In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, yesterday family and friends gathered for the funeral of the editor who had been credited with getting Nixon to declare “I am not a crook.” Well, sort of. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Dick Smyser was the founding editor of the Oak Ridger, the first newspaper in the formerly secret city that grew up during World War II. During the 44 years he edited the paper, he served stints as president of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association (1973-74) and as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (1984-85).
It was as during the 1973 APME convention that he questioned President Nixon about how the pressures of the presidency might have impacted Watergate. Nixon’s answer referenced Vietnam and his trip to China, eventually saying, “The man at the top has got to take the heat.” Then Nixon talked for several more minutes about personal finances before he famously concluded,”People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.”
And so Dick Smyser got his own little piece of history and his obit last Monday moved nationally on the AP Wire. Headline after headline reported “D. Smyser, got ‘I’m not crook’ quote.” Alas, if he only deserved the credit.
A day after the initial obit, the AP moved a “clarification” (wire news-speak for not wanting to admit that something deserves a “correction”), explaining that, while technically Nixon’s famous oration happened following Smyser’s question, Nixon wasn’t answering his question:
Nixon made the statement at the end of a long answer to a question by Smyser about how Watergate could have occurred. However, Nixon was referring to a previous question by Joseph Ungaro of The Providence Evening Bulletin, who had asked if Nixon had accurately reported his income taxes.
Ungaro currently is serving as the ombudsman for Stars and Stripes, which means at some point we’ll should, by all rights, get another round of national obits entitled “J. Ungaro, got ‘I’m not crook’ quote.”