I have always prided myself on being able to maintain journalistic detachment about politicians, even Richard Nixon. But when my involvement with a politician is such that it could color my views, I count it my journalistic obligation to make full disclosure.
The politician in question is Patrick Buchanan. My problem with him - or maybe his problem with me - goes beyond his much criticized defense of Hitler as "an individual of great courage ... a soldier's soldier ... a genius."
It goes back to 1971, when Mr. Buchanan was a speechwriter for President Nixon.
He drafted a speech in which Nixon promised a Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus audience to rescue the parochial schools in the face of Supreme Court decisions barring federal aid to religious institutions.
Asked to report on the CBS Evening News how he would do that, I checked with education officials and Catholic school lobbyists, and I reported that the speech seemed to be little more than political rhetoric.
Buchanan expressed his resentment to Nixon, and Nixon had J. Edgar Hoover investigate me in the hope of digging up some dirt on me. When The Washington Post broke the story of the investigation with a front-page headline, "FBI Probes Newsman Critical of President," the White House, in a hasty damage-control session, devised a cover story that my background was being checked because I was under consideration for a White House appointment. The story was that, through an oversight, I had not been apprised of the job.
Appearing on ABC's Dick Cavett Show, Buchanan was asked why a journalist so critical of Nixon would be considered for an administration job. Groping for an answer, Buchanan replied, "When you've got a guy that's hatcheting you on the air night after night, maybe you say to yourself, 'Why don't we offer the clown a job and give him a big fat paycheck and get him off?' "
What Buchanan would have done with the dirt on me, if the FBI had found any, I would not venture to say. Anyway, nothing bad happened to me. And the misuse of the FBI became one item in the bill of impeachment against Nixon (under Article II, "Abuse of Power").
So, I'm not mad at Buchanan. But it is interesting to know that at least when he was young and brash, he wouldn't hesitate to use the FBI against someone who got in his way.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society