The Rev. Billy Graham, on April 11, 1966. Image courtesy of the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

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Newly released oral history offers insight

President Richard Nixon, who exhibited a foul mouth in many of his secretly recorded conversations, studiously avoided using raw language in the presence of his friend and adviser Billy Graham, the Western North Carolina-based evangelist. But in a newly released recording published yesterday by Carolina Public Press, Nixon let a couple curses slip into an April 1973 conversation with Graham.

At the time, Graham seemed unfazed by Nixon’s profanity. After Nixon’s resignation, however, as some of the tapes were released, Graham was dismayed by the evidence that the former president regularly swore like a sailor, according to H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, a longtime Nixon aide.

Haldeman, who was Nixon’s chief of staff from 1969 to 1973, addressed the matter in an oral history for the Nixon Presidential Library, which was recorded in 1987 and published online this week.

“I went through a long session with Billy Graham after the tapes were released,” Haldeman said in a transcript of the oral history, part of which can be read below.

“He was absolutely crushed. And he said, ‘Bob, I can’t believe what I’ve read in the tapes because … in all the hours I spent with Richard Nixon, and there were many, many hours, he never said ‘damn,’ let alone all those things. … I can’t believe it.’”

According to the oral history, Haldeman explained that Nixon had “enormous respect” and “enormous affection” for Graham and refrained from cursing.

“On the other hand, when [Nixon] was letting off steam, dealing with us, talking about things, he used locker room language,” Haldeman said.

Haldeman stressed to Graham that “if any of your other friends … had been taped in all of their conversations, at all times in all places, that they’d be using some of that language too.”

“That helped him,” Haldeman recalled. “I mean, you know, [Graham] said, ‘I suppose that’s true.’”

Excerpt from H.R. Haldeman oral history with the Nixon Presidential Library (PDF)
Excerpt from H.R. Haldeman oral history with the Nixon Presidential Library (Text)

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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