Helen Thomas' Account of the News Conference (May 1974)

Helen Thomas was the former dean of the White House press corps. Her book Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President was published in 2002. Also by Helen Thomas--Dateline: White House (1975), and Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times (1999).

I WILL ALWAYS CONSIDER REMARKABLE the joint news conference Julie and David held in the East Garden in May 1974. John F. Kennedy might have called it a "profile in courage," with both of them facing a barrage of penetrating questions on Watergate. I had pressed the First Lady's press secretary, Helen Smith, for an interview with Julie after the release of the massive White House tapes and subsequent calls for Nixon's resignation. Other reporters apparently did the same thing and a press conference was arranged to accommodate all of us.

I had the first question and asked, "Do either of you foresee any circumstances where the president would resign?"

"Absolutely not, no," said David. He added that his answer was "categorical."

Julie replied, "You know, Helen, I am not surprised by the question. In fact, Helen Smith called David and me yesterday and said so many members of the media have wanted to talk to us and that this was the number-one question. Then yesterday I got three calls from friends in different states saying,'We have heard these rumors. Is it true they are drawing up papers of resignation?' That is one of the rumors floating around, and I don't know how those rumors get started, but there really is no truth to it at all. He is stronger now than he ever has been in his determination to see this through."

Julie and David had been primed for the question-and-answer session the night before during a cruise down the Potomac River with the President and Mrs. Nixon aboard the yacht Sequoia.

CBS correspondent Robert Pierpont shook Julie for a moment when he observed, "Mrs. Eisenhower, may I say first of all, that I feel I have to apologize for addressing these questions to you, since in our system we do not hold the sins of the fathers against the following generations, and we don't have a monarchy in which you are going to inherit the power. I am not quite sure why you are here to answer these questions."

"Mr. Pierpont," Julie responded, her voice quavering with emotion, "I am going
to try to control myself in answering the question because it really does wound me. First of all, I am here to answer these questions because Helen Smith said that she received fifty-five phone calls from members of the media wanting to know the family's reaction and wanting to know if my father was going to resign.

"Now if the media has a hangup and an obsession about resignation and feels that they must be reassured from members of the family that my father is not going to resign, I feel that as a daughter it is my obligation to come out here and to say, 'No, he is not going to resign.' "

Julie continued, saying that her father "does not want me out here because he does not want anyone to construe that I am trying to answer questions for him. I am not trying to answer questions for him. I am just trying to pray for enough courage to meet his courage. Really."

Questioned on whether Nixon had discussed resigning with his family, she admitted he had and, "he has said—in fact last night, it was a very great quotation, very quotable—he said he would take this constitutionally down to the wire. He said he would go to the Senate, and he said if there was one Senator who believed in him, that is the way it would be. So if the Committee votes a bill of impeachment, if the House goes through with it, if it goes to the Senate, he has said if there is only one Senator that it is going to be a constitutional process."

Julie, in the same news conference, called the beginning of Watergate a "third- or fourth-rate burglary," reminiscent of Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler's first public comment on the subject in 1972. She commented that Nixon's enthusiastic aides simply tried to win "brownie points" with the President, but went too far.

No daughter ever had greater love for her father. Julie believed in her father and battled the growing forces seeking his resignation or impeachment. She insisted her father was not going to "bug out" and she and her mother were the last to be convinced he should relinquish his post.

from Dateline: White House (1975) by reporter Helen Thomas