October 24, 2011
“On Oct. 20, 1973, in the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre,” President Richard M. Nixon abolished the office of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, and accepted the resignation of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and fired Deputy Attorney General William B. Ruckelshaus for their refusal to fire Mr. Cox. The president took the action to prevent Mr. Cox from obtaining audiotapes of White House conversations implicating Mr. Nixon in the attempted cover-up of the Watergate break-in (in 1972, five Nixon campaigners were caught trying to place recording devices inside Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex). Solicitor General Robert Bork, the acting attorney general, followed the president’s order to fire Mr. Cox. These actions enraged the public and many in Congress. The Oct. 21 New York Times wrote: “The president’s dramatic action edged the nation closer to the constitutional confrontation he said he was trying to avoid. Senior members of both parties in the House of Representatives were reported to seriously discuss impeaching the president.” The president was unable to stop the Watergate investigation, however. The new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, continued Mr. Cox’s work and forced the president to hand over the tapes in July 1974. Although 18 minutes of audio had been curiously edited out, the tapes did include a conversation in which Mr. Nixon suggested the C.I.A. shut down the F.B.I. investigation of the break-in. The so-called “Smoking Gun” tape was the final straw for Mr. Nixon, who resigned on Aug. 8." The News Media Is Still Recovering From Watergate. The reasons are many, of course. Public respect for the press has risen and dipped over the years, falling even at times when public wariness was not stoked by partisans. Some disenchantment may have been planted during the Watergate investigation itself. Indeed, Watergate and...