Dick Cavett’s Watergate Looks Back on Nixon’s Resignation, 40 Years Ago
SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WGGB) — 40 years ago Friday night, August 8th 1974, Richard Nixon became the first President to resign from office, saying, “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”
With those words, Richard Nixon became the first American President to resign from office. The events leading up to that resignation began two years before, June 17th, 1972, when five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington DC.
With the exception of the nightly network news shows, no one on television devoted more airtime to Watergate than talk show host Dick Cavett. And that’s the catalyst for a PBS special Friday night, Dick Cavett’s Watergate.
ABC40’s Dave Madsen spoke with Cavett by phone recently about the first mention of the break in on his show.
It came two days after the burglary with his guest, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy.
Cavett asked Kennedy if he thought former Attorney General John Mitchell, who was the chairman of the Committee to Re-elect the President, knew about the men who committed the Watergate break-in.
Kennedy said he didn’t know, but Cavett felt then and still does that Kennedy knew more than he was saying.
Cavett added, “Absolutely and I think it shows in his face and at that one point where he says, where he says, maybe you better answer that. I ask him about Mitchell and he laughs, sure he did.”
From 1972 to 1974, America watched the Watergate Scandal unfold on “The Dick Cavett Show”. Cavett interviewed nearly every major Watergate figure – on both sides of the Crisis – including John Ehrlichman, Alexander Haig, G. Gordon Liddy, Jeb Magruder and members of the Senate Watergate Committee from the Senate Room where the Watergate hearings were taking place in the summer of 1973.
Cavett was even mentioned in the White House tapes, not once, but 26 times, as in this conversation Nixon had with special counsel to the President Charles Colson.
Colson: We’ve complained bitterly about the Cavett Show. =
Nixon: Well is there any way we could screw him? That’s what I mean. There must be ways.
“That’s kind of a startling thing to hear from the most powerful man in the world”, says Cavett. “He did find a way, he screwed my staff instead. If not for one sheer chance meeting with these two women on my staff, I still wouldn’t know. I don’t know how he thought that was going to hurt be personally unless my staff would have to declare bankruptcy because of it, I don’t know. But then, illegal use of the IRS was one of his hobbies.”
Cavett says Nixon had the IRS audit his two staffers.
Cavett hopes that the upcoming Watergate program serves as a reminder to all of us about the impact the scandal had on the Presidency and the nation, saying “I guess what a close shave the country had in having a man of such wretched character being able to manipulate, quite cleverly, the electoral process enough to get his criminal presence into the White House and how the system worked. People don’t have much faith in it anymore, but I’m trying to avoid the phrase, there was a time, when the system, after a lot of suffering, came to the right conclusion.”
Cavett told Madsen, like so many Americans, he hated then President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, adding, “It became clearer that he was right. In the sense that he states, I think in the show, that this would have been the news every day for possibly four more years. Nixon was here, Nixon was in court, Nixon seeks this. And the mess landed in his lap and he needed to deal with everything else the country had going for and against it and not the Yorbalinda wonder and his mishaps.”
Dick Cavett’s Watergate also includes new interviews with some of the major players of the time. They include former White House Council, John Dean, who warned Nixon of the cancer growing in the White House. And the two young Washington Post reporters Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the biggest story in American politics.
Cavett never expected he and his talk show would play a major role informing the American public about Watergate, saying “I set out to do an entertaining talk show when I went into television never dreaming that I’d get up to my neck in a national scandal.”
Dick Cavett’s Watergate airs on PBS stations Friday night at 9, exactly 40 years to the hour that President Nixon appeared on television to announce his resignation