Tennessee Tech journalism professor Russell Witcher gathers and organizes many of those images, positive and negative, in his latest book, a compilation of sample writings about the 37th U.S. president. Witcher's recently released "Articles, Interviews and Book Excerpts (1976-2000) on Richard Nixon" (The Edwin Mellon Press, 2003) looks to reporters who knew Nixon and drew on their relationships for their stories.
"The articles, interviews and commentary included were written by both people who liked Nixon and people who hated him," said Witcher. "In that sense, it is successful in portraying the way reporters saw Nixon, the way they wrote about him and the way the world remembers him."
The 20 articles in the book include Rolling Stone reporter Hunter S. Thompson's vitriolic obituary of Nixon, Newsweek's Larry Martz's article entitled "The Road Back," and Time contributor Roger Rosenblatt's "The Dark Comedian." Other authors include Gore Vidal, Ben Stein, David Gergen and George McGovern.
"The McGovern piece is representative of some of the articles written by people who once disliked Nixon but came to see him in a positive light after his presidency," said Witcher, "McGovern actually became friends with Nixon in the years after Watergate."
In fact, Witcher says many readers may be surprised that people who opposed Nixon politically and ideologically during his years in office came to at least find balance and perspective in their portrayals.
"There's a Citizen Kane element to the search for the real Nixon in these writings," he said. "These authors looked for the 'Rosebud' of Nixon's life to understand him, and that resulted in a relatively balanced overall treatment of him."
Witcher points out that Nixon used the news media, particularly newsweeklies, to rehabilitate his image. For instance, in 1986 he granted an exclusive interview in exchange for a cover photo.
"He hated the media but understood he could use it to his advantage," said Witcher.
The book offers a qualitative look at media themes about Nixon that Witcher examined in his first book, "After Watergate, Nixon and the Newsweeklies" (University Press of America, 2000). There he found the media divided in their portrayal of Nixon -- was he a liar or sympathetic figure, petty man or elder statesman, divisive force or foreign policy masters, discredited politician or rehabilitated leader?
"There is enough here for Nixon haters and defenders alike," says Hix Stubblefield, TTU professor emeritus. "Overall, this is a volume of ambivalent articles that mirrors America's ambivalent feelings about a complex, conflictive leader and his times.