President, pastor recorded views in 1972 meeting
By James Warren
Tribune staff reporter
March 1, 2002
Rev. Billy Graham openly voiced a belief that Jews control the American media, calling it a "stranglehold" during a 1972 conversation with President Richard Nixon, according to a tape of the Oval Office meeting released Thursday by the National Archives.
"This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain," the nation’s best-known preacher declared as he agreed with a stream of bigoted Nixon comments about Jews and their perceived influence in American life.
"You believe that?" Nixon says after the "stranglehold" comment.
"Yes, sir," Graham says.
"Oh, boy," replies Nixon. "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.
Later, Graham mentions that he has friends in the media who are Jewish, saying they "swarm around me and are friendly to me." But, he confides to Nixon, "They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country."
The newly released tapes cover the first six months of 1972, with the Vietnam War and the upcoming presidential campaign the backdrops for many conversations. The tapes touch subjects as varied as using a nuclear bomb on North Vietnam–a notion quickly derided by adviser Henry Kissinger–and settling a West Coast dock strike.
They also include all of the famous "smoking gun" conversation about the Watergate break-in, known for its damaging disclosures about a cover-up and its 18 1/2-minute gap.
The Nixon-Graham remarks came during a 90-minute session after a prayer breakfast the men attended on Feb. 1, 1972.
"I find this rather stunning," said William Martin, a professor of religion and sociology at Rice University in Houston and author of "A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story."
"This is out of character with anything else I have heard Billy Graham say or be quoted as saying. It is disappointing," Martin said.
"What Graham said that day is inexcusable. Did it ever occur to him that he should have countered the president?" said Martin Marty, a religious historian at the University of Chicago who noted the distinction some conservative evangelicals and Pentecostals have made between supporting Israel but not American Jews.
"One really did not associate him with this," said Michael Kotzin, a vice president at the Jewish United Fund in Chicago. "Rather than try to direct Nixon in a different direction, he reinforces him and eggs him on when it came to these stereotypes, and that’s troubling."
Graham, 83, is not in good health and indicated, through spokesman Larry Ross, that he could not respond because he did not recall the conversation.
Thursday’s release of 426 hours brings to about 2,600, out of a total of 3,700, the hours of recordings either publicly disclosed or returned to the Nixon family because they were deemed strictly personal. Many recordings, including the Graham tape, are edited to exclude content believed to disclose national security information, constitute a clearly 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 claiming that his harshness was often a display of faux machismo in the presence of H.R. Haldeman or his other top aide, John Erlichman.
While other prominent figures, such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then a Nixon aide, 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. The friendship remained strong until Nixon was brought down by the Watergate scandal and resigned the presidency in August 1974.
Haldeman’s diaries noted the conversation. He wrote that there was discussion "of the terrible problem arising from the total Jewish domination of the media, and agreement that this was something that would have to be dealt with."
He continues, "Graham has the strong feeling that the Bible says there are satanic Jews and there’s where our problem arises." No such comments about the Bible are found on the tape released Thursday but, because it contains several long deletions, it’s believed such remarks were excised.
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. That’s the best I’ve heard you at one of those breakfast things."
After offering Nixon tips on preparing himself for big speeches, as well as 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."
Hollywood and the media
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?" says Graham, 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 that their writers are "95 percent Jewish."
Nixon 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," agrees Graham, who 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 [James] 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 CBS.
"From CBS, Rather, Dan Rather, is Rather?" says Haldeman. 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."
Nixon says, "You must not let them know."
The conversation turns to religious magazines, postal rates and Nixon’s uncharitable thoughts on certain Cabinet members. Graham then leaves and, a few minutes later, Nixon tells Haldeman, "You know it was good we got this point about the Jews across."
"It’s a shocking point," says Haldeman, a frequent cheerleader during Nixon’s diatribes.
"Well," says Nixon, "it’s also, the Jews are irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards."
Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune