Watergate author on his 1973 book, meeting Nixon

The first American book on Watergate wasn’t “All the President’s Men” – it was “The Watergate Files”, co-authored by Bill Vitka. He spoke with WTOP about his experience writing the book, as well as the two times he found himself in the same room as then-President Richard Nixon.

A half-century ago Friday, the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in DC’s Foggy Bottom led to an investigation that gripped the country for two years and led to the states’ only presidential resignation. -United. This week, OMCP’s Rick Massimo talks to experts about how the whole affair has affected American politics, history, and even language ever since.


The first book on Watergate that most people think of is “All the President’s Men” by Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, but the first book published in the United States on Watergate is “The Watergate File”, co- written by a longtime radio journalist. Bill Vitka (father of Will Vitka of WTOP).

Vitka recently spoke with WTOP about his experience writing the book, as well as the two times he found himself in the same room as then-President Richard Nixon.

Vitka said editor Ken Moses chose him because he regularly covered the story for the rock radio station where he was news director; he enlisted his friends Bruce Buschel and Albert Robbins because the two-month turnaround (June to August 1973; the book came out in October) would have overwhelmed him.


Watergate Week on WTOP


“You had to follow the Watergate hearings to have any kind of innocent social interaction. Conversations began with “Have you seen the Watergate hearings? And most of us watched on PBS late at night, the regurgitation of what happened during the day.

Specifically, the book filled a niche for those watching along with the audiences: a who’s-who of the people filling America’s television screens, from Nixon’s aides to members of Congress. “All the witnesses and key players on the other side of the desk – we would identify them; we would describe who they were.

They were set up in a warehouse north of Philadelphia, where they would write chapters and edit each other. “I don’t think any of us slept normally for two months,” Vitka recalled.

The Times of London also published a book on Watergate in October 1973; “In England, their publication date is ahead of us by a day or two. In America, we beat them.

A double signature

Vitka met Nixon in 1972, just before the election: the president was in Philadelphia signing a bill; Vitka was reporting. He recalls Nixon’s events being so well-handled and his speeches so mundane that by the time he signed the bill, “everyone else was gone.” And I was just curious – I had never been this close to Richard Nixon before, and I had lived with Nixon most of my life.

He approached the lower stage and saw Nixon watching him. The president held out his hand and Vitka took it. After the handshake, Vitka was about to leave when Nixon motioned her to wait a moment and returned to the signing desk to give Vitka a ceremonial signing pen with the President’s autograph printed on the box.

A few weeks later, Vitka was covering a campaign event with Senator George McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic opponent. At the end, he asked McGovern to autograph the box next.

“And he agreed,” Vitka said. “He smiled when he signed it.”

The other time Vitka was in the same room as Nixon was at one of the inaugural balls in January 1973: “We had tuxedos, which, by the way, were really foreign outfits (to us ) at the time.”

He described the ball as “like watching an episode of Lawrence Welk on TV”, with remarks from Nixon on what he described as “a glorious day for Republicanism”.

“We thought we were being followed,” Vitka recalls, because even with the tuxedos, “we looked a little sloppy for, you know, a Republican inaugural ball.”

The fact that he and his photographer were gassed at a Vietnam War protest the day before probably didn’t help.

“It’s all part of that weird, vivid memory that is — I guess it (takes) about 30 seconds in the classroom these days — known as the 60s,” Vitka said.

And, like every interview subject this week, Vitka compared the Watergate saga to the January 6 hearings currently playing out on televisions across the country.

“Frankly, democracy is at stake, isn’t it?” Vitka said. “I mean, it’s amazing that more people don’t feel that in their stomachs. But they don’t.

Justice

While Vitka remains proud of the book – to this day he says, “I think the book is accurate”, and is proud that it was dedicated to security guard Frank Wills, whose keen eye detected the break-in that ultimately ended the Nixon presidency. . But the rest of “The Watergate Files” story doesn’t end so well.

The “editor” turned out not to be a publisher but an agent, Vitka said; once the manuscript was finished, it still had to be sold to a real publisher. The three authors received $150 in seed money, “and that’s all the money I got from the book.”

One day, Vitka was driving with her co-writers down 34th Street in Philadelphia when they saw their agent drive by. “Albert jumped out of the window. Half of him was missing; Bruce held him back. He was jumping out of the car to kill Ken Moses. … I guess that’s as close to justice as ever.

Angela C. Hale