Meeting the boss

The doors of the private elevator opened. A very serious man in a navy blue suit smiled slightly and said, ”Good morning, Mr. Dunn. I’m sorry I don’t recognize you because I don’t watch TV news.”

“That’s your first mistake”, I replied.

I was being candid with Richard Nixon because I was there to be interviewed by the former Vice President for the position of Press Secretary for his 1968 campaign for president. I had been told in pre-interviews with his aides that Nixon ignored TV news and I thought I would make a strong first impression, 

I entered the apartment at 565 Fifth Avenue, taking off my overcoat; I followed him to a study where we sat briefly at a coffee table. He seemed nervous and ill at ease having a stranger in his home. Since the stranger was a TV reporter his wariness seemed justified.

“Would you care for coffee?’ he asked.

“Yes, thank-you,” I replied. I was cold to the bone; having walked three blocks in the bitter cold January morning after the cabby took me to the wrong address.
Nixon walked across the study, picked up a phone and spoke softly to someone. I presumed it was an order for coffee. He hung up the phone and sat at the table where I had opened a copy the day’s New York Times. I planned to use it in our conversation to give examples of how he, as a candidate, might respond to the events of the day. Nixon was famous for his hatred and distrust of the media. When he lost a congressional campaign in California several years earlier he had angrily announced his retirement from politics telling assembled reporters, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.”

He had obviously reconsidered and had spent the intervening years building an organization for a run for the Republican Nomination for President. During those years I had attempted several times to arrange an interview with Nixon. I worked as a reporter WCBS-TV News in New York and an exclusive interview with a former vice-president would be a major career booster. Prior to working at CBS I was Administrative Assistant and Press Secretary for Ed Gurney, a Republican Congressman from Florida. I assumed my GOP credentials would help. And that’s why Nixon was now interviewing me.

During the next 90 minutes we discussed many things. I pointed to news items in the newspaper I had brought and suggested positive, vote-getting responses he might make during the campaign. A few times the phone rang. Each time he would ignore the ringing for a minute or two, finally getting up to answer the call. Then he would hang up the phone and look at it for a few seconds and say. “Somebody’s supposed to get that.” Then he would return to the table and we would resume.

At one point he looked up and excused himself to walk into the dining room. I noticed Pat Nixon in an overcoat standing at the dining table. Nixon walked over, reached in his pocket and handed something to his wife. It appeared to me that he was giving her money to go shopping. 

By then it was about Noon and our time was up. As I walked off the elevator and strode back into the windy Manhattan streets it suddenly occurred to me.
I never did get that cup of coffee.

A few days later I got a call from Pat Buchanan, the Nixon aide who had arranged everything. He told me “The Boss” was very impressed and would I consider leaving CBS to join the campaign. Suddenly, reality hit me in the face. Leave CBS? Working here was my career goal. What if Nixon lost. Could I return to me old job? I spoke with my boss and was told I could not take a leave of absence. I would have to resign.

I sat down at my typewriter and wrote a nice letter to the former Vice President saying thinks, but no thanks.

Why take a chance with a guy who couldn’t deliver on a cup of coffee in his own home.