(Spoiler alert: Contains a major reveal about Steven Spielberg’s wonderful “The Post.”)
The final sequence of Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” features a vindictive and petty Richard Nixon, on a recorded line, demanding of an underling that no Washington Post reporters be allowed in the White House ever again. It’s a great ending — but is it accurate?
Yes and no. Nixon absolutely did tell his obsequious press secretary, Ron Ziegler, that “no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House.” If the audio in the film isn’t the actual recording (which you can check out above), it’s a very fair and faithful re-creation.
But the film takes a lot of license with timing.
The film may give the impression that Nixon spoke to his underling soon after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and at roughly the same time as the Watergate break-in.
In fact, the Washington Post began publishing its Pentagon Papers stories on June 18, 1971. The Watergate break-in was just a day short of a year later: June 17, 1972 — though Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s gradual stream of scoops about the crime, and the White House’s involvement, unfolded over many months.
Nixon beat Democrat George McGovern in a crushing landslide on Nov. 7, 1972. And then he issued his petty command about the Post on Dec. 11, 1972 — following weeks of Post scoops about Watergate.
So the break-in and the “no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House” were actually about six months apart.
Interestingly, if you listen closely to the recording, it sounds like Nixon does make one exception for the Post — for press conferences. Here’s my best transcription from the 30-second mark:
Nixon: I want it clearly understood that from now on, ever, no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House. Is that clear?
Nixon: Unless it’s a press conference.
Ziegler: Yes sir. Just the briefing here, but…
Nixon: Never in the White House, no church service, nothing with Mrs. Nixon does, you tell Connie, don’t tell Mrs. Nixon, ’cause she’ll approve it. No reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House again. And no photographer either. No photographer. Is that clear? None ever to be in. Now that is a total order and if necessary I’ll fire you. You understand?
Ziegler: I do understand.
Nixon: Okay. All right. Good. Thank you.
And so it was that no Washington Post reporter was ever allowed in the White House, ever again. (Except for press conferences.)