Press Box

Nixon Cons Johnny Apple From the Grave

Nobody in the press corps believed Richard Nixon when he was alive. So why is R.W. Apple giving such credence to what six-years-dead Dick wrote in his memoirs? In a survey piece about tight U.S. presidential elections published on Page One of today’s New York Times, Apple writes about “suspicions” that Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson manipulated the vote in Illinois and Texas to swing the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. Apple then quotes Nixon on the subject, taking him at complete face value:

In his book, “RN, the Memoirs of Richard Nixon,” … Mr. Nixon wrote, “There is no doubt that there was substantial vote fraud in the 1960 election. Texas and Illinois produced the most damaging as well as the most flagrant examples.” But he quickly accepted the verdict.Why? “A presidential recount would require up to half a year, during which time the legitimacy of Kennedy’s election would be in question,” Mr. Nixon explained in the memoirs. “The effect could be devastating to America’s foreign relations. I could not subject the country to such a situation. And what if I demanded a recount and it turned out that despite the vote fraud Kennedy had still won? Charges of ‘sore loser’ would follow me through history and preclude any possibility of a further political career.”

Hah! Far from “accepting the verdict,” close Nixon aides Bob Finch and Len Hall dispatched operatives to investigate voter fraud in several states, as David Greenberg wrote in Slatelast month. Within three days of the election, the GOP chairman had called for investigations and recounts in 11 states. Recounts were mounted, grand juries were empanelled, and the FBI was called in. The press also investigated the charges.

According to Greenberg, the results of the GOP challenges were “meager,” although the GOP’s failure to uncover massive voter fraud doesn’t mean the election was clean. Was the election fixed? “That question remains unsolved and unsolvable,” Greenberg writes. “But what’s typically left out of the legend is that multiple election boards saw no reason to overturn the results. Neither did state or federal judges.”

So what did Nixon know about the challenges, and when did he know it? Although everybody on Team Nixon insisted that the boss knew nothing about their efforts on his behalf, Greenberg calls these “implausible assertion[s] that could only have been designed to help Nixon dodge the dreaded ‘sore loser’ label.” Greenberg concludes his piece:

At a 1960 Christmas party, [Nixon] was heard greeting guests, “We won but they stole it from us.” Nixon nursed the grudge for years, and when he was criticized for his Watergate crimes he would cite the Kennedys’ misdeeds as precedent.

Photograph of Richard Nixon on the Slate Table of Contents from Bettmann/Corbis.