Friday, March 9, 2012

Who You Calling An Ambassador?

Max Holland's book about Mark Felt, Bob Woodward's secret Watergate source, gets kudos from former Nixon counsel John Dean (shown here), who compares it favorably with what he describes as a sloppy account of the scandal in Tim Weiner's new book about the FBI. Among other things he lauds Holland for making his own Watergate transcripts:
Weiner quotes Nixon from a conversation when he was reacting to information I had learned on October 19, 1972, which unequivocally established that Mark Felt was leaking information. At one point, Nixon said to Haldeman, in Weiner’s (incorrect) version: “You know what I’d do with him [Felt]? Bastard!” In fact, what Nixon really said to Haldeman was much more telling, and interesting. He didn’t say “Bastard!” Rather, he said, “Ambassador.”

In short, Nixon would have done with Felt what he would later do with CIA director Richard Helms, to keep him happy and get him out of the way: make him an ambassador in a foreign land.

According to Dean, Weiner doesn't identify his sources for Watergate transcripts. NARA tapes specialist Samuel W. Rushay, Jr. writes that two scholars have made this particular error, one of whom is Stanley Kutler, who rushed out a book of transcripts in 1998. More about Kutler's errors here. Kutler also erred when transcribing a comment of Nixon's about the ranking Republican on the Senate Watergate committee, Howard Baker. One day in 1973, Nixon told his aides that Baker needed bucking up, one of his classic idioms. Kutler picked another consonant. Funny how these mistakes never make 37 look better.


DJC said...

Yeah, On the tapes President Nixon often used the phrase "Bucking up" So it seems odd that this "preeminent historian" would make this mistake. If he were at all familiar with Nixon's conversations he should have recognized the term. Those of us who pay attention notice these mistakes too. The cumulative effect is to make us doubt their motives and sense of FairPlay.

Fr. John said...

Thanks for your comment, DJC. I pointed the error out to Kutler many years ago, and he could've changed it in subsequent editions of his book, but he didn't. When it comes to Nixon, Kutler's more pugilist than empiricist, though in fairness I've spent plenty of time wearing the former hat as well. In the end, the record will out. But until someone takes the time to make more exacting transcripts of key Watergate-related tapes, Kutler's hurried compilation is the canon. Too bad.

DJC said...

The fact that Kutler didn't correct the mistake after you pointed out the error, I think shows a disinterest on his part in pursuing absolute accuracy, it just doesn't speak well of him as dedicated historian.

For my part I found an error in the transcript where Tricia or Julie refer to a deer that would visit at Camp David. The transcriber has the girls referring to the deer as (the wolf?) I am pretty darn sure the girls called the deer "nibbles" . I doubt however, that the deer's name is a weighty enough issue to contact the authorities in this case. But my money is on "Nibbles" : )

Keep wearing that hat John, especially when "historians" like Kutler are so indifferent to the truth.