The well-known preacher told Nixon that he needed to deal with the Jewish ''stranglehold'' on the media. The president agreed.
Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2002
CHICAGO -- The Rev. Billy Graham apologized Friday for a conversation with former President Richard Nixon in which he said the Jewish "stranglehold" of the media was ruining the country and must be broken.
The conversation was among 500 hours of Nixon tapes released by the National Archives this week.
"This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain," the nation's best-known preacher said as he agreed with a stream of bigoted Nixon comments on Feb. 1, 1972.
"You believe that?" Nixon says.
"Yes, sir," Graham says.
"Oh, boy," Nixon replies. "So do I. I can't ever say that but I believe it."
"No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something," Graham replies.
In a statement released Friday by his Texas public relations firm, Graham apologized for the remarks.
"Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon . . . some 30 years ago," Graham said. "They do not reflect my views and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks."
Graham's statement said his legacy has been one of working for stronger bonds between Jews and Christians. Graham, 83, has been in frail health for years.
The newly released tapes cover the first six months of 1972, with the Vietnam War and the upcoming campaign the backdrops for many conversations. The Nixon-Graham remarks came during a 90-minute session after a prayer breakfast the men attended.
Thursday's release of 426 hours brings to about 2,600, out of 3,700, the hours of recordings publicly disclosed or returned to the Nixon family because they were deemed personal. Many, including the Graham tape, are edited to exclude content believed to disclose national security information, constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy or reveal trade secrets, among other matters.
Previous tapes have underscored the complexity of Nixon, including his insecurity and occasional nastiness. Apologists tend to cite his fits of bigotry as ancillary to his policy achievements, with the Nixon estate saying that his harshness was often a display of faux machismo in the presence of H.R. Haldeman or his other top aide, John Erhlichman.
While other prominent figures can also be heard on tapes during mean-spirited discourses by Nixon, many assumed a more passive role. Graham is unusual for being a distinguished outsider actively taking part.
Graham and Nixon had become close friends during the Eisenhower administration, when Nixon was vice president. They were of the same generation and reflected a strong opposition to communism and a shared evangelical bent. The friendship remained strong until Nixon was brought down by the Watergate scandal and resigned the presidency.
The lengthy chat opens with Graham praising Nixon's prayer breakfast remarks. "There were a lot of people in tears when you finished this morning and it's very moving."
After offering Nixon tips on preparing himself for big speeches and strategy for his re-election campaign, Graham notes that he has been invited to lunch with editors of Time magazine. "I was quite amazed since this is the first time I've heard from Time since (Time founder) Henry Luce died."
"You meet with all their editors, you better take your Jewish beanie," Haldeman says.
Graham laughs. "Is that right? I don't know any of them now."
Nixon then broaches a subject about which "we can't talk about it publicly," namely Jewish influence in Hollywood and the media. He cites Paul Keyes, a political conservative who is executive producer of the NBC hit, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, as telling him that "11 of the 12 writers are Jewish."
"That right?" Graham says, prompting Nixon to claim that Life magazine, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and others are "totally dominated by the Jews." He calls network TV anchors, Howard K. Smith, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite "front men who may not be of that persuasion," but said their writers are "95 percent Jewish."
He demurs that this does not mean "that all the Jews are bad" but that most are left-wing radicals who want "peace at any price except where support for Israel is concerned. The best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews."
"That's right," Graham agrees, and later concurs with a Nixon assertion that a "powerful bloc" of Jews confronts Nixon in the media. "And they're the ones putting out the pornographic stuff," Graham adds.
Nixon contends that "every Democratic candidate will owe his election to Jewish people," but he won't.
Haldeman turns the subject to the White House press corps and the Gridiron Club, a bastion of the media establishment, both of which they say were mostly WASP once, but no more.
"It was the Merriman Smiths, the Dick Wilsons, the Kilpatricks, all that kind of people. But you look at what covers the president today and it's really kind of scary," Haldeman says. Haldeman and Nixon cite by name reporters from the Los Angeles Times (David Kraslow), New York Times (Max Frankel), Washington Post (Stanley Karnow) and NBC (Herb Kaplow) but stumble on getting to CBS.
"From CBS, Rather, Dan Rather, is Rather? . . . ," Haldeman says. A deletion then follows with the next voice heard being that of Graham, who alludes to A.M. Rosenthal, managing editor of the New York Times.
"But I have to lean a little bit, you know. I go and see friend of Mr. Rosenthal at the New York Times, and people of that sort. And all, I don't mean all the Jews, but a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country. And I have no power and no way to handle them."
Nixon says, "You must not let them know."
-- Information from the Chicago Tribune and Associated Press was used in this report.