Did Nixon Say “I Am Not a Crook” in Answer to York Native Journalist’s Question?
It seems that a good many distinguished journalists have had York County ties, either having been born and raised here or gained experience at one of the local papers. One example is York-born journalist Dick Smyser, well known in the newspaper world as an outstanding editor.
Dick Smyser was born in York August 19, 1923. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism in 1944. At Penn State he was the managing editor of the Daily Collegian, and he returned there as visiting professor of journalism from 1989 to 1991. Smyser passed away in 2005.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Smyser started his journalism career at the Chester Times [Pa.]. While still in his early twenties he was hired as the first managing editor of the new Oak Ridger, a privately owned newspaper for the government “secret city” in Tennessee, the site of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb. He led that paper for the next 45 years as it recorded the Oak Ridge evolution from a government-owned community to modern, self-governed city.
Smyser is also known for his determination to integrate newsrooms in an era when most reporters were white males. He had opportunities to further that cause while serving as president of the Associated Press Managing Editors in 1973-74 and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1984-85.
At the 1973 APME conference in Orlando, Smyser had his brush with popular culture. It has been widely reported that President Nixon stated “Well, I’m not a crook.” in answer to a question asked by Dick Smyser. But is that what really happened?
Yes and no. After reading numerous accounts from a clipping I already had and from reliable sources found by an internet search, this seems to be what happened:
Dick Smyser asked Nixon about the demands of being president: “To what extent do you think this explains possibly how something like Watergate can occur?”
Nixon stated that he had been busy with the Vietnam War and a China trip, but reportedly said: “The man at the top has got to take the heat.” He went right on to talk for some minutes about his personal finances and finished with “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.”
What does Watergate have to do with Nixon’s financial state? That’s where the confusion came in. Nixon answered Smyser’s question with the taking the heat admission. He then doubled back to finish answering a previous question by Joseph Ungaro of the Providence [R.I.] Evening Bulletin about whether Nixon had accurately reported his income taxes.
So it turns out Smyser should be rightly recognized for his milestones in journalism, not for one brief encounter with a soon to be discredited politician.