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On The White House Watch

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Fall 1996

On The White House Watch
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Among other secrets, Dallek learned that during the bitter 1968 Nixon-Humphrey presidential campaign, Johnson had bugs planted in the planes of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, as well as in the American embassy in Saigon. In the course of his spying, Johnson discovered that a key member of Nixon's campaign committee had secretly approached the Saigon government, urging them not to reach an agreement with the North Vietnamese because, if elected, Nixon would cut them a better deal. LBJ and his aides "were furious that the Nixon people were screwing up the peace negotiations," says Dallek. "They fully believed that if Nixon won the election, he would come to office under a cloud of treason."

Preparation of this second LBJ volume has brought with it some unexpected ethical dilemmas. Following the publication of Lone Star Rising, Dallek received a letter from Lady Bird Johnson, whom he'd interviewed while researching the book. "It was a very brief note thanking me for trying to be fair," he says. The historian has since developed an acquaintance with the former First Lady and with several prominent Johnson associates, including former Press Secretary George Christian and former National Security Adviser Walt R. Rostow.

Dallek dismisses the idea that this might present a conflict of interest and compromise the objectivity of his book. "Look," he explains, "it's my job to reconstruct this story as accurately and fairly as I can. I can't bend reality to accommodate friend or foe.

"You have to be a pretty compulsive character," Dallek says of being a biographer. "I think all scholars have an obsessive quality to them. You come to understand why, in the Middle Ages, this work was done by monks." !

Senior writer Mona Gable's last story for UCLA Magazine, "Save the Children," was on the Medical Center's efforts to combat child abuse.


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