One can only speculate about the cost, the tremendous effort, and the man-hours it must take to monitor the television networks and dozens of newspapers in such minute detail every day, then boil it down into written form, assemble it, and when the President is out of Washington—transmit it to him.
The Administration sees political advantage in attacking the press, says Hugh Sidey of Time, “but don’t discount their general hostility toward the press. It bubbles to the surface all the time. I once asked JFK what ever possessed him to call the steel men SOB’s. He said, ‘Because it felt so good.’ Some of that is here in the attacks on the press. Under Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, the staff guys would bitch and moan about us, but there was always a sense of public trust, that they were awed by the responsibility given to them, and they understood this and would talk about what they were doing. They would talk about things. You could talk, write about, or disagree with them, but at the end of the day you could have a drink with them. There is no sense of that with these people.
“This crowd came in like an occupying army. They took over the White House like a stockade, and the Watergate, and screw everybody else. They have no sense that the government doesn’t belong to them, that it’s something they’re holding in trust for the people.”
“We feel the general pressure,” says Tom Wicker, associate editor and columnist of the New York Times. “No administration in history has turned loose as high an official as the Vice President to level a constant fusillade of criticism at the press. The Pentagon Papers case was pressure of the most immense kind. You have the Earl Caldwell case. If they indict Neil Sheehan, it will be pressure. In a sense, even the Ellsberg indictment is a form of pressure.
“There is a constant pattern of pressure intended to inhibit us. What the lawyers call a chilling effect. To make us unconsciously pull in our horns.” In December, 1971, Wicker said, he had received a telephone call from James Reston: “Scotty called me from Washington. I was in New York, and something had come up about the Sheehan case. I said, ‘I don’t think we ought to talk about this on the phone.’ I don’t know if they were listening. But if they can make us feel that way, hell, they’ve won the game already.”
One comes away from an interview with presidential press secretary Ronald Ziegler with the feeling of having sunk slowly, hopelessly, into a quagmire of marshmallows. But unless a newsman is out of favor, Ziegler is at least accessible to the press. To an unprecedented degree in the modern presidency, President Nixon is not.
Ziegler says that there has been no intent to intimidate the press. “Unless the press can point to efforts on the part of the government to restrain them, they shouldn’t care. I suppose if we were in a debate, someone would point to the Pentagon Papers. I feel the government had to take that view, do what they did.” Ziegler paused. “And after all,” he said, “the Pentagon Papers were published.”
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The executive suite on the thirty-fifth floor of the Columbia Broadcasting System skyscraper in Manhattan is a tasteful blend of dark wood paneling, expensive abstract paintings, thick carpets, and pleasing colors. It has the quiet look of power. Over breakfast in the small private dining room of the executive suite, Frank Stanton, the president of CBS for twenty-five years, talked candidly about the relationship between government and the television industry. I was interested, I explained, in pressures by government on the TV networks. I particularly wanted to know about telephone calls from Presidents; I recognized that this was a delicate subject, but I assumed that as head of CBS he had received some. He had, as it turned out, from several Presidents.