NPR credits WSJ for Jack White’s Pulitzer-winning Nixon scoop

NPR slighted a legendary Rhode Island journalist this week.

Appearing on “Morning Edition” Monday to promote his new book, Wall Street Journal economics editor David Wessel had this exchange with host Renee Montagne (emphasis mine):

MONTAGNE: In your book, you write about a prominent Republican politician who made headlines for the taxes he did not pay on his wealth, and that would be Richard Nixon, 1973. Tell us that story.

WESSEL: It’s an amazing story that I had no knowledge of until I started working on the book. Richard Nixon, who did not have to disclose his tax returns as a candidate was embarrassed when his tax returns were leaked, and there were stories actually in the Wall Street Journal that revealed that in 1970, 1971, and 1972, he had total income of nearly $800,000 and he had just paid $5,000 in combined federal income taxes. And that turned out to be a huge scandal at the time.

A lot of focus on this, and in fact, it was that report that led Richard Nixon to utter his famous words: I am not a crook. What followed that was: I’ve earned everything I got. That was a response to questions from newspaper reporters and editors about his tax returns, and in the end he had to pay a lot of back taxes. But that’s kind of lost to history because the Watergate scandal obscured it.

Say what?

As just about anybody in the Rhode Island press corps could tell NPR, Nixon’s taxes were actually uncovered and “revealed” in The Providence Journal by the late Jack White, who founded the paper’s investigative unit and later had an Emmy-winning career here at WPRI 12. (He’s also the father of my colleague Tim White.)

Don’t take my word for it – take the Pulitzer Prize committee’s, which awarded White a Pulitzer on May 6, 1974, in honor of “his initiative in exclusively disclosing President Nixon’s Federal income tax payments in 1970 and 1971″ (emphasis mine). Jack even held his bombshell story while Projo reporters were on strike, praying the whole time that a big paper – like, say, The Wall Street Journal – wouldn’t scoop him.

This isn’t the first time Jack White and the Projo have gotten snubbed in the national press over the Nixon tax story. In 2005, the AP was forced to run a clarification after wrongly giving a different journalist credit for getting Nixon to say “I’m not a crook” in response to the story. (It was Projo editor Joseph Ungaro.)

Wessel didn’t reply to a tweet asking why he attributed the Nixon story to his paper. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but big papers like The Wall Street Journal get enough glory without taking credit from enterprising journalists at the state and local level.

Update: Wessel just tweeted a link to this post to his nearly 30,000 followers and commented: “I stand corrected.” Read his Capital column or “Red Ink” to show your appreciation.

• Related: Jack and Tim White’s 35-year project unlocks Bonded Vault (Dec. 19, 2010)

(photo: WPRI 12)

6 thoughts on “NPR credits WSJ for Jack White’s Pulitzer-winning Nixon scoop

  1. I don’t mean to beat an obviously lame horse to death, but given the nature of Mr. Wessel’s “error” regarding Jack White’s role in exposing Richard Nixon as a tax cheat in 1973, and given that in the process he was peddling credit to his employer, the Wall Street Journal, and especially since the error has been published in his latest dissertation on the economy, the fact that he snuffed, “I stand corrected.” in a Tweet really doesn’t carry much weight. I guess it is what we all should have expected. In fact, in most respects Wessell’s begrudging little chirp offers about as much insight into the man as anyone should need in order to summarily dismiss him. So, enough said.

    Wayne Worcester
    Professor of Journalism,
    University of Connecticut

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