Watergate Vignettes by
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Prompted By Watergate

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Rather than offer a cohesive narrative on Watergate (i.e., I’m too damn lazy), let me just offer the first two personal vignettes that came to mind.

Let me just offer the first two personal vignettes that come to mind...

Vignette #1.  Before Archie Cox came to Washington for his less than excellent adventure in the Nixon White House, he was a highly esteemed law professor at Harvard.  He was called upon to head an ad hoc “Committee on Rights and Responsibilities” organized to deal with the building occupations and related protests at Harvard in 69-70.  Cynical students — which is to say, most of us — would say to the Harvard administration that the Committee was all about YOUR rights and OUR responsibilities.

Anyhow. there was some student demonstration that took place and Harvard had brought photographers to take pictures of students who were involved for possible disciplinary actions.  Not very popular, and Cox was asked to rule upon whether the photographs would be used for these purposes. Coincidentally, at the same time, the Nieman Fellows, real live journalists who came to Harvard for a while each year to study, were given their annual, one-edition opportunity to write the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.  Typically, when they did so, the Fellows would adopt the style of a particular newspaper in the process.  That year it was Variety, the entertainment paper known for its catchy, pithy headlines.  So when Cox decided not to use the photographs, the Fellows’ Crimson blared out the following headline: “COX NIX DEMO PIX!”  Perfect.  And whenever I read about Cox, that headline is still the first thing I think of.

Vignette #2.  On August 9th, 1974, having both graduated from law school and heading towards our wedding later that month, my fiancée (now former wife) had an appointment for a fitting of her wedding dress at a very tony little dress shop on the North Shore of Long Island.  The shop was small and I really could not have easily waited inside during her fitting and yet still honor that old tradition about not seeing the bridal dress before the wedding.  So I, not unhappily, sat in my car outside the shop listening to the radio and quickly learned that Nixon was possibly resigning that day.  In fact, the news radio stations had turned to non-stop coverage of it.  Both my fiancée and I had followed the hearings very closely — one of the advantages of being a third year law student was that there was not a whole lot of class or study time and we had already locked in our jobs at law firms — so I knew she would be excited to know what was happening. I discreetly got the message delivered to her via one of the people in the shop and she spent the next few hours running between the shop and my car (slipping in and out of her dress each time, no doubt to the annoyance of her fitters) to catch as much of the news as possible.  As it turned out, she had a slight “wardrobe malfunction” at our wedding (nothing X-rated; it had to do with what she was wearing on her head) which we attributed to the somewhat slapdash fitting, but we both agreed that August 9th would be a happily memorable day for both of us.  (Ironically, it is also my current wife’s birthday, so we also celebrate its dual happy meaning.)

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Characterizations: been there, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Great vignettes, John. I had forgetten that Cox was head of the CRR. And I have no memory of that Variety-style headline in the Crimson, but I love it! I also love the image of your bride-to-be running in and out of the bridal shoppe to check on Nixon. He had made his resignation speech the night before, so I’m wondering if there was still any doubt at that point.

    I don’t remember the wedding “wardrobe malfunction” either, which makes me wonder if I am losing it. I would think something like that would have been unforgettable, given my fondness for your bride..

  2. John Zussman says:

    I applaud your decision (not lazy at all) to relate to the prompt through vignettes! Those little anecdotes contain our personal relationship to a very broad topic; it’s what each of us can contribute to our generation’s social history. I especially love the Niemann Fellows’ Crimson headline, which rings a familiar bell—but not so familiar that I could tell it as my own anecdote.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Well, John and Suzy have said it all. I love your vignettes! The Crimson headline is classic (wish I could come up with such witty stuff) and your personal connection to Nixon’s resignation date (two-fold) is also wonderful. Love the wardrobe malfunction; glad it wasn’t serious.

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