusingly epitomized by its succinct account of his departure from D.C. in August 1974.

In those days, when travel meant that people were actually out of touch and when going somewhere in and of itself was newsworthy, the paper ran a regular column simply headlined N.Y. to L.A., Europe to U.S., and so on, with a list of celebs and execs under the pertinent rubric.

Thus in the Aug. 14, 1974 issue under “D.C. to L.A.” was indicated one lone traveler — “Richard M. Nixon.”

Beyond the flip shorthand, however, Variety dealt with Nixon and his policies on a regular basis: He was, after all, one of the most media-obsessed presidents. The Republican topper did things, both aboveboard and below to limit the power of the media, to punish his detractors and to coddle his supporters.

Consider these stories in the paper during that period:

  • The Nixon administration played “tax hanky panky” with Hollywood, pressuring the IRS into giving special tax breaks to select parties in the film biz;

  • The White House apparently attempted, albeit clumsily, to pressure celebs into endorsing Nixon’s re-election, though what inducements were made, if any, was never clear;

  • CBS newsman Daniel Schorr was the object of an FBI probe, probably as a form of harassment for his Watergate reports.

Variety also weighed in on the tape transcripts that came to light during the proceedings against the president.

“The arts, you know — they’re Jews, they’re left wing — in other words, stay away,” Nixon told his advisor and fellow Watergate conspirator H.R. Haldeman in 1972. This despite the fact, Variety pointed out, that support of the arts was one of his election campaign planks.

Variety reported extensively on the TV coverage of the preliminary hearings of the House Judiciary Committee. “The beaming of the proceedings to millions of Americans is widely credited with undercutting White House assertions that the hearings amounted to a kangaroo court.”

The Big Three nets then were of two minds about covering the impeachment hearings. They desperately lobbied to have their cameras in as many chambers as possible. But at the same time they worried their fall season would be jeopardized if the proceedings dragged on.

Thus, webheads must have breathed a sigh of relief when word started leaking out Aug. 7 that the president was indeed about to step down.

On Aug. 9, Daily Variety had this to say in an eerily familiar recitation of a president’s attitude toward the media:

“There was irony in Nixon’s fateful move being proclaimed on television, a medium he has bitterly assailed many times during his political career, charging TV news with liberal bias, with slanting news, with unfairness in its coverage of him.”

The following week, Weekly Variety devoted coverage to Gerald Ford and his likely media policies:

“No matter how irritated with news coverage Ford may get, there seems little doubt that he will be easier on the media than Nixon. Aside from the fact that no president for a few years will be eager to sic the IRS or the FBI on reporters, Ford has never given indications of believing in a media conspiracy against his politics.”

And the paper was right.

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