Like the Watergate story in 1972, there were potentially explosive political stories available to America’s press long before the 1984 presidential election. They were important enough so that, if given sufficient and consistent media coverage, some thought they might have altered the results of the election. In fact, Mike Wallace publicly predicted (on the Phil Donahue Show — 9/14/84) that a 60 Minutes segment on just one of these stories could possibly change the course of the presidential election.
But 60 Minutes never did air that segment nor were the two other stories ever given national media coverage. The stories dealt with three of Reagan’s closest associates and advisors: Paul Laxalt, Edwin Meese, and Charles Wick.
IN BRIEF: PAUL LAXALT. Considered to be President Reagan’s closest friend, Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt is high on Reagan’s list of potential nominees to fill the next U.S. Supreme Court position. According to some of the nation’s leading investigative journalists, if this should take place, it would provide an extraordinary link between organized crime and the nation’s highest court. Under close scrutiny, Paul Laxalt appears to be the prototype of a politician whose career was nurtured by members of the underworld. Journalists investigating Paul Laxalt have found that he has accepted political contributions from supporters linked to organized crime, has received highly questionable loans, has tried to limit FBI investigations into Nevada gaming operations, and has himself owned a Carson City casino which engaged in illegal skimming operations. The story that 60 Minutes produced after a three-month long investigation uncovered startling revelations about Laxalt’s notorious friendships. It was the story that Mike Wallace thought could change the course of the 1984 election; it also was the story that was never shown by 60 Minutes. It was reported that the decision not to run that story was jointly made during a phone conversation between Don Hewitt, executive producer of 60 Minutes, and Roone Arledge, President of ABC News and Sports, whose network also was investigating Laxalt’s underworld associations. Both networks had been contacted by Laxalt, and his attorney, before the phone conversation, and had been warned not to run the Laxalt story. Neither network ran the story. (1)
IN BRIEF: EDWIN MEESE. Edwin Meese is a close personal friend of President Reagan and has just been named the top law enforcement officer in the United States. Most of us have heard about his questionable financial dealings and how friends of his who loan him money subsequently get appointed to well-paid federal jobs. However, few of us are aware that in the late ’60s and early ’70s, as a California State official, Edwin Meese directed a secret operation involving a wide variety of illegal and unconstitutional activities aimed at subverting the antiwar movement in California. Now, as U.S. Attorney General, Meese has the authority to undertake, on a national scale, the same types of unconstitutional counterinsurgency programs he once directed in California. Some feel he has already created the machinery for such activities through the restructuring of federal agencies such as FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA used to deal with natural disasters and civil defense, but now, under the leadership of Louis Guiffrida, a Meese protégé, it has been redirected to combat domestic terrorism. (2)
IN BRIEF: CHARLES WICK. Nancy and Ronald Reagan traditionally spend Christmas Eve with their good friends Mary Jane and Charles Wick. Wick, President Reagan’s biggest single private fundraiser in 1980, was later rewarded with the directorship of the U.S. Information Agency which disseminates information about American policy and culture to foreign countries through the Voice of America and other government media. The USIA position requires a thorough background investigation by the FBI and a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At his confirmation hearing on April 30, 1981, the Senators asked about his handling of ticket sales for Reagan’s inaugural ball and about his involvement in an organization formed to promote the administration’s economic philosophy. But the senators did not ask about the nursing home Wick operated in Visalia, California; nor about the day state inspectors paid an unannounced visit to his Visalia Convalescent Hospital. The inspection team found what one inspector called the worst nursing home conditions he had ever seen in California. The inspectors charged the home with a host of health-code violations and issued 23 “Class A” citations for conditions considered imminently dangerous to the patients. One patient was found lying face down on the floor in a pool of blood and died soon after. Later another patient wandered away from the hospital and was found dead in an irrigation ditch a mile away, his body partly eaten by animals and maggots. (Wick’s nursing home received another “Class A” citation for that.) In early 1984, an investigative journalist sold that story to ABC-TV News. ABC subsequently spent several months investigating and filming the story in California and Washington. Then, just as the story was ready for final edit, it was suddenly killed. It seems that the editorial side of ABC started to get pressure from the business side of ABC; there also were reports of heavy political pressure on ABC-News; and finally, there was a report from a reliable source that a call directly from the White House to ABC killed the story. As far as we know, that story is still sitting in the can at ABC in New York. (3)
Individually, these stories might have had little import or impact on Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984; collectively, and with significant media coverage, they could have provided a new insight into a man who lacks the moral judgment needed to run a democracy concerned with the welfare of all the people. These stories may yet make the evening network news and the covers of Time and Newsweek; however, the irrefutable fact is that they were far more important and relevant before November 6, 1984, than they are now.
(I) MOTHER JONES, Aug/Sep ’84, “Senator Paul Laxalt, The Man Who Runs the Reagan Campaign,” by Robert I. Friedman, pp 32+; THE NATION, 7/24/82, “The Senator and the Gamblers,” by Bob Gottlieb and Peter Wiley, pp 79-83; VILLAGE VOICE, 3/12/85, “Networks Knuckle Under to Laxalt: The Story That Never Was Aired,” by Robert I. Friedman & Dan E. Moldea, pp 10-14. (2) VILLAGE VOICE, 2/26/85, “From the Man Who Brought You SWAT: Return of the Night of the Animals,” by James Ridgeway, pp 30-31; S.F. BAY GUARDIAN, 2/20/85, “Meese Acknowledges Counter-Insurgency Role,” by Paul Rauber, pp 5 & 11. (3) MOTHER JONES, Nov ’84, “What the Senate Didn’t Know About Charles Z. Wick,” by Seth Rosenfeld and Mark Shapiro, pp 33+.