Rose Mary Woods, 1917-2005: Nixon's private secretary
January 24, 2005 12:46 PM   Subscribe

"Rose . . . is as close to us as family". Rose Mary Woods, who died Saturday at 87, was Richard Nixon's private secretary. In 1973 Woods was transcribing secretly recorded audiotapes of Oval Office conversations , working on a June 20, 1972, tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, that might have shed light on whether Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in three days earlier. While she was performing her duties (.rtf file), she said, the phone rang. As she reached for it, she said she inadvertently struck the erase key on the tape recorder and kept her foot on the machine's pedal, forwarding the tape. More inside.
posted by matteo (16 comments total)
A photograph taken of Miss Woods re-creating the event, nearly sprawling to do both simultaneously, made her gesture look like a gymnastic feat. Some, according to a Washington Post article at the time, dubbed it "the Rose Mary Stretch."
posted by matteo at 12:48 PM on January 24, 2005

She's in the Flunkies Hall of Fame. Nominations are open, but Press Secretaries are not eligible.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:16 PM on January 24, 2005

Excuse the off topic question.
Is the person in the picture sticking his tongue out or is that the lighting in the picture? If it is his tongue there is a joke in there with "the Rose Mary Stretch."
posted by thomcatspike at 1:35 PM on January 24, 2005

looks more like a dimple, TCS.
kissing Republican ass can do that to your tongue, tho
posted by matteo at 1:40 PM on January 24, 2005

Buckley does stick his tongue out a lot. it's one of his less endearing mannerisms.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:05 PM on January 24, 2005

Come on, folks. It could've happened. That's the point. It could've.
posted by soyjoy at 2:19 PM on January 24, 2005

posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:25 PM on January 24, 2005

soyjoy, you think she covered for Nixon or accidentally erased the tapes?
From reading about her; Reportedly impressed by his neatness and the precision of his expense accounts, she accepted his job offer in 1951. , and
unique characteristic that marks the difference between a good secretary and great one — she is always at her best when the pressures are greatest." .
My guess, she would have answered the phone normally without "the Rose Mary Stretch."
posted by thomcatspike at 2:31 PM on January 24, 2005

What's sad is that Bush doesn't even try to get a flunky to erase a tape. He just says "whatcha gonna do." Also funny is the quip about the neatness of Nixon's expense accounts. Anyone who knows about the "Checkers Speech" knows that the accounts were neat in several ways.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:48 PM on January 24, 2005

I don't know if ms Woods deleted the tape on purpose or not. Let's say it was an accident. If so, I really feel sorry for her. It must be extremely embarrassing.

But I feel almost more sorry for her if she was asked to delete the tape, or take the fall for it. Just imagine someone you are as close to as family, who on top of everything else is the the President, ask you to lie in public. I'm not sure many of us would have handled it better.
posted by Triplanetary at 4:24 PM on January 24, 2005

Of course she did it on purpose...and she never paid any price either. "fiercely loyal" indeed--she should have gone to jail.

Who's "erasing the tapes" for Bush nowadays anyway?
posted by amberglow at 5:04 PM on January 24, 2005

Just what was on the tape? It may or may not matter, but the mystery endures:

> The covert operations of Nixon and his accessories came to be known as "Watergate" only once the burglars were apprehended. Whatever their schemes, the actions of the conspirators were brought to a halt, and all their attention turned to covering up evidence of illegal activity. Hence someone, possibly a woman, felt it necessary to erase part of the tape. The silence of eighteen and a half minutes became the focal point for debate, conjecture, and controversy.

In 1997, historian Stanley Kutler, with the help of Public Citizen, a national nonprofit public interest organization, succeeded in obtaining the release of the remaining Nixon tapes from the National Archives. Kutler edited and telescoped the conversations, eliminating what he believed to be "insignificant, trivial, or repetitious." His selection is most fascinating when it comes to his transcription of the gap. Although the tapes preserve more than an hour of conversation for the morning of June 20, Kutler chooses to transcribe only the silence:

June 20, 1972: The President and Haldeman, 11:26 a.m.-12:45 p.m., Executive Office Building

This is the highly publicized "18 1/2-minute gap." Technical and scientific investigations determined that the tape had been electronically erased by unknown persons some time after Alexander P. Butterfield revealed the existence of the Nixon Administration taping system in 1973. H. R. Haldeman's diary entry for this date talks about lengthy meetings with John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, and John Dean, which concluded that it was necessary to keep the FBI from going "beyond what's necessary in developing evidence and that we can keep a lid on that." Haldeman said that he and the President talked about "our counterattack" and "PR offensive."

Where we hear the white noise of erasure, we read the words, "This is the highly publicized '18 1/2 minute gap.'" Notice too that Kutler's transcription is as cryptic as the silence of the erasure. The phrases that he chooses from Haldeman's diary to supplement the gap only highlight the secrecy. "Keep a lid on that" reaffirms the clandestine operations of the conspirators, while "our counterattack" suggests a counterconspiracy. Although over two hundred hours of taped conversations have been released to the public, eighteen and a half minutes of silence nevertheless conceal important information about one of the most elaborate cover-ups of the American presidency.

More on Haldeman's notes. A cover-up whitewashing of a cover-up? What was said here, that was worse than what was said on other unerased tapes? Was access to those other tapes simply more difficult?
posted by dhartung at 9:58 PM on January 24, 2005

good old Oliver (Stone, not Willis) used to think that the tape had some scary bit re Dealey Plaza. Nutty, but after reading this Howard Hunt (very scary) interview and since Nixon's hate for the Kennedys ("stolen" election and all) is very well documented I'm not so sure. maybe Stone has a point, who knows
posted by matteo at 12:51 AM on January 25, 2005

after all, Nixon chose to hang out with a terrible crowd of CIA boys. maybe somebody said something he shouldn't have
posted by matteo at 12:52 AM on January 25, 2005

When I worked as an admin assistant I guarantee I did less ergonomic things than that on a regular basis. When you're taking dictation that sort of thing can actually happen. Did it? Who knows? But I'm saying, I could even see myself having done that. The phone rings behind you,you stretch to get it so that you don't have to get your feet and such out of position.
posted by u.n. owen at 2:51 PM on January 25, 2005

Fuck, baby's crying. Just hold on.
posted by nanojath at 8:28 PM on February 23, 2005

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