Operator: [White House Chief of Staff] Mr. [H.R. “Bob”] Haldeman∇, Mr. President.
President Nixon: Hello?
Bob Haldeman: Yes, sir.
President Nixon: What do you hear from [Charles W. “Chuck”] Colson∇ [unclear]?
Haldeman: Well, we've got some of the reaction.1 President [James E.] Cheek of Howard says, ‘particularly impressed with composure, correct in the manner in which he's handling the Vietnam war withdrawals.'
President Nixon: Huh? Called Cheek?
Haldeman: Yeah. [Unclear.] Checked a whole range of them [unclear].
President Nixon: I don't know. I don't want to appear to be—we're sucking around.
Haldeman: We're not, really.
President Nixon: OK.
Haldeman: He makes the point, he supports the concept of the neighborhood schools, which is kind of interesting. Kenneth Brown, the President of the Lithographers-Printers Union, felt the China questions were handled very well. He agrees with the President. Still has difficulty on the POW [Prisoner of War] question. [Unclear] John Oswald the president of Penn State said, ‘Handled the demonstrator question very positively with his willingness to listen to those coming and to deal firmly with those coming with violence.'
President Nixon: [Laughs.]
Haldeman: ‘Admires that the president's consistency came across with great assurance.' And—
President Nixon: The president of Penn State, that's not bad.
Haldeman: Yeah. John Watlington, the president of Wachovia Bank in Winston Salem, North Carolina, says, ‘Better than ever. Very forthright. Smiled more. Busing question could not have been answered better.'
President Nixon: What?
Haldeman: The busing question. That's pretty good from North Carolina. Gordon Edwards, the chairman of Kraft Corporation, ‘Great, tremendous, well-prepared, couldn't agree with him more, answers regarding demonstrators very solid.' Here's an interesting [one], Mayor [Lawrence] Kramer of Paterson, New Jersey, said he was quite impressed with the effective delivery of the President, particularly on the questions of Red China. Busing question was the most difficult one asked this evening to which the president gave an outstanding answer. He was delighted to see the President in a different colored suit. It brought life and action.
President Nixon: The light suit, yeah, that [unclear].
Haldeman: And he says the lectern was an asset, because it gave him something to do with his hands. And-–
President Nixon: See, that's the point.
Haldeman: He liked that. So [unclear] that. Charlie Lanigan, the [Republican Party] state chairman of New York said the firmness was good, but you were too legalistic on the busing issue. He liked the reasonableness the President projected on the demonstrator issue. Mayor [James ] Tate of Philadelphia said he liked the phrase that ‘once we break the ice, we can test the waters' with regard to Red China. He thought his answers about the Chinese situation were very good. The mayor is personally quite discouraged about the demonstrators in Washington and their behavior. And Tom Boardman, Cleveland Press, felt he defended the position on Vietnam in a very persuasive and logical tone. ‘I believe it was the strongest point in this whole administration.' Thought it was complete and China was good, sorry there were not more domestic questions, particularly on the economy.
President Nixon: They never ask them!
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Haldeman: Reg Murphy of The Atlanta Constitution says it was a very, very good show. ‘I had a feeling he was being quite cautious about the Communist Chinese situation, which I think is appropriate. The prisoner thing is a very good step. If we continue to take that kind of initiative, we'll change the mood and [unclear] many of the things that are wrong. I agree that there should be no terminal date on the war. I buy that. I absolutely disagree with what he says on Lt. Calley.'2
President Nixon: Huh.
Haldeman: ‘All in all a very, very effective appearance.' John Colburn of The Wichita [Eagle and Beacon]—
President Nixon: You know you've got to expect some of that.
Haldeman: Sure, I agree. Absolutely. We've got to.
President Nixon: [Unclear] it's really a terribly difficult issue.
Haldeman: But they still, overall—
President Nixon: Even honest men—you know, I think one of the most effective things I did, which nobody has mentioned, is when I said I realized that none of the people in this room agree with the demonstrators.
President Nixon: What did you think?
Haldeman: Hit the reporters. I think that was great.
President Nixon: And I understand it. I respect [unclear] and I want to tell you why I think I [unclear]. You know?
President Nixon: That was good, to hit them, don't you think?
Haldeman: I sure do. John Colburn, Wichita Beacon says, ‘Good explanation of policy, especially on POWs and on China policy. Clarified the Calley case very well. Better than the April 7th speech.' [Unclear.] Everett Collier, Houston Chronicle, said you were especially good from a Texas viewpoint on busing and peace demonstrators.
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Haldeman: [Unclear.] Martin Hayden of the Detroit News says, ‘Excellent, ought to do it more often, ‘cause the press won't lay a hand on him. If only there were three more Sarah McClendons.3 Busing comment excellent. Handled [Vice President Spiro T.] Agnew's off-the-record thing very well.'4
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Haldeman: Yeah. Robert Watkins head of the National Medical Association—he's a black—
President Nixon: Black.
Haldeman: —felt those comments on the war make sense, was disappointed [unclear] that reporters didn't mention any domestic issues.
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Haldeman: Put Livermore, who's now a [Republican Party] state chairman in California-–
President Nixon: Yeah.
Haldeman: —says you commanded the issues 100 percent, felt the questions were unusually difficult, [but] handled well. Emmett Dedmon of The Chicago Sun Times, ‘Tonight I felt the President sounded like the President of all the people, not an echo of the Pentagon. He was in complete charge. I can't remember when he's been more effective in a news conference.'
President Nixon: He liked it because of the China question.
Haldeman: Yup. ‘I thought he made very clear the U.S. position on POWs and the lengths to which the country will go to return these men. He really communicated with the American people tonight. And as you know, I don't hesitate to criticize,' which is right. He does.
President Nixon: He's a good friend because he doesn't, he really isn't with us ideologically, but he is not against—
Haldeman: —against us personally. [unclear].
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Haldeman: Here's an interesting one: Mayor [James R.] Allen of Columbus, Georgia, said—
President Nixon: [Unclear] Columbus, Georgia?
Haldeman: ‘The president's telecast was great overall. Really liked his answers on Vietnam, especially with regard to not getting out right now because we need to ensure peace for our children and our children's children. Thinks the president should continue to emphasize it's not Nixon's War. He should carefully make it clear it's inherited. He particularly liked the gentlemanly way that did not blame either LBJ or JFK.' That was beautiful.
President Nixon: Didn't you think that was pretty good?
Haldeman: Cause you clearly did blame ‘em both [laughs] by saying you didn't. I think you did.
President Nixon: What I said, in a sense, well, now it's not our fault, I'm not . . . I thought it was good, though, didn't you?
Haldeman: Yeah. It was great. On Calley, he thought it was wise for the president to defend his decision to review the case on the basis of the concerns the American people had. He said Columbus, Georgia and Fort Benning are practically unanimous. ‘It's been a great strain in our area.' Really liked the statement on busing, and even though the Supreme Court may rule contrary to our opinion, that no man is above the law, including the president. The mayor feels these are great words. The mayor can now cite them and say that he believes as the President does that we need a law and order society. Regarding POWs: Very important—
President Nixon: That was a good line.
President Nixon: ‘Nobody is above the law, including the president.'
Haldeman: ‘The POWs, it's very important to continue emphasizing. The president did. We can't pull out until all of them are returned. This statement offers the American people real hope.' The mayor liked the president's firm stand on not setting a date for withdrawal. Mayor Allen said, ‘The deep South is loving him more than ever.'
President Nixon: [laughs] Let's go to Columbus.
Haldeman: Yeah. Mike O'Neill, New York Daily News, ‘I thought the president tonight clarified for Hanoi the conditions under which he will maintain a residual force in Vietnam. There should be no confusion now on the POW issue. I was not aware that Ambassador [David K.E.] Bruce told the [National] Liberation Front today [unclear] made the news [unclear].5
President Nixon: I didn't know that!
Haldeman: ‘The way the president walked through the intricacies of the Supreme Court's decision on busing was beautiful.'
President Nixon: Some thought that was too legalistic an answer, Bob, but I had to give a legalistic answer in order to be credible [unclear] knew what the hell it was all about. Do you agree?
Haldeman: Sure. You're never going to give an answer that everybody likes, you know. If you hadn't been legalistic, the other people would've criticized that.
President Nixon: But really, I could've taken 30 minutes.
Haldeman: Yeah. You did it in four and a half. Well, I think [unclear].
President Nixon: The main thing is that, you know, people say be more—how much [unclear]. If it will [unclear] every two weeks, I'll do it every two weeks.
Haldeman: I don't think it will, but—
President Nixon: [Unclear] it will, let me say, I've got to have more time off to to do it. This is a hell of an exercise.
Haldeman: Oh, yeah.
President Nixon: [Unclear.] do it more often. Once a month? [Unclear.]
Haldeman: Or every three weeks. No more than every three weeks. I don't think you can do it twice a month.
President Nixon: Every two weeks. No, I agree.
Haldeman: I think you can do this and then something else. [Unclear.]
President Nixon: It's interesting so many people [unclear] the suit.
President Nixon: Remember our poll? So many people [unclear].
President Nixon: Yep. Yep.
Haldeman: It's more interesting.
President Nixon: Press conference [unclear] goddamn fight, Bob.
Haldeman: That's right. You don't know what's going to happen next. In a speech, it's a logical building up and you know basically [unclear] people who really care about the subject, which isn't very many people.
President Nixon: OK. Fine.
Haldeman: Very good.
1 Nixon had held a news conference that day, and his aides had solicited reactions to it from opinion leaders. (↑)
2 Nixon reiterated his intention to review the case of Lt. William L. Calley, Jr., who was court martialed for murder in the My Lai massacre. (↑)
3 Sarah McClendon, a reporter for Texas publications, was known for her piquant questioning style at presidential news conferences. (↑)
4 Agnew had expressed reservations about the diplomatic opening to China that found their way into print. (↑)
5 Nixon had mentioned in his news conference that the leader of the United States delegation to the Paris Peace Talks, Amb. David K.E. Bruce, had informed the North Vietnamese of plans to repatriate 540 sick or wounded North Vietnamese prisoners to Hanoi and that the United States was willing to repatriate all prisoners to a neutral third country if the North did the same. (↑)