Domestic Turmoil

At home, Nixon became an impetuous leader obsessed with his re-election campaign. Inflation was under better control and the country's international relations had also improved. But the war continued, and so did Nixon's distrust of his perceived enemies — particularly what he saw as the liberal media. The president was outraged when Daniel Ellsberg, a former serviceman turned civilian, compiled a compendium of material that came to be known as “the Pentagon Papers.” The papers were related to the Vietnam War, essentially disclosing that the war's objectives were not achieved and that the United States had planned to oust another country's head of state. Ellsberg contacted the New York Times, and the papers began to be published. Nixon sought an injunction to prevent the publication, but the Supreme Court held in a 6 to 3 decision (New York Times Co. v. U.S.) that the injunctions were unconstitutional prior restraints and therefore a violation of the First Amendment's protection of a free press.

It was also revealed that a White House team had placed illegal wiretaps on Ellsberg's telephone and had broken into his psychiatrist's office in an attempt to discredit him. Ellsberg was never convicted of a crime.

In the election of 1972, Richard Nixon won easily over his Democratic opponent, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Later it came out that White House operatives had dug up information regarding McGovern's first vice-presidential pick, making out Thomas Eagleton to be mentally ill. McGovern replaced Eagleton on the ticket with Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy in-law and the first director of the Peace Corps. History would prove that Nixon had the election sewn up and that his efforts to increase his lead actually led to his own destruction.

In an unrelated scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in October 1973 after his financial misconduct was revealed. The vice president had allegedly accepted $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. President Nixon nominated Gerald R. Ford, a Michigan congressman, to succeed Agnew as vice president.

In 1972, the Munich Olympic Games were marked by extraordinary accomplishments and unbelievable tragedy. Mark Spitz, a twenty-two-year old American swimmer won a record seven gold medals. In an act of terrorism by Black September, an Arab terrorist group, eleven Israeli Olympians were murdered, two at the Olympic Village and nine at the Munich Airport.

Nixon's popularity suffered when the economy endured severe inflation, due in some measure to a U.S.-USSR agreement under which the Soviet Union could purchase huge quantities of grain. This devalued the U.S. dollar again. Nixon then cut government funding to many social programs in order to be more fiscally conservative, but this further strained relations with Congress. When two young and eager journalists with the Washington Post investigated the arrest of five men connected with Nixon's re-election committee, hardly anyone paid attention. But the pair followed a convoluted trail that would change history.

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