Tuesday, June 07, 2005

JEWISH QUESTION REDUX From Seymour Hersh at The New Yorker:
It was late in the evening on May 16, 1973, and I was in the Washington bureau of The Times, immersed in yet another story about Watergate. The paper had been overwhelmed by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s reporting for the Washington Post the previous year, and I was trying to catch up. The subject this time was Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s national-security adviser.

I had called Kissinger to get his comment on a report, which The Times was planning to run, that he had been involved in wiretapping reporters, fellow Administration officials, and even his own aides on the National Security Council. At first, he had indignantly denied the story.

When I told him that I had information from sources in the Justice Department that he had personally forwarded the wiretap requests to the F.B.I., he was silent, and then said that he might have to resign.

The implicit message was that this would be bad for the country, and that The Times would be blamed. A few minutes later, the columnist James Reston, who was a friend of Kissinger’s, padded up to my desk and asked, gently, if I understood that “Henry” was serious about resigning. I did understand, but Watergate was more important than Kissinger.

Alexander Haig, Kissinger’s sometimes loyal deputy, had called a few times during the day to beat back the story. At around seven o’clock, there was a final call. “You’re Jewish, aren’t you, Seymour?” In all our previous conversations, I’d been “Sy.” I said yes. “Let me ask you one question, then,” Haig said.

“Do you honestly believe that Henry Kissinger, a Jewish refugee from Germany who lost thirteen members of his family to the Nazis, could engage in such police-state tactics as wiretapping his own aides? If there is any doubt, you owe it to yourself, your beliefs, and your nation to give us one day to prove that your story is wrong.” That was Watergate, circa 1973. The Times printed the story the next day, and Kissinger did not resign.
Ah, the glory days.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.