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Celebrating 200 years: 1973

« 1973 »

1973 was the year President Richard M. Nixon abused the power of his office to mask his involvement in the Watergate break-in, a petty bit of political espionage. As the scandal unfolded that year …

Roe v. Wade overturned state bans on abortion. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson died, and former Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller died. Nixon signed a peace accord with North Vietnam and called U.S. troops home. American Indian activists occupied Wounded Knee, S.D.

Then the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers opened in New York; Federal Express flew its first packages out of Memphis; Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby; NASA launched Skylab into orbit.

And then congressional hearings into the Watergate scandal began airing on TV. Fired White House counsel John Dean testified, with his blond wife behind him; and a former White House aide revealed that Nixon secretly recorded everything in the Oval Office.

Representing women, Billie Jean King clobbered Bobby Riggs, representing men, in a tennis match.

Vice President Spiro Agnew pleaded “no contest” to charges of income tax evasion. He resigned. Then the Saturday Night Massacre happened: Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy quit rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox; and Solicitor General Robert Bork then dismissed Cox. Bork appointed Leon Jaworski as special prosecutor.

Nixon said, “I am not a crook.” Gerald Ford became vice president. The Exorcist hit movie theaters. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act …

You could almost fan front pages, pull one at random and get a civics lesson. For instance, this underwhelming-looking Page 1 of the Arkansas Gazette appeared Dec. 29, 1973, as the tumultuous year clattered toward its close. No screamer headlines, no stunning images of joy or catastrophe, but in its columns are ongoing agonies: Watergate, financial scandal in Pulaski County, fuel shortage.

1973 was also the first year in more than 70 years that the Gazette was not edited daily, at least in small doses, by John Netherland Heiskell. The paper’s longest serving editor had died, age 100, at the end of 1972; the front page that Dec. 29 was his obituary. Heiskell held that a newspaper should be more than a mechanical recorder of news. 365 hard-news days later, smack in the middle of Page 1, starving prisoners shove one another aside to get at — to eat — a prehistoric fish or lizard uncovered by thawing ice. This was the first of a three-part excerpt from The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956. Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book described cruel suppression of political dissent in the very un-American Soviet Union.

A newspaper, Heiskell said, should be “a moral and intellectual institution rather than an industry or a property.”

— Celia Storey

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