WATERGATE III: COVER UP

John Erlichmann: There were many times that you simply did not call Richard Nixon in a situation like that if you wanted to continue to do business with him. He could freeze you out. So they were being very politic, I guess, and letting him spout off. That was the Queen of Hearts syndrome, we called it, “off with their heads.”

30 January 1973: President Richard Nixon is sworn in to his second term of office after a landslide victory over George McGovern.

7 February 1973: the Senate forms a subcommittee to investigate presidential campaign activities, chaired by Sam Ervin and Howard Baker.

29 March 1973: At his sentencing, convicted Watergate burglar James McCord gives a letter to Judge John Sirica alleging that the defendants plead guilty under duress and that both White House Council John Dean and John Mitchell urged them to stay silent and that Dean arranged for the transfer to hush money to the burglars families.

17 April 1973: President Nixon announces that White House staff will appear before the Senate Committee. He promises “major new developments” in the investigation and says there has been real progress towards finding the truth. Nixon states he had no prior knowledge of the Watergate affair

30 April 1973: Nixon appears on national television and announces the dismissal of Dean and the resignations of H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.

25 May 1973: Former Solicitor-General Archibald Cox is sworn in as the Justice Department’s special prosecutor for Watergate. He was nominated by Attorney General-designate Elliot Richardson.

Watergate prosecutors find a memo addressed to John Ehrlichman describing in detail the plans to burglarize the office of Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

25 June 1973: Testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean claims that Nixon was involved in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary within days of the break-in. In a seven-hour opening statement, he details a program of political espionage activites conducted by the White House in recent years. During the questioning, ranking Republican Sen. Howard Baker sums up the problem by asking Dean “what did the president know and when did he know it?”

13 July 1973: Alexander P. Butterfield, a former presidential appointments secretary, informs the Senate Committee of the White House taping system.

Sen. Fred Thompson: Mr Butterfield, are you aware of any listening devices in the office of the president?

Alexander Butterfield: I was aware of listening devices, yes sir.

Butterfield testifies that since 1971, Nixon has recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his office. A protracted legal battle begins between the White House, the Congress and the Special Prosecutor.

TRUCKERS AND CB RADIOS

Jane Stern’s Trucker is a romanticized, pop-sociology account of the independent truck driver. The image of the nomadic “leaver of the pack” who adheres to a quasi-chivalric code of conduct was adapted slightly in the 1970s. Blue-collar grunts were transformed into anti-establishment rogues, members of a diesel-fueled counter-culture with beards and acoustic guitars, who frequented roadside diners instead of outdoor concerts. Just like the peace-loving pothead, the free-thinking, independent ways of the “good buddy” were constantly threatened by killjoy, incompetent cops.

Truckers, however, had a secret weapon that allowed them to exceed speed limits and drive overweight rigs with impunity, the Citizen’s Band radio, a lo-tech transmitting device that operated on the lower, open (read: bad) frequencies available for public use. The insider argot that allowed truckers to pass information about the activities and whereabouts of the highway patrol gave the impression that truckers were were magi, or members of a rolling Masonic order.

The public’s positive image of truckers was almost entirely derived from one unlikely AM radio hit, C.W. McCall’s 1976 single, ”Convoy,” a country-flavored song about truckers who form a mile-long convoy in defiance of an evil sheriff. The song was developed into a feature film directed by no less than Sam Peckinpah. Kris Kristofferson was probably cast as the lead because his best-known song “Me and Bobby McGee,” prominently features a sympathetic trucker who picks up hippie hitchhikers and joins them in a Peter Paul and Mary-style sing-a-long— instead of shooting them over like the truck driver in Easy Rider. Despite Peckinpah’s efforts to make the movie into  a meditation on the law (his default theme), Convoy is a big-rig film written by a pop singer and performed by another pop singer. As such, is the apotheosis of the long-haired trucker.

The other hit movie involving an 18-wheeler, that proceeded Convoy on the market, was the low-brow comedy Smokey and the Bandit (1977), which concerns the transportation of beer across dry state lines for the birthday party of a decadent Texas oil baron, played by Hollywood song-writer Paul Williams.

The smirking lead-driver (Burt Reynolds) and good ole boy truck driver (Jerry Reed) are joined by roguess (Sally Field), who has just walked out of her own wedding, recalling the conclusion of The Graduate. The three are pursued by an fat, racist, moronic, Archie Bunker-like Sheriff, played as broadly as anything was ever played by Jackie Gleason. The truck and its trucker, however, are relegated to supporting roles, unable to compete with the gorgeous 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am driven by the dashing Reynolds.

The fact that these outsized federal felonies were committed in the name of beer made it all OK; the fact that the beer was made by Coors, viewed at the time as an anti-establishment company adhering to a higher standard, absolved the protagonists of all guilt.

There were some genuine efforts to portray truck driver’s sympathetically yet realistically, like “Willin,” a Lowell George song about a good-natured, drug-smuggling trucker plying the backroads of California and Nevada, brilliantly-performed by Linda Ronstadt on Heart Like A Wheel. (1974)