How Kissinger Snookered Journalists: What New Transcripts Show

Roundup: Talking About History

Jack Shafer, in Slate (Oct. 4, 2004):

During his years as national security adviser and secretary of state, Henry Kissinger wooed the Washington press corps with the flowers and chocolate of flattery and access. As Walter Isaacson writes in his 1992 biography, Kissinger, opinion columnists and the reporters who covered the State Department or the White House grew especially captivated by his charms....

All this love Kissinger spent on journalists did not go unreciprocated, as we now learn from the transcripts of his telephone conversations his secretaries and aides made in secret for Kissinger while listening in on another phone. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive, transcripts of 3,568 conversations between Kissinger and President Nixon, U.S. politicians, world leaders, ambassadors, Hollywood stars, and a score of journalists are now available at the State Department Electronic Reading Room.

While many of the reporters captured in Kissinger's amber must be ruing the release of the transcripts, news consumers everywhere should be celebrating this day. By revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly practices of Washington journalists, the transcripts demystify the news-manufacturing process and provide a cautionary tale for reporters who give away their hearts too easily, too quickly, and for too little.

The most devoted members of the Kissinger press cult, based on the phone transcripts, were CBS News Chief Diplomatic Correspondent Marvin Kalb, former New York Times Washington editor and columnist James"Scotty" Reston, and Time magazine's Hugh Sidey. But other figures tossed kisses to Kissinger from afar, including political columnist Stewart Alsop, former Los Angeles Times Publisher Otis Chandler, William Randolph Hearst Jr., and former Washington Star ownerand soon to be ex-Riggs Bank proprietor—Joseph L. Albritton.

Kalb sends an FTD-sized bouquet down the line to Kissinger on the evening of Sept. 22, 1973, the day he became secretary of state.

... I did wish you well from the bottom of my heart, the wisdom and the grace and the tolerance that are going to be so necessary to success because I very much have the feeling in the long sweep of history perhaps that your tenure is going to prove to be larger than simply something that has to do with diplomacy. There's a human and a psychological component here which has to be vindicated in a major way and I feel that very strongly and I wish you towering good luck.

After Gerald Ford loses the election to Jimmy Carter in 1976, Kissinger winds down at State, and Kalb provides a bookend to his 1973 testimonial in this Nov. 8, 1976, transcript:

You were very much in my mind through Tuesday evening of last week and I told you once at the birthday party something that is true and no matter who replaces you, it cannot be the same and you were in this job in a fairly unique position for a reporter. ...

I learned a lot and from that if someone is wise or foolish enough to put me into a government job, what I learned will be put to use.

Kissinger acknowledges Kalb's talent and his potential as a State Department official."I have always believed you and Ted [Koppel] and some of the others ought to spend a year or two in the government to round your perspectives," Kissinger says."If the new [Carter] people ask my opinion and you don't prohibit it, will you permit me to mention you as a possibility?"

Kalb responds,"Yes," adding:

You know my area of interest and passion. The fundamental thing is to carry on a policy that gives Israel the best chance of surviving and maintains a strong, growing, viable American position in the Arab world. It has been your position.


comments powered by Disqus