Why Comparing Obama To Nixon Over Imaginary Woodward Intimidation Is Ahistorical And Absurd

Matt Drudge is comparing the firestorm over whether Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward was threatened in an email by a White House aide to what happened in the Nixon White House, an absurd and ahistorical claim.

Right-wing media frequently compare President Obama to Nixon, highlighting instances in which they believe Obama White House activities rise to the level of the Nixon White House's “Enemies List.” But while many conservatives have abandoned Woodward's dubious intimidation claim, late in the afternoon on February 28 The Drudge Report featured the following:

Such a claim displays a staggering ignorance of what Nixon's “Enemies List” entailed. It was an effort directed from the highest levels of the White House to use the power of the federal government to financially damage political opponents, including journalists. And the Nixon White House did more than send mean emails to reporters; its aides actually plotted to kill a critical columnist.

The list in question was a 1971 memorandum from White House Counsel John Dean to White House Chief of Staff John Haldeman's assistant entitled “Dealing with our political enemies.” Revealed during the Watergate hearings, its stated topic was “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” The memo laid out a plan by which a “good project coordinator” would take requests from high ranking presidential aides about targets; determine how to use the federal government's power to damage them, including “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation prosecution, etc”; and receive “the full support of the top officials” in federal agencies to implement that plan.

Then there were the actions of Nixon administration and campaign official G. Gordon Liddy. As Media Matters has documented:

Liddy served four and a half years in prison in connection with his conviction for his role in the Watergate break-in and the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Liddy has acknowledged preparing to kill someone during the Ellsberg break-in “if necessary”; plotting to murder journalist Jack Anderson; plotting with a “gangland figure” to murder Howard Hunt to stop him from cooperating with investigators; plotting to firebomb the Brookings Institution; and plotting to kidnap “leftist guerillas” at the 1972 Republican National Convention -- a plan he outlined to the Nixon administration using terminology borrowed from the Nazis. (The murder, firebombing, and kidnapping plots were never carried out; the break-ins were.)

Journalist Mark Feldstein has written that the plot to murder Anderson, a syndicated columnist critical of Nixon, originated with White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson. A 2010 Politico article details claims about the plot to kill Anderson from Feldstein's book:

Liddy and another Nixon operative, former CIA agent Howard Hunt, tailed the columnist and examined his Maryland home for “vulnerabilities,” Hunt recalled. And later, they met at the Hay Adams Hotel with a CIA physician involved in a plot to poison Fidel Castro and plotted the poisoning of Jack Anderson.

They discussed painting the steering wheel of his car with enough LSD to make him have a car crash, or perhaps dropping a poisoned pill into his aspirin bottle. Liddy eventually suggested Anderson “should just become a fatal victim of the notorious Washington street-crime rate.”

Liddy and Hunt eventually called off the plan because they had something more important to do: bug the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate.

By contrast, Woodward received an email from White House economic adviser Gene Sperling in which the aide stated, “I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that [President Obama] asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim.” Woodward replied to that email in part, “I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening.”