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Listening in on White House conversations

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Though the Watergate investigation made him the presidential poster boy for wiretapped phones and bugged offices, Richard Nixon wasn't the first American leader to covertly record the day-to-day operations of the White House. (And though there is no proof, there is a better than reasonable chance that he wasn't the last.) Evidence points to Oval Office bugs dating back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and telephone taps as early as John F. Kennedy, and White House Tapes: The President Calling offers a chance to listen in on the conversations of three commanders-in-chief.

A production of American RadioWorks (the national documentary unit of Minnesota Public Radio), President Calling offers a streaming, one-hour recording of the program as broadcast in early November, as well as transcripts, additional audio excerpts and related documents. (The clips available at this site are only a small sample from a book and nine-CD boxed set co-created by American RadioWorks.) Broken into four 'chapters,' President Calling opens with some background on the practice of presidential bugging as well as a few introductory audio samples - ranging from a John F. Kennedy conversation with ex-president Eisenhower during the October Missile Crisis, to Richard Nixon's assessment of the Watergate crisis. ("It'll pass, it'll pass.") The next three chapters deal with the leaders individually, focusing on pivotal events during each president's time in office.

Kennedy tapes focus on the "Mississippi Crisis" - as Air Force veteran James Meredith fought segregation while trying to gain admission to the University of Mississippi. With more raw material from the Johnson administration to draw from (the president would sometimes work three phone calls simultaneously), RadioWorks offers three LBJ features, covering the days immediately following the Kennedy assassination, his work with Martin Luther King to facilitate passing of the Voting Rights Act, and decisions about the war in Vietnam. Nixon tapes also highlight three events - the appointment of William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court, "Bombing for Peace" in Vietnam, and of course, Watergate.

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