Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘Watergate’:

“This Was Air Force One…”

I just learned of the death, earlier this week, of Col. Ralph Albertazzie, who piloted Air Force One during the Nixon administration. That brought to mind the photograph I made at Andrews Air Force Base on August 9, 1974, as the Nixon family boarded Air Force One for the final time.

Nixon boarding Air Force One

Col. Albertazzie commanded that flight, and the attached obit, quoting from his book, “The Flying White House,” notes the exact time and location when Air Force One changed its call sign to SAM 27000. That was the moment that Gerald Ford was sworn in as President, and Nixon became a private citizen.

Gerald Ford's first speech as President

Applause for Gerald Ford

I managed to make it back to the White House in time for the swearing in and later got a look at the Oval Office without any sign of its previous occupant or the new President.

Empty Oval Office

“The End of the Story”: Nixon Resigns, Ending the Watergate Scandal

Today marks the 36th anniversary of of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency. I was in Washington, working for The New York Times Magazine on what was to be the last in a series of long-form stories dedicated to Watergate and its aftermath. I remember that the issue was to be called “The End of the Story,” and that while most journalists (and most of the country) felt that resignation, rather than an impeachment trial, would be the outcome, the exact timing was in doubt.

Newspaper reading 'Nixon Resigning On TV Tonight'

I was on Capitol Hill, photographing one of the members of the House Judiciary Committee, when he took a phone call indicating the resignation would come that evening. He suggested (and I already knew) that the White House was the place to be. From that moment, things played out very quickly. I remember taking a moment to shoot the picture of the young man in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just because it tied the event to the location.

When President Nixon addressed the nation that evening, I chose to be in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. It probably should have been a more somber occasion, but Nixon was such a polarizing figure that, in the park and other public places, the atmosphere was festive. After all, the illegal activities that were denied for so long had now been confirmed, and millions of Americans felt vindicated in their dislike of the man and his closest associates.

Tom Brokaw watching Nixon resigning with the White House in the background

These two pictures from the park were not published the next day (or ever) but I think tell the story. Tom Brokaw, then 34 and the White House correspondent for NBC News since 1973, watched and reported on Nixon’s speech from Lafayette Park, with the White House as his backdrop and surrounded by crowds who could see Nixon on the same TV set that Brokaw was using as a monitor. The hand-lettered signs were all anti-Nixon (the one that still stands out: Jail to the Chief.) I do remember taking a published picture later that evening on Pennsylvania Avenue — a jubilant crowd carrying a long white banner: Happy Days Are Here Again.

Tom Brokaw watching Nixon resigning on television

Anyway, the resignation officially took place at noon the following day, and I had a great position at Andrews Air Force Base as still-President Nixon boarded Air Force One with his wife, family members, and aides for the flight to California. No big wave as he entered the plane, just the image of a disgraced president slowly climbing the stairs with Pat. At the bottom of the frame, his daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, and her husband, who boarded after her parents.

Nixon boarding Air Force One

From there, it was a very quick drive back to the White House and the swearing-in of Gerald Ford as our next president. The next big story of the summer? Evel Knievel and his failed attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. More on that later.

This post concludes our three-part series on the Watergate scandal. Click here if you missed our earlier posts on Watergate, with photos from the Senate Watergate hearings and Nixon’s televised address on Watergate.

Nixon’s First Watergate Speech

In my last post, I wrote about the 1973 Watergate hearings that ultimately led to Richard Nixon’s resignation, in August 1974. My intention had been to wait until this year’s anniversary of the resignation to continue the story. Then I came across  a series of 4×5 negatives from April 30, 1973 that add a bit of dimension to the story. On that date, in prime time, Nixon addressed the nation in his first televised speech on the subject of Watergate.

Trying to come up with a picture that would capture both the importance of the event and to connect it with the President’s use of television, I decided to make the photos directly from the television set. Remember, in those days there were no VCRs, no TiVo, no way (at least at home) to capture an image from television except to photograph the screen, at a shutter speed slow enough to record the full set of scanning lines at a moment without subject movement. I chose  the 4×5 format, shooting 8 sheets of film, to preserve detail and because a leaf shutter would avoid the problems that happen when you try to photograph a television screen with a focal-plane shutter.

Nixon addressing the nation on the Watergate scandal

Anyway, the image was a success, and it ran big in a subsequent editorial section of The New York Times. But the speech itself was of huge importance — Nixon announced the resignations of his top aides, Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman, as well as those of the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, John Dean. In the speech, he noted that there were 1,361 days remaining in the second term of his presidency, which he wanted “to be the best days in America’s history.” As it turned out, he didn’t have that that many left as president, and they weren’t the best in the nation’s history.

The speech itself is great reading — he speaks of being “shocked” and “appalled” to learn of the Watergate affair, of being determined “to get to the bottom of the matter, and that the truth should be fully brought out—no matter who was involved.” At various points, the President refers to ‘improper activities’ and ‘shady tactics.’ In fact what’s most interesting in reading the full text of this speech is how easily so much of it could be transposed to other addresses of the presidents, from both parties, who have succeeded Richard Nixon.

Less than a month later, the Senate Watergate hearings began. And as I began to write this, word came that Daniel Schorr, the great CBS News correspondent (and a senior political analyst for NPR for the last 25 years) has died at 93. Besides being one of the original Murrow Boys (in the greatest era of broadcast news), Dan Schorr earned a place on Nixon’s famous “enemies list” for his political reporting.  That list grew from a 1971 memo written by John Dean, addressing “the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”

Some things never change.

Photos from the Watergate Hearings

The latest excursion into my photo archives took me back 37 years, to the Senate Watergate hearings in the spring and summer of 1973. And from there, to the botched break-in the year before at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, eventually leading to the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974.

Daniel Ellsberg

In many ways, the story really began in June 1971, with a former Marine officer and Vietnam veteran named Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg, working as an analyst with the RAND Corporation, had access to classified military documents and leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan of The New York Times (and a number of other newspapers.) Those documents disclosed much about Vietnam War strategy during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. Simply put, the thousands of pages that comprised the Pentagon Papers showed top officials’ belief that the war could not be won and that casualties would be far higher than ever publicly speculated. Ellsberg’s actions caused Nixon and his top aides to establish a secret group, known as the “White House Plumbers” (since they would stop leaks), who used both legal and illegal methods to investigate Ellsberg and anyone he worked with.

Robert Odle being sworn in at the Watergate hearings, Summer 1973Nixon’s well-known insecurity (you may recall his famous ‘enemies list’) combined with the eagerness of his top aides to fan the flames of his paranoia. So as Nixon’s “Committee to Re-Elect the President” (known by its unfortunate acronym CREEP), took on the 1972 campaign, the Plumbers went to work again. After the break-in at the DNC’s offices was revealed to be far more than a ‘third-rate burglary,’ Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post were off and running with the story that would end with Nixon’s resignation.

The Watergate hearings began on May 17, 1973, and one of the earliest witnesses was Robert Odle, 29, who was CREEP’s personnel director. As photo assignments go, this was not difficult work. The Senate Caucus Room was lit for national television; photographers were not ducking for cover; the off-mike huddles of senators and staff made for riveting pictures. Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC), chaired the committee and was a great subject, as was the Vice-Chairman, Howard Baker (R-TN), who famously asked during the hearings, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Here’s Baker (l.), Ervin in the middle, and the committee’s Chief Counsel, Samuel Dash (r.) during one of their many huddles.

Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC) at the Watergate hearings, Summer 1973

But if you had any sense of where this might lead, coupled with a strong interest in national politics, that summer, Washington was definitely the place to be. On a personal note, I spent so much time in Washington that summer that my three-and-a-half year old daughter saw far more of me on television (in the wide shots of the hearing) than she did in person.

So when I watch current hearings in Washington, whether about the conduct of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or the banking crisis, or the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I think back to 1973 and the competition to produce better images, different images than everyone else. Some things never change, but most important for me, it was the chance to bear witness to history. In August 1974, the Watergate story came to an end… but I’ll leave that to an upcoming post.

Robert Odle explaining the CREEP org chart at the Watergate hearings