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Robert G. Nixon Oral History Interview, November 23, 1970

Oral History Interview with
Robert G. Nixon

News correspondent with the International News Service, 1930-58; served as editor of the service for a time. He first came to Washington, D.C., in 1938 where he served as their State Department and foreign relations correspondent. He was a war correspondent, attached to the British army in France and Belgium, 1940, during invasion of the low countries; evacuated from Dunkirk but later returned to France; evacuated with remnants of the British army from Brest, June 20, 1940; covered London Blitz, 1940-41; war correspondent, attached to United States forces in European theater of operations, 1942-1943; correspondent in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, and Mediterranean theater, participating in North African invasion and campaign. Covered Casablanca conference, 1943; Quebec conference, 1944; and Potsdam, 1945. Washington correspondent covering the White House beginning in 1944.

Bethesda, Maryland
November 23, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nixon Oral History Transcripts]


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened December, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Robert G. Nixon

Bethesda, Maryland
November 23, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[984]

HESS: Mr. Nixon, at the end of our last interview we were discussing Mr. Truman's return to Jackson County at the end of his term of office.

NIXON: Yes. When a President leaves the White House, the door behind him is not completely closed. He may be President one day and ex-President the next day, but the obligations of the Presidency, to a considerable extent, go with him. The authority is gone, but many obligations remain. While he is no longer President, there is a tremendous holdover from eight years in the White House. He needs offices of his own. He needs a staff, secretaries, and so forth. He continues to get a vast volume of mail which has to be handled and answered. He continues to get requests for help from

[985]

people all over the country. In a sense, he has to carry on. He still has a great deal of work to do.

With this in mind, the President rented an office suite in the Federal Reserve Building in Kansas City. He had a private office for himself and one for his secretary Rose Conway. There was a large outside office for other members of the staff assisting Rose Conway.

The morning after his arrival in Independence from Washington, the President was able once more to drive his own car. While in the White House, he had driven a car on a couple of other occasions, which caused great consternation in the press.

We had gone to visit Stan Woodward and his wife near Charlottesville, Virginia. They had a beautiful home in the hills, not far from Thomas Jefferson's famous home. Coming back from there on a Sunday morning, the President

[986]

insisted on taking the wheel of an open car and driving it at an 80 to 90 mile an hour clip, over these narrow, winding, high crowned Virginia roads to Washington.

On another occasion, he did the same when we were out in Washington State visiting Mon Walgren, then the Governor of Washington. We drove up to Mt. Rainier and coming back the President drove himself in an open care at a very rapid gait around those mountain roads. As I say, both of these two occasions caused some consternation when they were duly reported in the Nation's news media.

The norm, for any President, is that he never does these things for himself. They are all done for him. A Secret Service man is assigned as the driver of presidential cars. A second Secret Service man is always in the other front seat of the car.

[987]

Once back in his own home town of Independence, the President found that he, now, could do these things again. The morning after his return to Independence, he got into his open car and drove the fifteen miles or so into Kansas City. He parked his car in a parking lot adjacent to the Federal Reserve Building and walked across the street to the entrance where I was waiting. With him was one Secret Service agent who was assigned to the ex-President for security reasons. We all walked into the Federal Reserve Building, got into the elevator, and went up to the floor where the President's new offices were located. The Secret Service agent was a few steps ahead, and, as usual, he started to open the door. The President said, in a loud voice, "Please, wait. Let me open my own door. This is the first time in eight years that I have been able to open my own door, and I'm going to do it now." The Secret Service agent

[988]

smiled and drew back. The President swung the door open, with a big broad smile on his face, and we all trooped into his office.

HESS: How long did you remain in Kansas City before you came back?

NIXON: A week or ten days.

HESS: Approximately how many interviews with him did you have, or, what do you recall about that period of time? Just how often did you see Mr. Truman during that week or ten days?

NIXON: I saw him every day. Through a long period of frustrations over such things as the Krock interview, I had been determined to break the door down myself. Now this was an extremely difficult thing to do, because I represented one of three press associations. That meant that the other two press associations were my competitors. For a President to extend a

[989]

privilege to one, and exclude the other two, was almost impossible to achieve.

Several weeks before the President was to leave office (this was after the election), I figured that the time was now ripe, finally, at long last. So, I wrote the President a letter and gave it to Roger Tubby.

No, I'm mistaken. Let's erase that. I didn't trust Tubby. I didn't give it to him. I gave it to the President direct.

HESS: That's good, how about leaving that in?

NIXON: It is?

HESS: Why didn't you trust Roger Tubby?

NIXON: For the reason that I just explained. The competitive nature of the representatives of the three press associations. I was about to say I had entrusted this letter to Roger Tubby to give the President, but my recollection

[990]

is that I did not for this reason I've just explained.

HESS: He wasn't a member of either one of the other press associations was he?

NIXON: He was Press Secretary to the President. As such, he had to guard against favoritism. In other words, if I gave the letter to him to give to the President, I would have to let him read the letter. I couldn't because, in this letter, I was pointing out to the President that he was now virtually on the point of leaving office and that I would like an exclusive interview. I sent my letter directly to the President. After he read it, and gave it some thought, he called in Roger Tubby. Tubby apparently said, "You cannot give an exclusive interview to Bob Nixon. You can give him an interview if you wish, but if you do so, you must also

[991]

call in the other regulars." So, Tubby upset my apple cart right there.

That evening I received a telephone call at my residence from Tubby. He said, "The President will see you at 9:30 tomorrow morning for a half hour."

He had arranged for me to come in a private entrance so the other newsmen covering the White House wouldn't know anything about this. So, I went to the White House the following morning, having communicated this to my office, in the belief that I was finally getting an exclusive interview.

I sat down with the President in his office that morning, with Tubby leaning over our shoulders. I questioned him about his administration and his tenure in office. Frankly, I didn't probe too deeply. The fact that this was an exclusive interview clothed it in rather

[992]

regal array.

I had only thirty minutes to talk with him. Covering the events of eight years in thirty minutes was not a simple thing to do. This was all off-the-cuff, I hadn't prepared written questions ahead of time. The nature of the interview did not call for that.

As I was leaving, with my "exclusive" interview, the President said a strange thing to me. He said, "Bob, you're going to have to go along with me on this." Frankly, I didn't know what he was talking about. As I later learned, it was this tunneling by Tubby that he was referring to.

In getting this interview, I had agreed with the President that I would turn my story over to Tubby for clearance. That meant to me, that Tubby would take my story, go over it himself, and take it in to the President. They

[993]

would then tell me if they objected. In other words, this could not go on our wires until they released it.

A day went by after I had taken this down to Tubby. My New York office was screaming, "When are you going to get that interview?" Another day went by, not a word; another day went by, still not a word.

I went to Tubby and I said, "What in hell is going on? The acetylene torch is right up against my backsides."

Tubby replied something to the effect, "Well, we're not quite ready to release it yet, but the story's all right. I'll let you know when you can have it back."

Finally, he did release it to me. It was put on our wires as an exclusive interview with the President. Meanwhile Tubby had not intimated that I had opened a door, not only

[994]

for myself, but for all of the regulars around covering the White House: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Star, the AP, the UP, even down to news representatives of the Mutual Broadcasting Company, who regularly covered the White House.

I will admit that they at least granted me the privilege to get the interview out, but then like a drum fire these interviews began spilling out all over the place: in the New York Times, in the Washington Post, in the Washington Star, and on the radio. You can imagine what happened to me. My New York office was outraged. But how could I tell them what I didn't know. Tubby had given me no intimation of this whatsoever. The only thing that I had was this rather cryptic remark from the President when he said, "Bob, you're going to have to go along with me."

[995]

I think I was treated very badly by Roger Tubby. In a sense, I don't blame him because again, he was trying to keep the heat away from himself. If my exclusive interview had hit the Nation's press, alone, he would have gotten the same heat that the President got when he gave that exclusive to Krock several years earlier. So he was trying to protect himself. The thing that I did resent and resent to this day, is the fact that he did not intimate to me what was going on. He pulled the rug out from underneath me. I had found that I had opened the door not only for myself, but for my competitors. Now, this was a dirty deal.

HESS: The fact that he told you nothing about it.

NIXON: That's right. This was a dirty deal. I was burning, and I burned for weeks. I was determined that I was just not going to have it rammed down my throat and take it.

[996]

When the President left office I knew that Tubby was no longer around. I didn't have to deal with him and his machinations. He couldn't do me dirt again. So, I arranged with my New York office, to go on the train with Truman back to Independence and write the stories about an ex-President's return to his home town.

On the train going to Independence I got Rose Conway aside. She knew what had been going on. I talked to her, and I pointed out what had happened. I also pointed out that I was sure that Mr. Truman did not want, over night to become a forgotten President. He was completely overshadowed, at the moment, by the adulation of the Nation's news media for Eisenhower. I felt, that in justice both to the President and to myself, that I still was due an exclusive interview of my own, unconnected

[997]

with any of my competitors. I said, "Rose, will you please take this word to the President?" Which she did. It was arranged. I forget whether Rose got in touch with me or the President got in touch.

I saw him every day following his return. I would sit up in his outside office half of the day writing stories about an ex-President back home. In any event, the President set up an exclusive interview, and this one was a real exclusive. This was picked up by the New York Times, which we didn't serve, even though I had copyrighted it. I guess my New York office permitted them to use the guts of it. This was the interview in which the President said that the Russians did not then have the atomic bomb.

In the interview, I said, "Mr. President, you announced sometime ago that the Russians had exploded an atomic device. The wording

[998]

struck me as rather odd. I wondered why the word "device" was used and not "atomic bomb."

The President said, "They haven't got the bomb. They exploded, as far as we know, an atomic device. We do not believe that they have the bomb because they don't have the know-how. They set off a device, but that doesn't mean they have the bomb."

I had my story. I covered some other areas, but this was the big story. This was the eight column headline. So, away I went to my telephone at the hotel to tell New York. I had, again, agreed that I would let the President see what I had written before it went on the wire. So, instead of dictating a story flat out on the long distance phone, as I would normally do, I sat down and very carefully wrote this interview. The President went over it, word by

[999]

word, and approved it.

This frankly, was a self-protective device, as well as a protective device for the President. He approved it, as near as I can recall, without any