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NEW YORK -The reporter rushed up to his editor, thunderstruck by what the FBI's acting director had just let him know: The former attorney general — maybe even the president — was complicit in the Watergate break-in two months before.
But The New York Times let the hot tip fall through the cracks, the reporter and editor say after decades of silence about the August 1972 conversation. They say it's unclear whether the Times pursued information that might have let it beat The Washington Post to the blockbuster story of political espionage, which was described in "All the President's Me
Other news organizations also missed opportunities on Watergate. The day after the break-in, two reporters in The Associated Press' Washington bureau recognized the name of the Nixon campaign's security coordinator as among those arrested.
The reporters broke the story but didn't chase the tantalizing lead any further, as recalled in the 2007 book "Breaking News: How The Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else."
"They just walked away from it," Walter R. Mears, then the AP's assistant bureau chief in Washington, said Monday. "They went on vacation. It was never followed up."
As they discussed the intrigue surrounding the June 17 attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex, Gray volunteered that former Attorney General John Mitchell was involved, Smith said Monday. Mitchell had stepped down to run Nixon's re-election campaign.
Smith said he asked Gray, "'Does it go up higher?' And he said, 'Yes.'"
Then, Smith said, "I choked and said, 'The president?' And he looked me in the eye," not denying it.
"This is the best, truest, most revealing insider’s story ever published about life at the New York Times during the golden age of print journalism. . . . Phelps was in the thick of it all and tells it with the care and precision of a great editor"