There's a piquant contrast in the press coverage across the decades of Billy Graham's various private dealings with Richard Nixon, as displayed on the tapes gradually released from the National Archive or disclosed from Nixon's papers. I'll come shortly to the recent flap over Graham and Nixon's closet palaverings about the Jews, but first let's visit another interaction between the great evangelist and his commander in chief.
Back in April, 1989, a Graham memo to Nixon was made public. It took the form of a secret letter from Graham, dated April 15, 1969, drafted after Graham met in Bangkok with missionaries from Vietnam. These men of God said that if the peace talks in Paris were to fail, Nixon should step up the war and bomb the dikes. Such an act, Graham wrote, "could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam."
Graham lent his imprimatur to this recommendation. Thus, Graham was advocating a policy to the U.S. commander in chief that on Nixon's own estimate, recently disclosed in a tape from the archive, would have killed a million people. The German high commissioner in occupied Holland, Seyss-Inquart, was sentenced to death at Nuremberg for breaching dikes in Holland in World War II.
This disclosure of Graham as an aspirant war criminal did not excite any commotion when it became public in 1989, 20 years after it was written. Very different has been the reception of a new tape revealing Graham, Nixon and Haldeman discussing Jewish domination of the media and Graham decrying the "stranglehold" Jews have on the media.
On the account of James Warren in the Chicago Tribune, who has filed excellent stories down the years on Nixon's tapes, in this 1972 Oval Office session between Nixon, Haldeman and Graham, the president raises a topic about which "we can't talk about it publicly," namely Jewish influence in Hollywood and the media.
"This stranglehold has got to be broken, or the country's going down the drain," the nation's best-known preacher declares. "You believe that?" Nixon says. "Yes, sir," Graham says. "Oh, boy," replies Nixon. "So do I. I can't ever say that, but I believe it." "No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something," Graham replies.
Magnanimously, Nixon concedes that this does not mean "that all the Jews are bad" but that most are left-wing radicals who want "peace at any price except where support for Israel is concerned. The best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews." "That's right," agrees Graham, who later concurs with a Nixon assertion that a "powerful bloc" of Jews confronts Nixon in the media. "And they're the ones putting out the pornographic stuff," Graham adds.
Later, Graham says that "a lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."
After Graham's departure, Nixon says to Haldeman, "You know it was good we got this point about the Jews across." "It's a shocking point," Haldeman replies. "Well," says Nixon, "it's also the Jews are (an) irreligious, atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards."
Within days of these exchanges becoming public, the 83-year-old Graham was hauled from his semi-dotage and impelled to express public contrition. "Experts" on Graham were duly cited as expressing their "shock" at Graham's White House table talk.
Nixon thought American Jews were lefty peaceniks who dominated the Democratic Party and were behind the attacks on him. Graham reckoned it was Hollywood Jews who had sunk the nation in porn. Haldeman agreed with both of them. At whatever level of fantasy, they were all acknowledging power. But they didn't say they wanted to kill a million Jews. That's what Graham said about the Vietnamese, and no one raised a bleat.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch.
Creators Syndicate, Inc.