Nixon had a taping system installed in selected rooms in the White House in February of 1971. The system was voice activated. Line-taps were placed on the telephones and small concealed microphones were hidden in various locations around the rooms. The recordings were produced on up to nine Sony TC-800B open-reel tape recorders. The recording continued until July 18, 1973, two days after they became public knowledge as a result of the Watergate hearings, when Nixon ordered them turned off.
Nixon was not the first president to record his White House conversation. The practice began with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was continued under Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. It also continued under Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. But unlike the other presidents, Nixon's system was automatically voice activated, whereas the others were manually activated by a switch. The tapes became public knowledge during the Watergate scandal when the system was made public during the televised testimony of White House aide Alexander Butterfield. Only a few White House employees had ever been aware that this system existed. Special Counsel Archibald Cox asked District Court Judge John Sirica to subpoena eight relevant tapes to confirm the testimony of White House Counsel John Dean.
On August 20, 2013, the Nixon Library and the National Archives and Records Administration released the final 340 hours of the tapes that cover the period from April 9 through July 12, 1973.
On the tapes, a common theme is Nixon's dislike for "the Jews" on whom he places the blame for a myriad of his problems. In 1971, when Nixon was smarting from the leak of a top-secret history of the Vietnam War and rising unemployment statistics, Nixon saw fit to directed his anger in this direction. He told his Chief of Staff H. R. "Bob" Haldeman, in an oval office meeting, "the Jews are all over the government" and added that they needed to be brought under control by putting someone "in charge who is not Jewish" in key agencies. Nixon added, "Washington is full of Jews. Most Jews are disloyal." He made exceptions for some of his top aides, such as national security adviser Henry Kissinger, his White House counsel, Leonard Garment, and one of his speechwriters, William Safire. He then added: "But, Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on you. Am I wrong or right?" When Haldeman concurred, Nixon added: "Their whole orientation is against you. In this administration, anyway. And they are smart. They have the ability to do what they want to do--which is to hurt us."
Besided railing against Jews and other minorities, Nixon talks about selling ambassadorships, he complains about the drinking habits of leading members of Congress, and exchanged conspiracy theories with Kissinger and other top aides.
One of Nixon's tirades, which occurred at the beginning of July 1971, concerned Bureau of Labor Statistics released showing that unemployment was on the rise. Nixon demanded the ouster of the director of the bureau, Julius Shiskin, and asked Charles Colson to investigate the ethnic background of officials in the agency. "They are all Jews?" Nixon exclaimed when Colson listed the names. "Every one of them," Colson replied. Nixon said, "Well, with a couple of exceptions, you just have to go down the goddamn list and you know they are out to kill us."
In a later conversation the same day, Nixon and Haldeman discussed Jewish infiltration on the National Security Council staff. "Is Tony Lake Jewish?" Nixon asked, referring to a young Kissinger aide later became national security adviser under President Clinton. "I've always wondered about that," Haldeman replies."He looked it," says Nixon, without reaching a firm conclusion.
In April of 1971, when a Washington Post front-page story wrote about survey showing 60 percent support for antiwar demonstrations among residents of affluent District neighborhoods, Nixon complained to Haldeman: "Bob, there's a hell of a lot of Jews in the District. See the gentiles have moved out."
Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover exchanged views about a conspiracy that they believed existed between certain Washington journalists and Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Hoover said that he had seen Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham on television the night before and described her as "an old bitch." Nixon agreed, saying: "She is a terrible old bag."
On a phone call with Henry Kissinger, Nixon was concerned that the Jews would sabotage an upcoming U.S.-Soviet summit. He told Kissinger that if this happened, “it’s gonna be the worst thing that happened to Jews in American history.” On another call, Nixon says he wants to fire his lawyer, Leonard Garment, yelling “God damn his Jewish soul!”
Nixon also directed some of his vitriol to African Americans. In an Oval Office meeting, Nixon said that black people couldn’t run Jamaica. “Blacks can’t run it. Nowhere, and they won’t be able to for a hundred years, and maybe not for a thousand Do you know, maybe one black country that’s well run?”
In a diatribe let loose in a meeting held on February of 1973, Nixon takes aim at a number of cultures. "The Irish can't drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I've known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish." He then turned to Italian-Americans. "The Italians, of course, those people don't have their heads screwed on tight," he said. "They are wonderful people, but..." Once again he then turned his anger on the Jews. "The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality."
In a conversation with his secretary Rose Mary Woods, Nixon talked about African-Americans, saying "They are coming along, and that after all they are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart. So forth and so on. My own view is I think that's right if you're talking in terms of 500 years. I think it's wrong if you're talking in terms of 50 years."
He also discussed African-Americans in a conversation with Haldeman in 1971. Nixon opined: "We're going to put more of these little Negro bastards on the welfare rolls at $2,400 a family—let people like Pat Moynihan believes in all that crap. But I don’t believe in it. Work, work—throw 'em off the rolls. That's the key I have the greatest affection for blacks, but I know they're not going to make it for 500 years. They aren't. You know it, too. The Mexicans are a different cup of tea. They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they're dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life. They don't live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like."
During a 1972 conversation with Rev. Billy Graham, it is Graham who raises the subject of criticism of the Jews, but he finds a supportive audience in Nixon. Graham voiced his belief that Jews controlled the American media, calling it a "stranglehold":
Graham: This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain.
Nixon: You believe that?
Graham: Yes, sir.
Nixon: Oh boy, so do I. I can't ever say that but I believe it."
Graham: No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something.
Graham later told Nixon that he has friends in the media who are Jewish. He described how the "swarm around me and are friendly to me. They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."
The tapes are full of other gems. For example, when talking about the popular television show "All in the Family", Nixon says to Haldeman: "The writers are predominantly Jewish in all. They wrote this show for the purpose of making the hard hat look like a boob."
In May of 1971, when discussing the Greek nation, Nixon expressed his views on homosexuals. He said: "You know what happened to the Greeks? Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo, we all know that, so was Socrates. Do you know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. You know what happened to the popes? It's all right that popes were laying the nuns. That's been going on for years—centuries." Later in that conversation, he said "I can't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco. That city is the most faggy godamned thing you could ever imagine." He also said "You see: homosexuality, dope, immorality in general—these are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff. They're trying to destroy us."
In fairness, Nixon wasn't the only president to disparage Jews in conversations. A previously unknown diary by Harry Truman, discovered in 2003, revealed that he harbored similar harsh feelings about Jews. When former Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. called Truman about the plight of the refugee ship Exodus in 1947, Truman wrote in his diary, “He had no business, whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgment on world affairs. The Jews, I find, are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[erson]s as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also privately expressed views on Jews were not kind. Roosevelt once told his cabinet, according to Treasury Secretary Morgenthau, that there were “too many Jews among federal employees in Oregon.” He rejected a proposal to name his economic adviser Benjamin Cohen assistant secretary of the treasury because he feared it would constitute too much Jewish representation in that department.