WATERGATE: The Public: Disillusioned

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From almost every region of the country last week, the message for Richard Nixon was ominous. Now it was not the outcry of his traditional liberal opponents that threatened him. Instead, it was a swelling disillusionment and outrage among many of his sturdiest supporters, his natural Republican and Middle American constituency. In surprisingly large numbers Americans were making their way through the long White House transcripts—at least four soft-backed versions were selling fast—and what they learned from those complex, intimate conversations was beginning to crystallize.

In interviews throughout the nation, TIME correspondents found some willingness to defend Nixon. But across the board, among Democrats, independents and Republicans, the transcripts appeared to have accomplished a decisive shift in public opinion.

Nixon was badly damaged by a stunning series of defections among newspapers that had previously supported him. The Chicago Tribune, the most influential voice of conservative Republicanism in the Midwest, came out with a long scathing editorial demanding Nixon's resignation. Ironically, two weeks ago the White House had slipped an advance copy of the transcripts to the Tribune because the paper's publishers intended to run the full text, which they did. Shortly before the Tribune's presses started running with its editorial, Presidential Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler called Tribune Editor Clayton Kirkpatrick, long a supporter of Nixon policies, and urged him to reconsider. The record, Ziegler argued, was incomplete. "You made it so," Kirkpatrick shot back. Ziegler finally said he was very sorry that the Tribune was moved to take such a position. "I'm kind of sorry about it myself," said Kirkpatrick.

Even more startling was the apostasy of the Omaha World-Herald, a highly conservative paper whose support for Nixon was evident for years in its news columns as well as on its editorial page. Those views reflected the thinking not only of its owner Peter Kiewit, a construction multimillionaire and Nixon contributor, but also of the people of the state that it blankets. Nixon got his best voter percentages in Nebraska in 1960 and 1968, and only a few other states did better for him in 1972. Yet the World-Herald concluded last week that Nixon should resign. A remarkable number of other major newspapers that had previously supported Nixon—including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Kansas City Times and the Los Angeles Time—urged his removal from office. The nation's largest newspaper, the normally pro-Nixon New York Daily News, stopped short of demanding impeachment, but said the President's failure to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee "demonstrates an appalling insensitivity to his moral obligations."

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