"I’m Not a Crook"

The Public Face
and Private Political Reality
of Richard M. Nixon

A Discourse
and Conversation Analysis
of Some Nixon Tapes

©1999 by James Q. Jacobs

Two hypothesis are herein tested in relation to private conversations between former United States President Richard M. Nixon and his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman. The first hypothesis is that there is a difference between a politician’s public persona and private reality. This discourse analysis explores the degree of difference between Nixon’s public image, as presented to the American public, and his private conduct as evidenced by secretly recorded conversations (transcripts follow in the Appendix of this article). A second hypothesis is that there should be a difference between the conversation of a superior and a subordinate. Politeness and other social interaction factors in superior and subordinate conversation should be in evidence in the Nixon and Haldeman conversations. Politeness is an important preoccupation in many conversational settings and should be in evidence in deference to a superior. Conversely, a superior might have less preoccupation with politeness to a subordinate.


To test the first hypothesis, that there is a difference between the public "face" of political leaders and their private conversation and conduct, is not ordinarily an easy task. The general public is not ordinarily privileged to the private lives or conversations of public figures. In the Nixon case, there was a secret taping system installed in the White House. Due to the revelations of the Watergate hearings and subsequent legal subpoenas and court decisions, many hours of Nixon’s conversations have been made public. Nixon never intended that the tapes be made public. Therefore they can be reliably considered as private conversations up to the time that the existence of the taping system was revealed to the Watergate investigators.

A search of the Internet produced a number of transcripts of Nixon tapes. Naturally these focus on the evidence of crimes or intent to commit crimes, the cover-up of the Watergate burglary, and the specific events that led to the Watergate hearings, impeachment motions and the resignation of President Nixon. These tapes evidence Nixon’s crimes. The public image Nixon presented to the American people and his denials of illegal activities are well known. Therefore such are not presented herein. Several of the conversations evidencing illegal conduct are. There are more available, but only several are sufficient to demonstrate that Nixon’s private persona is vastly different than his public image. This is not a statistical question.

Many of the transcripts are of President Nixon and his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman. The Nixon and Haldeman conversations are the focus herein. Haldeman, as Chief of Staff, was less subordinate than any other White House staff member. Therefore evidence of subordination in his conversations with the President is herein considered more supportive of the hypothesis than conversations between Nixon and the other White House staff would be. Also, analysis of conversation with only one person, rather than many at once, is considered as likelier to reveal the superior and subordinate relationship. When a hierarchy of many people is analyzed, the relationships can be more complex and even contradictory, with several speakers being both superiors and subordinates to the others present. To avoid this complexity, I have focused on just the Nixon and Haldeman relationship. In only one of the sessions presented two other speakers are present and have only a minor role.

More than 20 minutes of conversations were analyzed for the following factors: number of turns, number of words and characters, words per turn, number of profanities and expletives, addressing by and use of personal pronouns, use of first names, use of formal address, and number of interruptions. The conversations are divided into sessions. Several of the sessions are typified by Nixon directing activities and several are of Haldeman reporting on activities and persons. The number of words are compared for these two types of discourse.


In the Appendix the transcripts of the conversations are presented. On Appendix page one several crimes by Nixon are evidenced. Long before the Watergate burglary Nixon ordered a break-in at the Brookings Institute. He also discussed destroying the tapes, an obstruction of justice. In the first conversation he directs Haldeman to use the powers of the government to harass political opponents who are Jewish. These acts are contrary to the President’s constitutional duty to uphold the law. There are other such instances evidenced by other tapes. These few conversations with Haldeman are sufficient evidence of Nixon’s private criminal conduct. They are not the only ones, but sufficient herein to evidence the first hypothesis.

Analysis of the conversations in the Appendix also evidence another disparity between Nixon’s public and private images. One of every sixty words Nixon uttered was a profanity. Nixon’s profanities included damn, Goddam or Goddamit, son of a bitch, son of a bitching, hell, asshole, crap and several deleted expletives, all words inappropriate in public political speeches. Another very inappropriate Nixon action was his focus on Jewish contributors to the Democratic party. This singling out of a religious/ethnic group is a type of bigotry that is intolerable in the public arena. The vast difference in Nixon’s private behavior is striking in these few examples.

The results of the discourse analysis are displayed in the following table.

Regarding the second hypothesis, ample differences in the conversations of the superior and the subordinate are evidenced. The most striking support of the hypothesis is in the number of interruptions. Nixon interrupts his subordinate 23 times, compared to Haldeman interrupting Nixon only twice. Also supportive is the fact that Nixon addressed Haldeman by his first name four times and called him "boy" twice, while Haldeman called Nixon "sir" four times. There is even a difference in addressing each other with the personal pronoun "you." Nixon said "you" twice as often, 44 times compared to 22. Nixon also said "I" nearly twice as often, 54 times compared to 29. Nixon used 23 profanities compared to 2 by Haldeman. Haldeman was certainly far more polite than Nixon. The following chart takes into account the number of words spoken and presents each category’s results as a percentage of total words. This is therefore an accurate representation of the ratios, rather than just a tally of instances.

I have divided the conversations into two types. In one type Nixon is directing Haldeman, and in the other type Haldeman is reporting to Nixon. In the two sessions of Haldeman reporting to Nixon, Haldeman speaks about three times more words than Nixon, 1245 and 431 words respectively. When Nixon is directing his subordinate he speaks more. In the other sessions Nixon uses 955 words compared to 537 by Haldeman.


In the secretly recorded, private White House conversations a far different persona is evidenced that the one Nixon presented to the public. The transcripts reveal that Nixon was a criminal unrestrained by the law. At the same time he was reelected by a landslide. Obviously the image Nixon projected to the public was believed and was effective. In the case of Richard M. Nixon, public denials of involvement in the Watergate break-in and its subsequent cover-up were believed by the general public. Statements like "I’m not a crook," and other denials of wrongdoing, in combination with the persona Nixon presented to the electorate, influenced the course of American politics. If the people of the United States had known the private Nixon and the truth of the private Nixon conversations he would probably not have been reelected.

The hypothesis that there is a difference in the discourse of superiors and subordinates is also well supported by the data. Herein the subordinate person is shown to be more polite, more formal in address, and less likely to use obscene language. The superior is far more likely to interrupt the subordinate, to use first names, to use the pronoun reference "you," and to refer to himself more frequently with the term "I." None of the data contradicts the hypothesis.

Regarding the number of words, the evidence indicates that this is related, at least in part, to the function of the conversation. Nixon used more words when directing subordinates and fewer words when receiving a report. A larger body of material would be useful in assessing if the number of words spoken by the parties had any particular significance beyond the role of the conversation. The tally of the total numbers of words are herein used only to analyze the speakers percentages. They do not seem to offer useful supportive evidence for either hypothesis.


No conclusions are based on the number of turns or words spoken, except that they evidence the role of the conversation.

The Nixon tapes show us that it is certainly possible to control what others, even an entire nation, thinks about you. The control of discourse can serve as a deception of the electorate. The private and public personas of political figures can be immensely disparate. The electorate should always assume that the private persona of a political figure, especially the President, is not the same as the public image.

Conversations between superiors and subordinates supply ample evidence of their different roles. The subordinate is far more polite that the superior. Although only one set of participants is analyzed herein, similar results should be anticipated in other studies. Given the distinct pattern observed herein, I suspect that it is possible to distinguish the superior and subordinate roles of conversation participants, even when these roles are not previously known, simply by statistical analysis using the category of interruptions and the categories of uses of first names and formal address.

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Conversations between President Richard M. Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. The following series of sessions include the President ordering illegal acts or dirty tricks.

Nixon ordering investigation of Jews.

N: Please get the names of the Jews. You know, the big Jewish contributors to the Democrats. Could you please investigate some of the -------. (expletive deleted)

Next day:

N: What about the rich Jews? The IRS is full of Jews, Bob.

H: What we ought to do is get a zealot who dislikes those people.

N: Go after them like a son of a bitch.

Nixon ordering Haldeman to break into the Brookings Institution.

N: They have a lot of material. I want--the way I want that handled Bob is get it over. I want Brooking. Just break in. Break in and take it out. You understand.

H: Yeah. But you have to get somebody to do it.

N: Well, you--that’s what I’m just telling you. Now don’t discuss it here. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out.

H: I don’t have any problem with breaking in.

N: Just go in and take them. Go in around 8 or 9 o’clock. That’s right. You go in and inspect and clean it out.

Nixon Ordering Tapes Destroyed.

N: Maybe we ought to keep the [tapes for] the whole goddamn campaign period. We can prove we never discussed anything pertaining to the crummy Watergate. When you think of all the discussions we've had in this room, that goddamn thing never came up.

H: Who you going to prove it to? Could also argue that, you know

N: That we destroyed stuff?

H: Well, you discussed that.

That afternoon Haldeman told Nixon he would review the tapes.

H: Pull out what we want, and get rid of the rest of it. And we want to get rid of the rest of it,

N: That's right.

Nixon Discussing Pardoning Subordinates for their Crimes.

N: What I mean to say is this. We're talking in the confidence of this room. I don't give a [expletive] what comes out on you or John or even on poor, damn, dumb John Mitchell. There is going to be a total pardon.

H: Don't, don't even say that. (Haldeman is now aware of the secret taping system)

N: You know it You know it and I know it.

H: No, don't say that.

Nixon Discussing Howard Hunt on June 21, 1972.

N: Hunt worked for Kennedy, he worked for Johnson, now he worked for the White House. That's the whole story about him. And he worked for the CIA. He worked in the Bay of Pigs. I mean, he's done a lot of things. So I've got to guess is that, I mean, it could be isolated instances. If the man's worked for various things, he's worked for. Hunt must be a pretty good guy though.

C: He's got one of the most interesting careers of anybody I've known. The tragedy is that the guy is a dedicated patriot. God.

N: Of course and he deliberately decided he is not going to be around, is that right? That is what I hear.

C: I don't know.

H: He isn't around

C: You know he's

N: Well, you know, you don't want him in here, Bob.

C: He came to me in February and he said: This is the only year I care about; the most important thing that ever happens is this man be reelected.; I just want to help. And you hate to see the poor guy get it.

N: Oh well.

C: It just happens...he's lived through this before.

N: What the hell, the Bay of Pigs.

C: He lived in exile once before and so forth.

H: He's used to this sort of stuff. It's part of his life.

N: He's written 42 novels.  

Nixon on June 30, 1971, ordering a burglary by Howard Hunt.

M = MacGregor and C = Colson.

N: They (the Brookings Institution) have a lot material. I want Brookings, I want them just to break in and take it out. Do you understand?

H: Yeah, but you have to have somebody do it.

N: That's what I am talking about. Don't discuss it here. You talk to Hunt. I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You're to break into the place, rifle the files and bring them in.

N: This guy is a wiretapper. He's been taping for years, hasn't he?

H: I don't know. I don't know what he - he's a disguise type guy.

N: And deep cover.

H: He writes dirty books.

M: The phrase, the CIA phrase is deep cover operative.

N: Deep cover...Of course he was also with Kennedy and he worked for Johnson.

N: About this fellow Hunt, I mean after all the gun and the wiretapping doesn't bother me a bit with this fellow. He's in the Cuban thing, the whole Cuban business. He's out of the country.

H: No.

N: Is he back in the country?

H: He never went out but it doesn't matter. He's a - at least they say, his main stock and trade is he's a master of disguise. (Chuckles) He's someplace under some disguise, although he's supposed to go abroad...

Nixon on May 11, 197, Discussing Dorothy Hunt’s Plane Crash.

N: I said of course commutation could be considered on the basis of his wife, and that is the only discussion I ever had in that light.

H: Then I've got a subpoena to appear in Federal Court in Illinois

N: What's that about?

H: In that matter of the murder - of the plan to murder several dozen people.

N: On what grounds are they getting you there?

H: The airline crash where Mrs. Hunt died. They apparently have me as a factor in crashing the airplane of something. (exhales)

N: Keep the faith.

H: Yes sir.

N: God

H: Never worry

Sessions Summary

Nixon, 29 turns, 2607 characters, 513 words

Underlings 27 turns, 1573, 311 words

Haldeman, 21 turns, 1119, 223

Nixon on April 30, 1973, Discussing a Speech about Watergate.

N: Hello.

H: Hi.

N: Hope I didn't let you down.

H: No sir, you got your points over, and now you, now you're, you've got it set right and move on. You're in right where you ought to be.

N: Well, it's a tough thing, Bob. For you, for John, the rest, but Goddammit, I'm never going to discuss this son of a bitching Watergate thing again. Never, never, never, never. Don't you agree?

H: Yes sir. You've done it now. And you've laid out your position. You've laid out your, you've taken your steps. You've...

N: Interesting thing. You know we haven't heard. The only cabinet officer that has called, and this is 50 minutes after the thing is over, is Cap Weinberger, bless his soul.

H: Hmm.

N: All the rest are waiting to see what the polls show. Goddam strong cabinet, isn't it?

H: You'd better check and be sure, cause I, they may, you know, we've had a

N: Nah, nah. No, no, no. They know. They know. They know to call, you know. They know they can get through. But in any event, I just wanted you to know that Cap called he was all the way.

H: Good.

N: But let me say, you're a strong man, Goddammit, I love ya.

H: Ha.

N: And I, you know, I love John, and all the rest, and by God, keep the faith. Keep the faith. You're going to win this son of a bitch.

H: Absolutely.

N: You notice what I said about the violence and so forth on the other side.

H: Yeah.

N: I mean there were some, there were some intricacies in this, that only (unclear) would understand.

H: I got those. And I want to get the (unclear word), cause there are some things to work on from there that.

N: All right.

H: That uh

N: I thought it was good, too, to sort of end on what I deeply felt (unclear word) on a religious note, you know, God Bless America. I mean, I don't, I'm certain, I must have, have, you know, I must have driven you up the wall.

H: Didn't drive me up the wall, but I felt that way (crosstalk). I'm all for that. I completely agree.

N: I don't know whether you can call and get any reactions and call me back, like the old style. Would you mind?

H: I don't think I can, I don't, I don't.

N: No, I agree.

H: Puts me in kind of an odd spot to try and do that.

N: No. Don't call a Goddam soul. The hell with it. Let me just say, (unclear words)...from me, from you, I haven't heard from any cabinet officer except Weinberger an hour afterwards, and thank God, and no staff member.

H: Well, now, when I called the board said they were instructed not put any calls through, so...

N: The hell with that. I told them to put all the calls through.

H: Well, that may be why you haven't gotten them though. Because that's

N: All right.

H: What told me.

N: All Right. I'll change it. I'll change it. Fine, but God bless ya, boy, God bless you, I love you. You, you know.

H: Okay.

N: Like my brother.

H: Oh, we'll

N: All right boy.

H: We'll (unclear word) it up from here.

N: Keep the faith.

H: Right.

Session Summary

Nixon = 1226 characters, 357 words, 21 turns

Haldeman = 178 words, 900 characters, 21 turns

This Session is a Report by Haldeman on the Watergate Burglars.

N: Does he have other clients?

H: And he had a regular monthly fee at the National Committee also. Apparently he set up, installed some television closed circuit monitoring stuff, and then they have six guards and some supervisors....McCord, I guess, will say that he was working with the Cubans, he wanted to put this in for their own political reasons. But Hunt disappeared or is in the process of disappearing. He can undisappear if we want him to. He can disappear to a Latin American country. But at least the original thought was that that would do it, that he might want to disappear, (unintelligible) on the basis that these guys, the Cubans -- see, he was in the Bay of Pigs thing. One of the Cubans, [Bernard] Barker, the guy with the American name, was his deputy in the Bay of Pigs operation and so they're kind of trying to tie it to the Cuban nationalists

N: We are?

H: Yes. Now of course they're trying to tie these guys to Colson, [and] the White House. It's strange -- if Colson doesn't run out, it doesn't go anywhere. The closest they come, he [Hunt] was a consultant to Colson. We have detailed somewhat the nature of his consulting fee and said it was basically (unintelligible). I don't know.

N: You don't know what he did?

H: I think we all knew that there were some

N: Intelligence.

H: some activities, and we were getting reports, or some input anyway. But I don't think -- I don't think Chuck knew specifically that this was under way

H: He seems to take all the blame himself.

N: Did he? Good.

N: This Oval Office business [i.e. that taping system] complicates things all over.

H: They say it's extremely good. I haven't listened to the tapes.

N: They're kept for future purposes.

H: Nobody monitors those tapes, obviously. They are kept stacked up and locked up in a super-secure -- there are only three people that know [about the system]. If they get all the circumstantial stuff tied together, maybe it's better ... to plead guilty, saying we were spying on the Democrats. Just let the Cubans say, we , McCord ... figured it was safe for us to use

N: Well, they've got to plead guilty.

H: And we went in there to get this because we're scared to death that this crazy man's going to become President and sell the U.S. out to the communists

N: How was he [Hunt] directly involved?

H: He was across the street in the Howard Johnson Motel with a direct line of sight room, observing across the street. And that was the room in which they have the receiving equipment for the bugs.

N: Well, does Hunt work for us or what?

H: No. Oh, we don't know. I don't know. I don't know if that's one -- that's something I haven't gotten an answer to, how -- apparently McCord had Hunt working with him, or Hunt had McCord working with him, and with these Cubans. They're all tied together. Hunt when he ran the Bay of Pigs thing was working with this guy Barker, one of the Cubans who was arrested.

N: How does the press know about this?

H: They don't. Oh, they know Hunt's involved because they found his name in the address book of two of the Cubans, Barker's book and one of the other guy's books. He's identified as "White House." And also because one of the Cubans had a check from Hunt, a check for $690 or something like that, which Hunt had given to this Cuban to take back to Miami with him and mail. It was to pay his country club bill

N: Hunt?

H: Hunt, yes. Probably so he can pay nonresident dues at the country club or something. But anyway, they had that check, so that was another tie.

N: Well, in a sense, if the Cubans--the fact that Hunt's involved with the Cubans or McCord's involved with the Cubans, here are the Cuban people....My God, the committee isn't worth bugging in my opinion. That's my public line.

H: Except for this financial thing. They thought they had something going on that.

N: Yes, I suppose.

H: But I asked that question: If we were going to all that trouble, why in the world would we pick the Democratic National Committee to do it to? It's the least fruitful source.

Session Summary

Nixon 14 turns, 106 words, 600 characters

Haldeman 14 turns, 617 words, 3557 characters

Haldeman Reporting to Nixon on the Watergate Investigation on June 23, 1972.

H: OK, that's fine. Now, on the investigation, you know, the Democratic break-in thing, we're back to the problem area because the FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn't exactly know how to control them, and ... their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they've been able to trace the money, not through the money itself, but through the bank. ...and it goes in some directions we don't want it to go .... [T]here have been some things, like an informant came in off the street to the FBI in Miami, who was a photographer, or has a friend who is a photographer who developed some films through this guy Barker, and the films had pictures of Democratic National Committee letterhead[s] ... Mitchell came up with yesterday, and John Dean analyzed very carefully last night and concludes -- concurs -- now with Mitchell's recommendation that the only way to solve this... is for us to have Walters call Pat Gray and just say, "Stay the hell out of this ... this is ah, business here we don't want you to go any further on it." That's not an unusual development

N: What about Pat Gray, you mean he doesn't want to?

H: Pat does want to. He doesn't know how to, and he doesn't have, he doesn't have any basis for doing it. Given this, he will then have the basis. He'll call Mark Felt in, and the two of them... and Mark Felt want to cooperate because

N: Yeah

H: he's ambitious

N: Yeah.

H: He'll call him in and say, "We've got the signal from across the river to, to put the hold on this." And that will fit rather well because the FBI agents who are working the case, at this point, feel that's what it is. This is CIA.

N: But they've traced the money to 'em

H: Well they have, they've traced to a name, but they haven't gotten to the guy yet.

N: Would it be somebody here?

H: Ken Dahlberg.

N: Who the hell is Ken Dahlberg?

H: He's, he gave $25,000 in Minnesota and the check went directly in to this, to this guy, Barker.

N: Maybe he's a ... bum. He didn't get this from the committee though, from Stans?

H: Yeah. It is. It's directly traceable and there's some more through some Texas people in -- that went to the Mexican bank which they can also trace to the Mexican bank... They'll get their names today.

N: I'm just thinking if they don't cooperate, what do they say? They, they, they were approached by the Cubans? That's what Dahlberg has to say, the Texans too. Is that the idea?

H: Well, if they will. But then we're relying on more and more people all the time. That's the problem. And they'll stop if we could, if we take this other step.

N: All right. Fine.

H: And, they seem to feel the thing to do is get them to stop.

N: Right, fine.

H: They say the only way to do that is from White House instructions. And it's got to be to Helms and what's his name? Walters?

N: Walters.

H: And the proposal would be that Ehrlichman and I call him.

N: All right, fine....How do you call him in, I mean you just -- well, we protected Helms from one hell of a lot of things.

H: That's what Ehrlichman says.

N: Of course, this ... Hunt, ... that will uncover a lot of, a lot of -- you open that scab there's a hell of a lot of things in it that we just feel that this would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves. What the hell, did Mitchell know about this thing to any much of a degree?

H: I think so. I don't think he knew the details, but I think he knew.

N: He didn't know how it was going to be handled though, with Dahlberg and the Texans and so forth? Well, who was the asshole that did? Is it Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be a little nuts.

H: He is.

N: I mean he just isn't well-screwed-on is he? Isn't that the problem?

H: No, but he was under pressure, apparently, to get more information, and as he got more pressure, he pushed the people harder to move harder on.

N: Pressure from Mitchell?

H: Apparently.

N: All fright, fine, I understand it all. We won't second-guess Mitchell and the rest. Thank God it wasn't Colson.

H: The FBI interviewed Colson yesterday. They determined that would be a good thing to do... An interrogation, which he did, and that, the FBI guys working the case had concluded that there are one or two possibilities: one, that this was a White House [operation], they don't think that there is anything at the Election Committee--they think it was either a White House operation and they had some obscure reasons for it.... Or it was a

N: Cuban thing

H: Cubans and the CIA. And after their interrogation of

N: Colson

H: Colson, yesterday, they concluded it was not the White House, but are now convinced it's the CIA thing, so the CIA turnoff would

N: Well, not sure of their analysis, I'm not going to get that involved.

H: No, sir. We don't want you to.

N: You call them in. Good. Good deal. Play it tough. That's the way they play it and that's the way we are going to play it.

H: OK. We'll do it.

N: Yeah, when I saw that news summary item, I of course knew it was a bunch of crap, but I thought, that,

Session Summary

Nixon 22 turns, 325 words, 1713 characters

Haldeman 22 turns, 628 words, 3499 characters

Nixon in August, 1972, Discussing the Cover-Up and Paying for the Silence of the Burglars.

N: Let's be fatalistic about the goddamned thing.

H: If it blows it blows.

N: If it blows it blows and so on . I'm not that worried about it, to be really candid with you.

H: Well, it's worth a lot of work to try and keep it from blowing.

N: Oh my, yes

H: But if it blows, we'll survive it. Hunt's happy.

N: At considerable cost, I guess.

H: Yes.

N: It's worth it.

H: It's very expensive. It's that costly.

N: That's what the money is for.

H: Kind of exercise but that's better spent than

N: Well, well they have to be paid. That's all there is to that.

H: Yeah.

N: They have to be paid, although I must say, and perhaps I'm second guessing people, but whoever made the decision.

H: Was pretty damn stupid.

N: Was about as stupid as I've ever heard.

Session Summary

Nixon 9 turns, 85 words, 450 characters

Haldeman 8 turns, 48 words, 268 characters

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