On this day in 1973, Richard Nixon stood before the nation, looked everybody straight in the eye, and announced: “I am not a crook.” He resigned in a mushroom cloud of scandal the next August after it had become pretty clear that he was absolutely full of shit.
The New York Times archives noted the anniversary this morning on Twitter.
The Washington Post—which of course broke the Watergate story—reported at the time:
In an hour-long televised question-and-answer session with 400 Associated Press managing editors, Mr. Nixon was tense and sometimes misspoke. But he maintained his innocence in the Watergate case and promised to supply more details on his personal finances and more evidence from tapes and presidential documents.
“Mr. Nixon defended himself against all charges of wrongdoing and attempted to regain the political offensive,” the New York Times explained. There were numerous questions about Watergate, but also about his personal taxes.
“In all of my years of public life, I have never profited—never profited—from public service. I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice,” he insisted directly to the television audience. “And I think too, that I can say, that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination. Because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
Of course it was just that one line—“I’m not a crook”—that embedded itself deep into popular culture, for very obvious reasons. They can do whatever they want at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, but they’ll never be able to escape the association between Nixon and the term “crook,” which was destined to become the final word on this particular president the minute it fell out of his mouth. Cause, hell—he said it.