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Profile: John Robert Greene
John Robert Greene was a participant or observer in the following events:
Just hours after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), he sees evidence that the pardon is even more unpopular than he had feared. The White House switchboard is flooded with “angry calls, heavy and constant,” as Ford’s lawyer Philip Buchen will later recall. The response, says resigning press secretary Jerald terHorst (see September 8, 1974), is roughly 8-1 against. TerHorst’s admission to the press that he is resigning over the pardon adds even more fuel to the blaze of criticism. “I resigned,” terHorst tells reporters, “because I just couldn’t remain part of an act that I felt was ethically wrong.” Reporters almost uniformly side with terHorst against Ford; as author Barry Werth will later write, “the press concluded intrinsically that terHorst’s act of conscience trumped the president’s.” TerHorst’s resignation is inevitably compared to Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” (see October 19-20, 1973), and engenders a similar avalanche of press criticism and public outrage. The day after, protesters greet Ford in Pittsburgh with chants of “Jail Ford!” Conservative columnist George Will writes, “The lethal fact is that Mr. Ford has now demonstrated that… he doesn’t mean what he says.” The New York Times calls the pardon a “profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act.… This blundering intervention is a body blow to the president’s own credibility and to the public’s reviving confidence in the integrity of its government.” Ford’s popularity plunges almost overnight from 70 percent to 48 percent; fewer than one in five Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Ford’s biographer John Robert Greene will write that journalists begin “treating Ford as just another Nixon clone in the White House—deceitful, controlled by the leftover Nixonites, and in general no different than any of his immediate predecessors.” Werth will conclude that Ford’s “self-sacrific[e]” is the political equivalent of him “smothering a grenade.” Nixon’s refusal to atone in any fashion for his crimes placed the burden of handling Watergate squarely on Ford’s shoulders, and that burden will weigh on his presidency throughout his term, as well as damage his chances for election in 1976. Ford will later write: “I thought people would consider his resignation from the presidency as sufficient punishment and shame. I thought there would be greater forgiveness.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 328-332] Years later, Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, will reflect that the pardon should have “been delayed until after the 1974 elections because I think it did cost us seats [in Congress]. If you say that that is a political judgment, it’s true, but then, the presidency is a political office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 27]
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