Dear Dick: The San Diego Union, Evening Tribune, and Nixon: A Romance in Letters

Nixon archives in Laguna Niguel reveal close ties to San Diego's newspapers.

The Nixon campaign travels down Broadway in San Diego, October 1956. Copley knew Nixon even before he ran for Congress.
  • The Nixon campaign travels down Broadway in San Diego, October 1956. Copley knew Nixon even before he ran for Congress.

In the days following the death of Richard Nixon, a series of reminiscences about the battered political warrior began to appear in the pages of the Union-Tribune. Editor Jerry Warren, once a Nixon press aide, wrote that Nixon had resigned the presidency not because he was about to be impeached but because Nixon believed “that the presidency, and America’s standing in the world, had to be protected. He could not prolong the trauma of Watergate.”

General Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Wilson, Nixon, c. 1952. Copley to Nixon: "I tried this Berlin idea on Bob Finch and Bob Wilson this weekend."

General Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Wilson, Nixon, c. 1952. Copley to Nixon: "I tried this Berlin idea on Bob Finch and Bob Wilson this weekend."

Editor-in-chief Herb Klein, once Nixon’s top public relations man, proclaimed that Nixon had actually “ended the battle in Vietnam by taking the dramatic steps of bombing Hanoi and mining Haiphong Harbor.” The worst Nixon scandal Klein could remember, the Union-Tribune reported, was when the newspaper ran Pat Nixon’s favorite Mexican recipe but made a mistake in listing the ingredients. “ ‘The amount of pepper was multiplied by about 10 times,’ recalled Klein, editor of the Union at the time. ‘It caused a major uproar.’”

San Diego Evening Tribune, November 22, 1986. Herb Klein, now 76 and physically ailing, is ensconced in a glass-walled penthouse office at the U-T filled with Nixon memorabilia.

San Diego Evening Tribune, November 22, 1986. Herb Klein, now 76 and physically ailing, is ensconced in a glass-walled penthouse office at the U-T filled with Nixon memorabilia.

Columnist Neil Morgan recalled that Nixon once granted him an interview in 1961. “Arnold Gingrich, the memorable editor of Esquire magazine, sensed that it was a pivotal moment in a strange political career and challenged me to get to Nixon and write a profile.” Morgan said he booked a seat next to Nixon on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle and recorded a three-hour interview. “Its opening hour reads like a ponderous Nixon press conference; its final hour is staccato, provocative, vivid in language and tone, dotted with earnest profanity....” Concluded Morgan, “In those three hours he had decided to trust me a little."

San Diego Evening Tribune, April 13, 1963. After his airborne interview with Nixon in 1961, Tribune columnist Neil Morgan settled back into his role as community sage and town gossip.

San Diego Evening Tribune, April 13, 1963. After his airborne interview with Nixon in 1961, Tribune columnist Neil Morgan settled back into his role as community sage and town gossip.

But why would Nixon, contemptuous of the press, ever trust a newspaper columnist, much less talk for three hours to one who just happened to sit down next to him on a plane to Seattle? And how did Klein and Warren, originally a couple of reporters from small-town California newspapers, find their way into Nixon’s fold and from there into the White House? Nothing that appeared in the Union-Tribune after Nixon’s death provided even a hint of the true history of the late president’s momentous ties to San Diego and the newspapers owned by James Strohn Copley, a man of short stature and almost implausible influence over the career of one Richard M. Nixon.

Copley postmortem coverage in the Evening Tribune, October 8, 1973. Just as his massive printing plant was opening in Mission Valley, Jim Copley died in a La Jolla hospital bed.

Copley postmortem coverage in the Evening Tribune, October 8, 1973. Just as his massive printing plant was opening in Mission Valley, Jim Copley died in a La Jolla hospital bed.

But where the Union-Tribune is silent, the files of the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, minutes up the freeway from Nixon’s old “Western White House” in San Clemente, say much. Nixon was obsessed with documenting his role in history. From the beginning, he saved almost every scrap of correspondence from his durable career, from his 1946 campaign for Congress through his White House years. Every letter, every memo, every dictograph, every reel of tape was indexed and filed away for posterity. Even after he left public life for five years following his 1962 defeat in his campaign for governor, Nixon continued to collect the letters he received and the responses he gave.

Copley postmortem coverage, San Diego Evening Tribune, October 8, 1973 Copley's widow Helen assumed complete control over the newspaper chain and announced that there would be major changes.

Copley postmortem coverage, San Diego Evening Tribune, October 8, 1973 Copley's widow Helen assumed complete control over the newspaper chain and announced that there would be major changes.

In 1969, just prior to taking office as president, he donated part of the collection, now known as the “Richard M. Nixon Pre-Presidential Papers,” to the National Archives. Just how complete the collection is, and whether Nixon withheld or shredded any documents before turning them over to the government, was known only to him and a few intimates. Even today, under the conditions of Nixon’s “deed of gift,” some of the material is being withheld from the public based on what Nixon termed “privacy” or “national security” considerations. Other Nixon records have been turned over to his privately maintained presidential library in Yorba Linda, which has just begun the enormous task of cataloging them. But more than enough is available today in Laguna Niguel to provide insights into the way Nixon and his cohorts conducted business in those early years.

Chances are, if you wrote a letter or a memo to Richard Nixon during the period between 1946 and 1962, it is in these voluminous files. And Jim Copley, along with his reporters and editors, wrote to Nixon a lot. Copley, who owned the Union and Tribune in San Diego, along with a string of smaller daily newspapers in suburban Los Angeles, knew Nixon even before he ran for Congress from California’s 12th District, whose biggest city was Whittier, where Nixon, of neighboring Yorba Linda, had gone to college. Whether or not Copley contributed money to that first campaign, against Democratic incumbent Jerry Voorhis, is not known, but as Nixon began his remarkable climb to national prominence, Copley and his reporters would soon be at his side, as the letters reveal.

Copley’s own, sanitized biography, written in 1964 by former Copley executive Walter Swanson, skips briefly over the publisher’s personal ties to Nixon and the special services Copley performed time and again for his fellow Californian. “Jim’s support of both Eisenhower and Nixon came from a personal conviction that their campaigns possessed historical significance and would greatly determine the nation’s future direction of progress.”

The letters paint a more complex portrait of a relationship between two young men, one who had inherited title to a newspaper chain, and the other, who needed a propaganda hand. No doubt there was friendship between the two. But each also took something else from the alliance; Copley, the national political influence he craved; Nixon, a friend in the press who didn’t hesitate to turn his editors and reporters into political operatives if it suited his ends.

Nixon’s most famous media mentor was Kyle Palmer, political editor of the Los Angeles Times during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. He was hired by Times publisher Harry Chandler, as chronicled by David Halberstam in his book, The Powers That Be, to be the boss of California politics. “Harry Chandler had begun it, he had created Kyle Palmer, and in time Kyle Palmer and the Los Angeles Times created Richard Nixon. Palmer was that powerful, a Dick Daley of Southern California. He was wonderfully ingratiating, and cynical. He made careers and he broke them, sometimes the same career.”

But as Palmer got the credit for molding Nixon’s early success, Copley s role in Nixon’s spectacular ascent went largely unnoticed. To some extent it was because Copley’s was a smaller stage — the navy town of San Diego, population about 500,000. It was also due to Copley’s penchant for secret dealing; Copley communicated and acted mostly through his editors and reporters and shied away from public appearances with Nixon. Even so, as the letters make clear, Copley turned what he called his “organization” over to Nixon without hesitation. Not only would the Copley papers carry the Nixon line editorially, Copley decreed, but the papers and their staffs would forever be dedicated to the service of Richard M. Nixon.


As the presidential race between Nixon and John F. Kennedy went down to the wire in the fall of 1960, Jim Copley knew, perhaps better than Nixon himself, that a big Republican vote in San Diego might make the difference in a close election. Nixon needed to hold onto his home state of California, yet polls showed the result was hanging in the balance. If Nixon were to lose the state, he would not only lose the presidency but every shred of political dignity he would need to make a comeback later on. The publisher worked feverishly to deliver the city for Nixon. In a letter to Nixon, dated September 13, Copley made an oft-repeated vow:

Dear Dick:

As you know, I am going to do everything possible through the Copley Newspapers to assist you in your campaign. I feel so vehemently that we need you as the next President of the United States.

In your campaigning, I certainly hope that you will not overlook San Diego. It is now the nineteenth [sic] city in the country. I believe I can swing a lot of the votes into your column. However, I feel it is imperative that you include this city on your schedule to be sure you will get the full support you deserve. I discussed this with [Union editor] Herb Klein. He assured me you were going to come here, but I thought I would take this opportunity to personally give you my sentiments on the subject.

I wish you Godspeed, and am rooting for your election in November. Please do not hesitate to call on my organization if we can help you.

That same day, Copley fired off a testy letter to Herb Klein, then Union editor, who was officially “on leave” to the Nixon campaign:

Dear Herb:

You mentioned that Dick was going to come to San Diego. I think this is vital to his campaign, and I hope you don’t mind my writing him as I did today, copy of which is enclosed.

Since returning from Honolulu, I have heard twice that people call your office not necessarily for you but for Dick’s associates, and their telephone calls are not answered. Also, indirectly,

I heard that [Major General and Eisenhower confidante] Jerry Persons wanted to talk to Dick the other day and was not able to do so. May I stick my nose into your business and say that these comments disturbed me, because, although you are embroiled in a tremendous, backbreaking campaign, it is always my feeling that no telephone call should go unanswered and every source of help should be tapped to insure our victory.

In response, Nixon adjusted his campaign schedule and a week later, a jubilant Copley, acting, as usual, from the shadows, wrote Nixon again:

Dear Dick:

I am delighted to know that you will be in San Diego October 11 to make a major speech.

The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune will do everything they can to help get an excellent turn-out for you. I only regret that I will have to be in New York at that time and cannot be with you.

I am watching the campaign every day as it progresses and think you are doing an outstanding job.

Although he lost narrowly across the nation, Nixon routed Kennedy in San Diego and thereby carried the state. Years later, Copley reminisced about the Nixon-Kennedy race, remembering with precision the sweetness of his personal victory: “In 1960, California went for Nixon by 23,000 votes, and an interesting comment on that is that San Diego gave him a margin of 53,000.” Copley would brag about it for the rest of his life, and Nixon would never forget: if not for the heroic efforts of the San Diego Union and Tribune, Nixon would have lost his home state. Copley had delivered; for once, Palmer and the Los Angeles Times had not.

Jim Copley did not limit his efforts to his papers. Although devoted to newsprint, Copley had once owned a television station, KCOP in Los Angeles, which he had been forced to sell to settle a long-running fight with his brother over the estate of their father, Colonel Ira Copley. The letters show Copley had retained his respect for television and was particularly sensitive to the impression Nixon was making through the relatively new electronic medium.

During the summer and fall of 1960, the publisher took on a self-appointed role as media advisor and was especially concerned with the way Nixon was coming across in what many historians later came to see as the pivotal television debates between Nixon and Kennedy. After the First one on September 26, an obviously worried Copley dashed off a nervous letter to Klein:

Dear Herb:

As a personal letter to you, I wish to say that I think Dick came out second best in the “debate” last night. I think the cameras played up Kennedy. Kennedy looked fresher; Dick looked tired, and I thought it was a shame that his suit did not appear too well on the set that I was looking at.

Also, Kennedy’s expression seemed to indicate that he was ready for anything, whereas Dick’s expression was very studious but to the point where it looked almost like he was mad or disturbed. I certainly hope we can do better in future exchanges.

In a subsequent letter to a Nixon campaign lieutenant, dated October 4, Copley urged that 1940s-era movie star George Murphy, who was active in conservative causes and would later be elected to the U.S. Senate in a campaign that many believe paved the way for Ronald Reagan's run for California governor, be consulted about Nixon’s makeup.

Dear Dick:

I am delighted that you have made some major changes in the TV debates and will look forward to the next one. In this connection I mentioned to Herb Klein the other day that George Murphy is very much of a Nixon man — perhaps he could give you some advice on how to handle makeup, lighting, etc.

Right after the Republican convention, in a letter dated July 30,1960, the San Diego publisher wrote Nixon about the appearance of his selection for the vice-presidency.

I am delighted with the choice of Henry Cabot Lodge as your running mate. I watched him on television Thursday evening, and I would offer the suggestion that he would look much better if he were to stand straighter and face the audience. I know he is a tall man, and I guess the podium was a little low for him. Your associates might want to watch this in the future as the campaign progresses.

Occasionally, Copley was not beneath using his letters of advice to get in a plug for one or another of his favorite causes, in this case the fight against a then-growing movement to tax newspaper advertising. In a 1960 letter to Klein, he wrote:

May I ask another favor of you. This has to do with Kennedy’s comment on advertising. In a recently issued pamphlet, he was quoted as saying, “I do not advocate a tax on advertising.” So far, we have had no such comment from Dick. I think it would be very advantageous if you were to suggest that he make some comment on this subject.

In another letter, dated July 2, 1954, Copley expressed his gratitude to the then-vice president for an unspecified favor.

Dear Dick:

May I take this opportunity to thank you for arranging to see me the other day when I was in Washington.

I always appreciate the chance to talk to you. I thank you for listening to my problem and I hope that some satisfactory solution will be reached.

If Nixon resented or was amused by Copley’s attempts to lobby his personal causes, he never expressed it in the letters. And Nixon, of course, was far from ungrateful for what he often called his ace in the hole. In October 1960, Nixon wrote Copley acknowledging the direct contributions that the publisher and his papers and its employees were making to the campaign.

Dear Jim:

I want to thank you for your letters of September 22 and tell you how much I appreciate your efforts toward insuring a big turn out on October 11. Needless to say, I regret that we won’t be able to get together during my trip to San Diego.

The all-out assistance you are giving us — ranging from the loan of [Union editor] Herb Klein and (Union reporter] Peter Kaye to the help on the San Diego programs — is most gratifying. I only wish we had more like you!

After his defeat, Nixon, who often claimed biased newspaper coverage was responsible for the loss, thanked Copley for his campaign work and offered a morose postmortem of the campaign in a letter dated December 28, 1960. Copley, who as usual remained shy of public appearances, had turned down Nixon’s invitation to a Washington dinner for friends of the campaign.

Dear Jim:

Pat and I are very sorry that you are unable to come to our dinner on January 19th although we knew it was only a very long chance that you might be able to arrange your schedule to be in Washington at that time.

I would like to express in this letter what I intended to say to you personally if you had been able to be with us — my grateful and lasting appreciation for all that you did in the campaign. The support of the Copley newspapers was absolutely magnificent. We had the support, as you know, of a majority of the publishers and editors of the country but what distinguishes your papers, as I have often told you, is that you don’t stop at the editorial page — you see to it that the coverage on the front page is fair and objective. If all the editors and publishers who supported us had done as well as you did in this respect there is no doubt in my mind but that we would have won the election.

But even more than the support of your newspapers as an institution, Pat and I have appreciated the personal friendship which you and [Copley’s first wife] Jeanie have extended to us through the years. We have always enjoyed those occasions when we have been able to get together for a social visit and we are happy that one of the compensating features for losing the election will be that we will have more time for this type of activity in the future.

Finally, I want to tell you again how much I appreciate your having made it possible for Herb Klein to be with us during the campaign. As I am sure you know, he had a terribly difficult assignment, working with a press corps which was 80% hostile as far as their personal preference for President was concerned. No man could have been more devoted or could have given more of himself than Herb did in trying to get our story across. He deserves the best in whatever he undertakes and I, personally, was delighted when he told me he was going to return to San Diego — from his standpoint as well as from yours.


1960 was not the first time Copley and his papers had come through for Nixon. A letter from Nixon to the publisher, dated November 19, 1954, just after the midterm congressional elections, is typical of many:

Dear Jim:

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the wonderful job the Copley papers did for our cause in the last campaign. Your Washington staff, as always, just couldn’t have been more cooperative.

I saw the San Diego paper the morning after I spoke there and I could hardly believe my eyes when I noted the extent of the coverage. No wonder San Diego was one of the bright spots in the whole California picture.

The next time you get back this way I hope we will have a chance to get together for a visit. I think we have learned some things in this election which will be extremely helpful as we make our plans for 1956.

Pat joins me in sending our very best to you both.

Copley and Pat Nixon also enjoyed a cordial relationship, as evidenced by a note he wrote her dated May 5, 1959.

When I saw you recently in Washington, you expressed an interest in the editorial we prepared comparing Dick to Lincoln. Attached is a copy of the editorial for your information.

A week later, she replied:

You were ever so kind to send the editorial. We shall value your generously worded article in our family scrapbook all through the years. It was so much fun having you and Jeannie [sic] here! Dick and I hope it will not be long before we see you again.

In September 1959, after his famous trip to the Soviet Union, featuring the “kitchen debate” with Premier Nikita Khrushchev, Nixon wrote Copley a short note, marked “Personal.”

Dear Jim:

The complete and generous coverage by the Copley Press, both editorially and in the news columns, was most gratifying, I can assure you. It was a pleasure to have [Copley reporter] Rembert lames aboard as a member of the traveling press, and the suggestions he passed along as a result of his previous experiences in the Soviet Union were most helpful.

After Nixon had lost the presidency to Kennedy and was preparing to run for governor of California, he thanked Copley for sponsoring a San Diego fundraiser with C. Arnholdt Smith, the town’s biggest power broker who would, on the eve of Watergate, take his biggest fall.

The ride down and back in your spic-and-span new plane, the superb dinner which you hosted jointly with Arnholdt Smith, and the Kiwanis luncheon will always stand out in my memory as especially fine events. But most thoughtful of all was your taking the time and trouble to fly clear back to the Los Angeles Airport with me at the end of the day. I only hope that you got home in time to get at least a reasonable night’s sleep!

Then, once more, after he had lost the governorship to Pat Brown in November 1962, Nixon sent Copley yet another message of thanks. The day after his crushing defeat, Nixon had called a news conference in which he bitterly attacked the press, using the now-famous line, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” But in his November 7 telegram to Copley, the future president praised Copley and his troops.

Dear Jim:

Just as I have often had occasion in the past to express to you my heartfelt appreciation for your never-failing friendship and generous support, I want to do so once again, and also to take this opportunity to put on the record what I have said to others — that I felt the strongest support I got in this recent campaign came from you, that Herb Klein’s assistance, which you so kindly made it possible for us to have, was invaluable, and that Pete Kaye’s coverage of the campaign period was outstanding and up to the highest standards of journalism in every way.

Copley frequently commiserated with Nixon about the general state of the American press. Following a Washington visit with Nixon in 1954, he wrote:

Dear Dick:

I too am quite concerned about the press of the United States and you may be sure that I spend a great deal of time and effort trying to follow out the thoughts which we have expressed in the past. You may be sure that I will continue to do so and if there are any problems in which I can help you, please do not hesitate to call on me.

Despite the tone of much of the correspondence, Copley’s loyalty to Nixon was not always blind. After seeing speculation that Republicans wanted Nixon to run for governor, he warned Nixon in a letter dated May 29, 1961, against undertaking what became his disastrous 1962 campaign.

I am sorry that they have you listed as Governor, because I still don’t feel that this would be good for your and your future.

Replied Nixon in a letter dated June 7, 1961:

I share your views with regard to the governorship. As you have discovered, however, the pressures are building up for me to run because of the inability of any of the potential candidates to gain public support. I am hopeful that between now and the end of this year that one will get off the mark so I will not have to take on the assignment.


Copley gave money to Nixon, the letters show, although the amount was known only to the two men. “Enclosed is a campaign contribution, which I hope will be of help to you,” says one note from Copley to Nixon, dated October 10, 1962, during the gubernatorial race.

Copley’s biggest single contribution, however, was probably the service of Herb Klein, who began his career as a young news editor for the Alhambra Post-Advocate, in the heart of Nixon’s 12th Congressional District. As noted by Nixon biographer Roger Morris, Klein played a seminal role in Nixon’s first congressional effort. “Ostensibly a working news reporter, Klein would be remembered...for his extraprofessional contribution to the campaign,” wrote Morris. “Herb helped us — let’s put it that way — on publicity and writing,” an early Nixon insider remembered.

Klein would, over the years, be “loaned” back and forth between the Copley newspapers and Nixon’s various campaigns, to the point where it became hard to make a distinction between his role as journalist and that as Nixon campaign operative.

In public, Jim Copley always took pains to separate Klein’s work for the papers and his job as a Nixon handler. According to a Copley press release announcing Klein’s return as Union editor in late 1960, “Klein has been on leave-of-absence as editor since May 1959. He was Nixon’s press secretary during the trip to the Soviet Union and throughout the Presidential campaign.... Klein previously served as assistant press secretary to Nixon in 1956 and as his press secretary for the 1958 campaign, taking a leave of absence from his newspaper position for each assignment.”

The reality is more complex. The letters, especially those between Copley and Klein throughout each campaign and a note from Nixon to Copley seeking Klein’s “release” to the campaign, show that Klein’s transfers from the Copley papers to the Nixon camp and back again were more matters of campaign logistics than attempts to preserve the journalistic integrity of the papers. The letters illustrate clearly that Klein often did Nixon’s bidding, whether or not on “leave.”

Following the 1956 presidential campaign, Nixon wrote Copley:

Dear Jim:

This is just a note to tell you what an outstanding job Herb Klein did for us during the campaign.

I want you to know, too, how much we appreciated the sturdy, never wavering support we received from the Copley papers in Illinois and California. My only regret is that you don’t have a paper in every one of the forty-eight states!

Also, I don’t know what we would do in a campaign if we didn’t have Frank Kuest along with us. He is not only a hard-working and able reporter, but he never fails to buck up our spirits when the going is tough.

Two years later, after the 1958 midterm congressional elections, Nixon wrote Copley:

Dear Jim:

I deeply appreciate your kindness in releasing Herb Klein to us during the campaign period. As usual, he did a superb job, and he was of invaluable assistance throughout the entire time he was with us.

You can indeed take pride in the good showing of the Republican candidates in the San Diego area, as I am convinced that a great measure of the credit for this result lies at the door step of the Copley papers which you so ably head.

In May 1959, as the 1960 presidential race approached, Nixon wrote Copley again about the need to dispatch Klein to the campaign.

Dear Jim:

I am certainly aware of the handicaps Herb’s absence inflicts upon your organization. I realize as well that this whole decision was doubly difficult for both of you, following as it did Herb’s recent important promotion. I can assure you that I decided to make the request only because of a most keenly felt need and after careful deliberation. I shall be ever grateful for your prompt compliance.

Copley responded:

Dear Dick:

I must tell you that your comments concerning Herb Klein, as well as your remarks about the Copley Newspapers, are greatly appreciated. I just hope we can continue to do this kind of a job. It is a big job and all of us have to work at it 24 hours a day.

I feel [Klein] is doing the job he should be doing, but if there is anything that our organization can do to help you, please do not hesitate to let us know.

After Nixon lost the presidency to Kennedy in 1960, Klein, as editor of the San Diego Union, became a veritable Nixon mole in the Fourth Estate, chatting up fellow journalists and politicians at national newspaper events and later reporting back to Nixon the results of his intelligence gathering.

A typical example came in the early summer of 1961, when Klein attended a conference in Washington sponsored by the wire service United Press International (UPI). In a memo to Nixon dated June 28, Klein recounted his activities, including an encounter with the Nixonites’ biggest nemesis of the era, President John F. Kennedy.


While I was at the UPI Conference, Kennedy was on the program just prior to me. He made a point of walking across the platform in front of all of the editors and chatting with me briefly just prior to his departure. Since I was the only person he talked to, I assume that it was calculated by him to make a public display of sportsmanship. I had prepared a speech attacking his press policies which I proceeded to give. I think that the factual matter that I had in the speech incited considerable interest judging from the questions which were asked of me at that point and later, of Bobby Kennedy when he came to speak. Spot coverage of my comments also was good. Editor and Publisher on its front page last week ran an account of the two Kennedys’ comments and some of my comments.

Lyndon Johnson, then Kennedy’s vice president, also addressed the UPI conference, according to the memo, and spoke about the small but growing American involvement in Vietnam, later to play such a fateful role in Nixon’s own presidency. In light of what was to come, Klein’s assessment seems laden with irony:

At the meeting, I asked Johnson if he would recommend sending U.S. troops to Laos or South Vietnam if the situation became worse. I thought he might dodge it. To my surprise, he said he opposed sending U.S. troops either place. This was mentioned in UPI stories but not given major display. It seems to me this is an Acheson perimeter statement. You might want to hit at declaring our position in advance regardless of what we are to do. I think Johnson was stupid. His report, incidentally, was poor in both content and delivery.

In the same memo, Klein also discussed reaction he had gathered from the editors to a weekly newspaper column Nixon was trying to sell with Klein’s help, concluding: “In a nutshell, the column was a major hit. It was page one and excited much comment.” He ended his report by providing his old boss with encouraging polling results about the 1962 race for California governor, which Nixon was already considering making against Democratic incumbent Pat Brown, promising to play them up in the Union.

Enclosed is a copy of two of the Field Reports, which show you stronger than ever against Brown. The second is particularly interesting regarding 1964. We will give this good display and I intend to send copies of it to a number of newsmen in Washington.

In a memo dated July 10,1961, editor Klein was even working on a Nixon foreign policy.


I think you should announce in three or four weeks that you plan to visit Berlin and possibly Paris. Here’s why:

During the next few months more and more attention will be focused on Berlin. You created an excellent impression of your statesmanship with your column on Berlin and with your speeches. I find this substantiated in talking with editors and publishers across the country.

The stand you take — strength — is one which Kennedy eventually must follow. If he does, he is being guided by you. If he does not, and I shudder to think of this, the contrast eventually will rebound strongly to your favor.

This trip would be billed as a fact-finding trip which you could use in writing your column and perhaps in making a televised report.... I am sure that the trip would gain wide press coverage if built up. It would emphasis [sic] the confidence Brandt, Adenauer, and DeGaulle have in your judgment.

I tried this idea on Bob Finch and Bob Wilson this weekend and their reaction encouraged me to voice this opinion. In the event you decide not to run for Governor, certainly this type of thing would be a concrete illustration of your intent to exert national leadership.

From time to time, Klein would also pass on data that Copley had compiled about exactly how well his papers were doing on Nixon’s behalf. With one memo to Nixon, dated January 17,1961, Klein enclosed an elaborate three-page tally sheet titled “Comparison of Presidential Election Results for the COPLEY NEWSPAPERS’ Cities,” including results for 1952, 1956, and 1960. Nixon had carried all but one of the Copley cities, although some by only razor-thin margins.

Attached is a statement by Jim Copley on January 11 and a study of the election in the areas of Copley papers. I thought these would interest you.

Incidentally, he passed these two things out to each of his editors at the conference last week. I think they got the idea.

A few years earlier, Klein was working overtime collecting media intelligence and offering himself as a convenient conduit for favorable leaks. A typical dispatch came in the form of a letter dated December 3,1958, from Klein to Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods. It was typed on San Diego Union letterhead and arrived following a trip the vice president had made to London. Below Klein’s signature was the title “Executive Editor.”

Dear Rose:

This, as you note, is a bulky letter, but it includes several things I wanted you to see. I am enclosing carbons of the wire service reports of Saturday when RN returned to Washington. I thought he might like to scan the reports to gain some indication of how these services, which do not appear in Washington papers, handled the situation.

Klein then offered to do some public relations work for his once and future boss:

I have enclosed two sets of copies of RN’s analysis of the 1958 election. This was made up on the morning of the election as we flew into New York. Father Cronin, for one, asked for a set of these to keep in his own files. Looking at the first sheet, which is headed “Dem Pick Ups,” I would like to know if the boss would be interested in having me leak it to two or three Washington pundits who seem to think that the election results came as a surprise. I am thinking especially of [New York Times columnist) Scotty Reston. I think it would not be advisable to leak any of the other sheets.

In the same letter, Klein also took care of a few financial details left over from that year’s campaign. San Diego congressman Bob Wilson, who had become one of Nixon’s most loyal operatives, had been dispatched to Alaska to run the Republican party’s congressional campaign effort there. Judging from Klein’s remarks to Rose Mary Woods, the young congressman had still not been paid for his services and had asked Klein to intervene.

In the midst of all the rush to and from England, I am not sure whether you have had an opportunity to examine the problem of Bob Wilson’s expenses on the trip to Alaska. Bob, I know, is rather shy about mentioning money, but I know from talking with him that he has spent seven or eight hundred dollars out of pocket on expenses and plane tickets and the like. I believe also that there was some understanding between him and RN over the fact that the national committee would provide some sort of a fee for his work there. I don’t know the details and have no intention of interfering. I thought, though, that you might want to know this just for your own thinking on the subject. Lee Potter [a Republican operative], incidentally, was given, I think, two thousand dollars for going to Alaska.

I have watched the press reports following the Alaska election, and so far I have seen no reports which attempt to tie the loss as any type of blow at the Vice President’s efforts in the area. I also talked with the publisher of one of the papers in Anchorage, and he said that whatever chance Stepovich had would be directly due to the work of first the Vice President, then Seaton, and thirdly Bob Wilson. I suppose that some time or other some enemy will attempt to make something of the Alaska thing, but I am sure that whatever comes out will have little effect. I am sure in my own mind that the boss did a tremendous amount toward making at least one of the races close. Without his trip there we would have had a really major disaster.

About two weeks later, on December 18, 1958, Woods replied to Klein, in a letter that to this day remains censored under the terms of Nixon’s gift to the National Archives, except for the last page:

May this Christmas in your new home be a most merry one and I hope that 1959 is the best year yet for all the Kleins.

P.S. The Boss thinks it is fine to leak those election things as you suggested.

P.S.S. Bob Wilson did receive a check — I hope he felt it was adequate — it was the best we could do.

When Nixon came to California on an early campaign swing in February 1959, Klein, then Union editor according to the title under his signature, wrote him on the newspaper’s letterhead with lengthy advice on how to make the trip a media success:

Dear Dick:

If you arrive in San Francisco on Sunday and plan to leave on Monday or sooner, I would suggest that you hold a press conference at the St. Francis Hotel rather than at the airport. I would suggest that you hold it on early Sunday afternoon, if possible. This would get good play on a normally dull day. If you will stay longer than through Monday, I would suggest a press conference on Monday morning, allowing the airport arrival to serve as one story and the press conference to serve as another.

While in San Francisco, I would suggest again the great desirability of making a visit to Fishermen’s Wharf and allowing a picture to be taken aboard a fishing boat tied up to the wharf.

When you go to Los Angeles, the press conference could easily be held at the airport or the hotel, depending on time of arrival. The Los Angeles airport has good press facilities while the San Francisco one does not.

If time will permit, while you are in Los Angeles, it would be a good gesture to invite up for a brief talk Rafer Johnson who recently was named California athlete of the year and is president of the UCLA student body. He is a very fine young colored lad who, you will recall, won fame by beating the Russians in the decathlon. I think this could be arranged very easily and again would make an interesting picture. A clipping on him is enclosed.

Klein ended by alluding to his simultaneous role as newspaper editor and campaign operative. He would not officially go “on leave” from the Union’s editorship until that May, according to a later Copley news release.

On matters regarding myself, I plan to follow the procedure we discussed of frequent visits to help you. I also am working on getting things squared away here.

Earlier, just prior to another Nixon campaign visit to California in the fall of 1958, Klein, then-executive editor of the Union, wrote on the newspaper’s stationery to Rose Mary Woods with detailed planning notes for the trip, including how female reporters covering Nixon’s wife Pat were to be handled.

It should be made standard operating procedure that coffee will be served to the girls during Pat’s press conference, and that she will be available for such a conference at any time the Vice President has one. I would urge a continuation of press conferences, and I have suggested to Laoie that the boss consider immediately having am [sic] press conferences in San Francisco and in Los Angeles during his trip next week. There is time available and this would have the major advantage of accommodating both afternoon and morning newspapers during his visit in the state. It is an inexpensive way to campaign.

Later in the same letter, Klein took up his own apparent role as advance man on the forthcoming campaign swing.

We found ourselves doing an Alphonse and Gaston act often regarding who would ride in the car with the Vice President. I would suggest that on a standard basis, the advance man ride in the car from the airport to the hotel. Around the city, I believe Don Hughes should. When there is some specific thing involved and perhaps frequently from the hotel to the airport when we leave, I myself or Bill Key could be helpful in the car.

According to at least one 1957 letter from Klein to Nixon, Klein would also use his position at the Union to plant stories favorable to Nixon.

I thought enough of your talk that we are running a complete text and a feature story this Sunday under, the heading of “Where U.S. Stands; Nixon gives Un-sugarcoated Facts.” I would certainly suggest that some of the material in this speech would be fine to use in talks elsewhere. I think it would be picked up by most newsmen as if it were new, as few of them would probably read the complete text.

Even earlier, in 1951, Klein was filling then-Senator Nixon in on the details of California politics, as gleaned from his position at the Copley Press. In a December 11 letter typed on Evening Tribune letterhead, Klein wrote to a Nixon aide in Washington to report on the impressions that Nixon and his fellow Republican senator from California, Bill Knowland, had made during their respective meetings with the Tribune's editorial board.

Our policy board talked with both Dick and with Bill Knowland. Naturally, we have considerable respect for Bill also. There was an interesting comment, however, which I think would be valuable to you. Two or three of those attending commented that Knowland now talks a little too formally even in informal conversation, sort of like making a speech. They thought Dick has retained an ability to talk in a relaxed manner, more informally.

We have not decided, incidentally, how we are going on the Presidential race.

Nixon and Knowland would be rivals for the vice-presidential nomination in 1952, and Klein’s intelligence gave Nixon just one more advantage in what would become a fight between the conservative old Republican guard, represented by Ohio senator Bob Taft, and the eastern Republican establishment backing Eisenhower. Earl Warren, then governor of California, was counting on a deadlock between the two front-runners, at which point he hoped to snatch the nomination for himself. Some historians say Nixon, nominally pledged to Warren, spoiled that strategy by providing vital intelligence to the Eisenhower forces and was rewarded with the vice-presidential nomination over Warren loyalist Knowland.

A year later, on October 1, 1953, Klein wrote Nixon, now vice president. Eisenhower had appointed Warren chief justice of the Supreme Court. Klein’s assessment of that move mirrored the views of the right wing of the California Republican party, which found Warren too liberal for its taste. On the other hand, it was happy he was no longer governor. Klein then went on to discuss the future of “Goody” Knight, the Republican who became governor after Warren, and Pat Brown, the Democrat who was then state attorney general, and would later become governor.

With the appointment of Gov. Warren, we like many others have been in the peculiar position of not wanting to be too high in praise and not wanting to criticize. I’ve just finished a piece tracing the governor’s legal career and implying that if he returns to those concepts, he can become a fine Chief Justice. Our next puzzle is how to handle the Goody Knight editorial. That’s not easy. Along that line, Pat Brown has been making statements that the state needs another governor who thinks like Warren. And he has been trading in on the natural publicity outlets like narcotics and now alcoholic beverage enforcement. I’ve been trying to get the committee headed by Glen Lipscomb to investigate the Board of Equalization and take the play.

Perhaps the most intriguing passage of all Klein’s correspondence is his mention in that same 1953 letter to Nixon of a “leak” in the U.S. State Department, a prophetic reference in light of President Nixon’s later struggle with the New York Times over publication of The Pentagon Papers, a secret study of the war in Vietnam. Nixon subsequently formed a “plumbers’ squad” to squelch further leaks, a development reflecting the paranoia that ended in Watergate. Most reporters and editors relish leaks, but that wasn’t the case with Klein.

When I last talked with Rose Woods, I mentioned to her that the [Soviet Security Chief Lavrenti] Beria leak in Washington was from the State Department to an AP reporter named Kelly. We have checked further and know this to be true. I think such leaks ought to be called to the department’s attention and stopped. I don’t know if there ever were four Russians in Spain, but that leak has made it almost impossible to find out ever. We still are working on it with Fuson in Spain, but chances are dim.

To the end, Klein remained a Nixon loyalist, but as the letters and history make clear, the early relationship between the men was far more personal, and equal, than it later became. Nixon the congressman, and later senator, seems more approachable for Klein than Nixon the vice president. As Nixon’s national power and stature grew, Klein’s tone became ever more formal and deferential. In the early years, Klein addressed Nixon as Dick. Later, during the vice-presidential years and after, Nixon would be referred to as RN, or more often, simply “The Boss.” One of the first Klein letters in the Nixon files is written on San Diego Union letterhead and dated July 17, 1952, the day after Nixon was picked to be Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate. Klein was the Union's assistant editor.

Dear Dick:

I wanted to follow up my wire, which must have arrived in the midst of great excitement, and congratulate you on your nomination.

I understand you are coming out here for a short vacation at the beach. If you really want to get away from the demands of Los Angeles and the old 12th district, I’d like to suggest La Jolla as an ideal place. I would be glad to help locate a place to stay — in fact I have a few abalone stashed away which would be quickly prepared for a Nixon family dinner. As you know, La Jolla is quiet and has ideal beaches with plenty of water sports.

As I said in the wire, if there is anything I can do to help your campaign, please call on me and I’ll arrange it.

P.S. I’ve enclosed a couple clippings I thought you might enjoy. I’ve got a cartoonist to work with me here now. By the way, do we send your office the Union?

By 1957, Klein was sending many of his requests through Rose Mary Woods. When he got word that Nixon had been invited to the Bohemian Grove, an ultra-exclusive, members-only, all-male retreat in the woods north of San Francisco, he wrote this letter dated July 22,1957.

Two of the people at the Grove at the present time who would be most anxious for an opportunity at all to visit with him briefly would be Jim Copley and Dr. Frederic A. Cordes.

I think I need say no more about Jim and how much I would appreciate it if it is possible to include him in any type of reception or conference plans RN might have there.

Dr. Cordes is a former president of the American Medical Eye Doctors Association, and was the eye doctor for Earl Warren and a few others, is the dean of the Medical Eye School of the University of California, is a director or former director of Bohemian Grove, and, most important to me, is my uncle.


As Union editor, Klein also sought to mold press coverage of Nixon by setting him up with certain Union and Tribune and Copley wire service reporters who he said he believed would provide “friendlier” coverage than “outsiders.” He would also on occasion act as censor and go-between.

Whether editor or campaign operative, Klein distrusted most reporters, according to Theodore H. White, author of The Making of the President 1960. Klein, wrote White....

...was an honest and kindly man — yet elusive, colorless and withdrawn; he too, appeared to be talking to the press with a sense of deep suspicion. Indeed, it was more difficult to elicit information from Klein than from John F. Kennedy himself. As much as any man, Klein was responsible for Nixon’s bad press. To understand the inner Nixon, one had to reach (Robert] Finch (the source of almost all the warm and positive information about the Vice-President) or Nixon’s exceptionally able Planning Director, James Bassett (then assistant managing editor of the Los Angeles Mirror), who was, unfortunately, left behind in Washington throughout the campaign. At the beginning of the campaign the reporters assigned to Mr. Nixon were probably split down the middle between those friendly and those hostile to him; by the end of the campaign he had succeeded in making them predominantly into that which he had feared from the outset — hostile.

One example of Klein’s operating methods came in the spring of 1961, when then-Evening Tribune columnist Neil Morgan sought to interview Nixon, still smarting from his presidential defeat by John F. Kennedy and apparently in no mood to be interviewed. Morgan first wrote the ex-VP on May 12.

Esquire magazine has asked me to write an article for the October issue on “Citizen Nixon,” with emphasis on your life as a Southern Californian, your law practice, your adjustment outside government service, and your family life.

My reporting technique is as painless and brisk, I suspect, as any; for interviewing, I favor a very small tape recorder. As an observer, I should like to be as close to you as is convenient for two or three days between now and the end of June, if it is possible. By this I do not mean eavesdropping or sitting in your office watching your every gesture. I’m thinking of observing your general movements.

Morgan emphasized that the story would be screened by Klein before publication and added his assurances that he was a political bedfellow of the ex-vice president.

I would submit my draft of the piece to Herb Klein or you to be read for accuracy. As for point of view, I can assure you of my friendliness. One reason Clay Felker at Esquire tapped me for the assignment must be that I lost an election bet to him. You may be interested that this week he refused to renew his bet on Kennedy in the event that the two of you meet in 1964.

Morgan apparently gave the letter to then-Union editor Klein, who wrote out a cover memo addressed to “RN” before forwarding it on to his old boss.

Attached is a letter from Neil Morgan who is a very talented writer and columnist for the San Diego Evening Tribune. He has written several books and some articles for national magazines. I know that you have individual problems in deciding about requests like this, and certainly both Neil and I would understand.

I only suggest that if it is possible to do such a thing, to have Morgan write the article would be highly preferable to anything that might be developed by another less friendly writer from Esquire. I am sure that Morgan would be unobtrusive and not want to sit in on every little conference of yours.

Instead of replying directly to Morgan, on July 7 Nixon wrote back to Klein.

I would appreciate it if you would inform Neil Morgan that at the present time I simply cannot work individual interviews for magazine and newspaper articles into my schedule. Around the 15th of July it may be possible that my commitments will lighten up to the point where I could change this policy. In the event that should happen, I shall be in touch with Neil Morgan.

You can assure him that when I do find some open time in my schedule for interviews, one who would approach the writing of an article in an objective and friendly way will, of course, have priority!

A month went by without any further word from Nixon, so on August 8, Klein wrote the ex-VP again.

Dear Dick:

You will recall that a few months ago I wrote you concerning Neil Morgan's Esquire assignment to do a major story regarding you. At that time you suggest that he contact you after July 15.

As I said earlier, Neil is an admirer of yours and is rapidly winning attention as one of the leading biographers of the new West. He currently is writing a book on the West and has a twelve page article in Esquire this month on the same area.

His full-time job, as you know, is as a columnist for the Evening Tribune. He undoubtedly is the largest single attraction the Tribune has.

I realize your personal problems in trying to find enough time for your book, but I know that Neil will be contacting Rose since he is being pushed very hard by Esquire. Originally he had hoped to spend considerable time with you, but because of the situation he feels that approximately a 45-minute interview with a tape recorder would provide the fresh material he needs to complete the research he has done.

A month later, on September 8, Morgan tried once more, this time employing some of the self-styled folksiness he had become famous for in San Diego and reiterating his personal political support of his would-be subject.

Dear Mr. Nixon:

I have just learned that it was national Hole-In-One Day when you made golfing history with your own hole-in-one. With that kind of timing, you should be romp-in for the Governorship — and the Presidency.

Herb Klein tells me that he spoke to you again about the article Esquire has asked me to do on you. I am counting on Herb to be a major source of information for me on your activities and attitudes as a private citizen, making the burden of direct interviewing on you so light that I am sure we can confine it to an hour of your time. I am hoping very earnestly that you can arrange to give me 45 minutes later this month, as Herb suggested you might.

Morgan concluded by volunteering to turn the story over to Nixon for Final editing before publication. “To expedite this article (to the fullest extent possible among friends), I would propose to submit the manuscript to you to be scanned for any error of fact, or interpretation.”

Finally, on September 20, whether impressed by the folksiness or the offer of Final approval, Nixon seemed to warm to the proposed interview, writing Morgan:

It was most thoughtful of you to write as you did on September 8 with regard to my hole-in-one. I imagine that the only people more astonished than I was when the ball rolled in the hole were those who have played with me and know what an erratic golfer I am.

Both Herb Klein and my secretary have told me of your willingness to come to Los Angeles on a few hours’ notice and interview me at my convenience. You may be sure that as soon as my schedule permits such an appointment, I will have Miss Woods give you a call to work out the arrangements.

Morgan Finally caught up with Nixon on the famous flight to Seattle that November. There is no record of what changes Nixon may have made to Morgan’s Esquire story prior to publication, but the ex-VP was apparently pleased with the result, based on a March 11, 1962, note from Morgan to Nixon.

Dear Mr. Nixon,

Thank you for your gracious letter about my ESQUIRE article. And congratulations on the loud clear voice you already have raised on California affairs. Your position on the John Birch Society is statesmanship of a level to which California is unaccustomed.

I look forward to a copy of your book and will do what I can to make San Diego sales smashing!

Then, about two weeks later, on March 26, Morgan wrote to Rose Mary Woods, this time offering Nixon Final approval of a book he was writing for Random House.

A major portion of the material edited from Mr. Nixon’s interview has appeared previously in Esquire. It is verbatim from the tape. I do not presume that he will care to take time to edit it, but if he cares to do so, I would be most grateful if he could do it in time that the transcript be returned to me before April 7. I am leaving the following day for a long trip in Europe and want to leave this final chapter with the typist for forwarding to Random House during my absence.

Regrettably the book will not be published until after the election. That is just one more reason I’m pulling for your boss!

I wired him my congratulations on his book. It reads well, very well indeed.

Woods finally forwarded Morgan’s manuscript to campaign aide Chuck Lichenstein. In a memo on “Nixon for Governor” letterhead dated April 5, 1962, she wrote:

RN suggested that you give the attached a quick check with as little, if any, change as is possible so that we can return it to Neil Morgan either late today or tomorrow morning. Thanks.

Other Union reporters who were set up by Klein included the paper’s longtime society columnist Eileen Jackson. In an undated letter, apparently from 1956, Jackson wrote to Pat Nixon’s secretary.

Dear Miss Everts:

Just before leaving tonight for Ottawa I want to write to ask your help in securing a quickie interview with Mrs. Nixon in her new home the morning of Oct. 23. Herbert Klein, our executive editor, is eager that I obtain this. Also I would like a photograph of her in the new home (he thinks you have some on file).

Jackson wrote Everts again, on August 19, 1957, asking her help on an upcoming visit to Washington.

I recall with such pleasure meeting you in Washington last year when you arranged an interview with Mrs. Nixon (the day your mother lunched with her), and again in San Francisco at the Republican Convention when you were more helpful than you will ever know to a novice on such an assignment.

The San Diego Union of the Copley Press plans to send me to Washington, D.C. at the time of the visit of the Queen of England to do some special articles connected with her visit. I would deeply appreciate it if you would help me where her program touches that of the Nixons, to whom I am personally devoted.


In November 1962, when Richard Nixon lost his race for the governorship of California, many believed his political career was over. He moved to New York, where he' joined a large Manhattan law firm and began picking up the pieces. Nixon’s personal correspondence from this period is not yet available; much of it has been turned over to the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, where it is yet to be made available for public review.

After 1962, life went on for Jim Copley. In 1965, he divorced his first wife Jean and married his confidential secretary, Helen Hunt, a young, tall Midwesterner who with her mother had come west just 13 years earlier, carrying an unborn son from a brief liaison in a small town in Iowa. She had taken a secretarial job at the Santa Fe railroad office and soon moved across the street to Copley newspapers, where she quickly became an indispensable part of Jim Copley’s retinue. (At the bottom of Copley’s many personal letters to Nixon is typed “hh.”)

Out of the Goldwater presidential debacle of 1964, which Nixon sidestepped, came the rise of California’s “new conservatives,” who would help pave the way for Nixon’s comeback. That very autumn of’64, George Murphy, the matinee idol of the ’40s and longtime GOP activist, wrested a U.S. senate seat from Democrat Pierre Salinger, the ex-Kennedy press chief whom Governor Pat Brown had appointed to the job after the death of an incumbent. Murphy’s victory heralded the rise of the gipper himself, Ronald Reagan, who demolished Pat Brown’s bid for a third term two years later in 1966.

Like Nixon, Reagan relied on many political allies from San Diego, including Gordon Luce, the savings and loan magnate who, during the twilight of Reagan’s presidential years, was to preside over the collapse of Great American Bank. But that was many years in the future. That San Diego delivered so hugely for Nixon in 1960, combined with the ticket’s narrow national loss, made the pain of losing all the greater. In that one magnificent 1966 election, Reagan’s victory wiped away the disappointments of 1960.

Jim Copley became so enthusiastic that he paid millions for the Sacramento Union in an effort to counter the Sacramento Bee, the number-one paper owned by the liberal McClatchy family. Copley’s Sacramento venture, later sold in 1974 by his widow to staunch a hemorrhaging of cash, was regarded by most as just another of Jim’s quixotic attempts at political power. But in the spring of 1968, as Nixon gathered his forces for yet another run at the presidency, Copley was again preparing to deliver San Diego and the state.

After his nomination that August at the GOP’s Miami convention, Nixon flew west, received by a boisterous San Diego rally, which had been well-advanced by the Copley newspapers. In his book, Making It Perfectly Clear, Herb Klein set the scene. “After [Nixon’s] nomination in 1968, he and Vice President Ag-new had flown to the Bahia Hotel in Mission Bay for two weeks of strategy sessions and for a small, private dinner at the home of James S. Copley, owner of newspapers in San Diego, Southern California, and Illinois. It probably was the only small dinner party they ever attended jointly, and it was a festive occasion, with Mrs. Helen Copley, who succeeded her husband as publisher after his death, acting as hostess.”

Four years later, as Nixon again returned triumphant to San Diego from Miami in August of 1972, he was greeted by an even bigger rally. That fall, Nixon was to swamp his anti-war foe and liberal Democratic opponent George McGovern, but Jim Copley, his body wracked by cancer, had reason to be disappointed. Nixon had wanted to hold the Republican convention in San Diego that year, but much of the local citizenry was skeptical of the cost and the demonstrators who might show up. Then Washington columnist Jack Anderson produced a memo, purportedly from Dita Beard, a lobbyist for the holding company that owned Sheraton Hotels, connecting the company’s financial support for the San Diego convention to the Nixon administration’s friendly handling of an anti-trust suit against the company. Although played down by the Copley papers, the affair got national publicity and Nixon was forced to move the convention to Miami. Many later saw the controversy — which involved a visit by White House operative E Howard Hunt to the hospital bedside of Dita Beard — as a harbinger of Watergate.

In the fall of 1973, just as his massive printing plant was opening in Mission Valley, Jim Copley died in a La Jolla hospital bed. From the embattled White House, Nixon issued a statement memorializing his old comrade-in-arms. Despite protestations by Copley’s two adopted children from his first marriage, his widow Helen assumed complete control over the newspaper chain and shortly announced that there would be major changes. No longer, she proclaimed, would the papers protect “sacred cows,” individuals, issues, and institutions that in the past were shielded by the paper from negative publicity. A story in New West magazine by noted writer Gail Sheehy portrayed her as a new woman who was cleaning up the politics and the bottom line of the creaky Copley empire.

Though some, including Roger Hedgecock and D.A. Ed Miller, still question the paper’s fairness, the days of national influence have long since faded away. Today at 71, Helen Copley is a virtual recluse; she no longer grants interviews to anyone but her own reporters, and as the California economy has faltered, her empire has begun to shrink.

Herb Klein, now 76 and physically ailing, is ensconced in a glass-walled penthouse office at the U-T filled with Nixon memorabilia. Klein has the official title “Editor-in-Chief” of all the Copley newspapers. He devotes much time to lining up events such as the Super Bowl and backing a proposed tax-payer-subsidized downtown sports arena. He also acts as official spokesman for the papers.

After his airborne interview with Nixon in 1961, Tribune columnist Neil Morgan settled back into his role as community sage and town gossip. In the 1970s he developed friendships with Pete Wilson, Maureen O’Connor, and her husband, hamburger magnate Bob Peterson, which gave him entree to his new boss, publisher Helen Copley. In the early ’80s, he was named editor of the Evening Tribune and attempted to alter its gritty, blue-collared image with a series of face-lifts, changing its name to the San Diego Tribune, and adding comics for yuppie readers. When his efforts to bolster circulation failed, and the paper folded in 1992, Morgan, now 70, kept his job as columnist for what Copley billed as the “new, improved” Union-Tribune.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Log in to comment

Skip Ad

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader