The first massacre
When President Trump went on his firing binge recently, I was surprised at how distinctly I remembered President Nixon's pioneering October Saturday Night Massacre of 44 years ago.
On the other hand, Nixon picked my birthday to launch his effort to head off likely impeachment by firing Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was digging for the records that would bring Nixon down. That disagreement led --- within hours --- to the resignations of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus, all in all, quite a chunk of news on any day.
I was on I-90, heading from Milwaukee to my hometown, Madison, Wisconsin, picking up pieces of the story on Chicago?s WBBM, News Radio 78. By the time I hit city limits, I wanted details, conversation about the terrible state of the country this reflected and tap beer, though not necessarily in that order.
In those benighted days, there were no CNN or MSNBC tracking every Watergate development by the minute and the newspapers wouldn't be out for many hours. Those who cared were dependent on decisions by the three TV networks to cut in with news bulletins, which they obligingly did that particular evening.
It really was the topic of the day. I had spent much of the previous summer in a hot Milwaukee apartment watching Senator Sam Ervin's Watergate committee probe this scandal on a tiny black and white TV. When I got to my evening work at a local radio station, the talk show host often called me in to discuss that latest Washington Post stories about the scandal that I had just ripped off the Associated Press and United Press International wires. For me, and I am sure for millions of others, it was more of a real civics lesson than we had ever encountered at any level of education.
The previous year I reported on the Minnesota delegation to the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach for a group of radio stations. That convention wasn't viewed as the hot news event of that year, since Watergate had yet to surface as a huge issue. Those Post stories had gained little traction with voters or the rest of the media. Some derisively referred to the convention as Nixon's coronation. For me though, looking at it with fresh eyes, the corporate domination, cruising the canals of Miami on some Minneapolis gazillionaire's yacht with gin and tonics served by uniformed waiters and reporting the giggles and inane statements of Vice President Spiro Agnew?s wife Judi, were quite educational. Nixon of course subsequently buried Senator George McGovern in a landslide.
That evening in Madison in 1973, I got my wishes at an off-campus tavern, washing down the news of the firings with beer and talk. How this all compares with President Trump axing Acting AG Sally Yates remains to be seen and it's being pointed out that presidents and AGs --- who sometimes must offer unwelcome advice --- occasionally quarrel with each other. On the other hand, the White House decision to refer to Yates' decision not to enforce the untested executive travel ban as a "betrayal" is probably unprecedented. Even AG Eliot Richardson didn't get that treatment, though it probably reflects how the doomed Nixon really felt.
It remains to be seen whether President Trump will choose to make changes to an administration that in its opening weeks has proved to be high handed and generally clumsy in formulating and executing its policy goals and relationship with the world.
Nixon's obsessive secrecy had long been seen as his Achilles Heel as the history of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up have long established and things did not end well. Within less than a year --- Aug. 9, 1974, to be exact --- I was back near the UW campus, reporting for NPR. As the newly resigned president?s helicopter lifted off, the students watching on TV were chanting, "Impeach Jerry Ford, impeach Jerry Ford..."
Bruce Lloyd is a veteran journalist, who has been a longtime resident of Guam and Saipan. Send feedback to email@example.com