Fear And Loathing In Limbo: The Scum Also Rises

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Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 171 from October 10, 1974. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

Well ... this is going to be difficult. That sold-out knucklehead refugee from a 1969 "Mister Clean" TV commercial has just done what only the most cynical and paranoid kind of malcontent ever connected with national politics would have dared to predict. ...

If I followed my better instincts right now, I would put this typewriter in the Volvo and drive to the home of the nearest politician — any politician — and hurl the goddamn machine through his front window ... flush the bugger out with an act of lunatic violence then soak him down with mace and run him naked down Main Street in Aspen with a bell around his neck and black lumps all over his body from the jolts of a high-powered "Bull Buster" cattle prod.

But old age has either mellowed me or broken my spirit to the point where I will probably not do that — at least not today, because that blundering dupe in the White House has just plunged me into a deep and vicious hole.

About five hours after I'd sent the final draft of a massive article on The Demise of Richard Nixon off on the mojo wire and into the cold maw of the typesetter in San Francisco, Gerald Ford called a press conference in Washington to announce that he had just granted a "full, free and absolute" presidential pardon, covering any and all crimes Richard Nixon may or may not have committed during the entire five and a half years of his presidency.

Ford sprung his decision with no advance warning at 10:40 on a peaceful Sunday morning in Washington, after emerging from a church service with such a powerful desire to dispense mercy that he rushed back to the White House — a short hump across Lafayette Park — and summoned a weary Sunday-morning skeleton crew of correspondents and cameramen to inform them, speaking in curiously zombielike tones, that he could no longer tolerate the idea of ex-President Nixon suffering in grief-crazed solitude out there on the beach in San Clemente, and that his conscience now compelled him to end both the suffering of Nixon and the national angst it was causing by means of a presidential edict of such king-sized breadth and scope as to scourge the poison of "Watergate" from our national consciousness forever.

Or at least that's how it sounded to me, when I was jolted out of a sweat-soaked coma on Sunday morning by a frantic telephone call from Dick Tuck. "Ford pardoned the bastard!" he screamed. "I warned you, didn't I? I buried him twice, and he came back from the dead both times. ... Now he's done it again; he's running around loose on some private golf course in Palm Desert."

I fell back on the bed, moaning heavily. No, I thought. I didn't hear that. Ford had gone out of his way, during his first White House press conference, to impress both the Washington press corps and the national TV audience with his carefully considered refusal to interfere in any way with Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski's legal duty to proceed on the basis of evidence and "prosecute any and all individuals." Given the context of the question, Ford's reply was widely interpreted as a signal to Jaworski that the former president should not be given any special treatment.... And it also meshed with Ford's answer to a question in the course of his confirmation hearings in the Senate a few months earlier, when he'd said, "I don't think the public would stand for it," when asked if an appointed vice-president would have the power to pardon the president who'd appointed him, if the president were removed from office under criminal circumstances.

I recalled these things Ford had said, but I was not so sure I'd heard Dick Tuck correctly — or if I'd really heard him at all. I held my right hand up in front of my eyes, trying to remember if I'd eaten anything the night before that could cause hallucinations. If so, my hand would appear to be transparent, and I would be able to see all the bones and blood vessels very clearly.

But my hand was not transparent. I moaned again, bringing Sandy in from the kitchen to find out what was wrong. "Did Tuck just call?" I asked.

She nodded: "He was almost hysterical. Ford just gave Nixon a full pardon."

I sat up quickly, groping around on the bed for something to smash. "No!" I shouted. "That's impossible!"

She shook her head. "I heard it on the radio, too."

I stared at my hands again, feeling anger behind my eyes and noise coming up in my throat: "That stupid, lying bastard! Jesus! Who votes for these treacherous scumbags! You can't even trust the dumb ones! Look at Ford! He's too goddamn stupid to arrange a deal like that! Hell, he's almost too stupid to lie."

Sandy shrugged. "He gave Nixon all the tapes, too."

"Holy shit!" I leaped out of bed and went quickly to the phone. "What's Goodwin's number in Washington? That bonehead Rotarian sonofabitch made a deal? Maybe Dick knows something."

But it was 24 hours later when I finally got hold of Goodwin, and by that time I had made a huge chart full of dates, names and personal connections — all linked and cross-linked by a maze of arrows and lines. The three names on the list with far more connections than any others were Laird, Kissinger and Rockefeller. I had spent all night working feverishly on the chart, and now I was asking Goodwin to have a researcher check it all out.

"Well," he replied. "A lot of people in Washington are thinking along those same lines today. No doubt there was some kind of arrangement, but — " He paused. "Aren't we pretty damn close to the deadline? Jesus Christ, you'll never be able to check all that stuff before — "

"Mother of babbling god!" I muttered. The word "deadline" caused my brain to seize up momentarily. Deadline? Yes. Tomorrow morning, about 15 more hours.... With about 90% of my story already set in type, one of the threads that ran all the way through it was my belief that nothing short of a nuclear war could prevent Richard Nixon's conviction. The only thing wrong with that argument was its tripod construction, and one of the three main pillars was my assumption that Gerald Ford had not been lying when he'd said more than once, for the record, that he had no intention of considering a presidential pardon for Richard Nixon "until the legal process has run its course."

Cazart! I hung up the phone and tossed my chart across the room. That rotten, sadistic little thief had done it again. Just one month earlier he had sandbagged me by resigning so close to the deadline that I almost had a nervous breakdown while failing completely.... And now he was doing it again, with this goddamn presidential pardon, leaving me with less than 24 hours to revise completely a 15,000 word story that was already set in type.

It was absolutely impossible, no hope at all — except to lash as many last-minute pages as possible into the mojo and hope for the best. Maybe somebody in San Francisco would have time, when the deadline crunch came, to knit the two versions together.... But there was no way at all to be sure, so this will be an interesting article to read when it comes off the press....

Indeed ... cast your bread on the waters ... why not?

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From The Archives Issue 19: October 12, 1968