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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ford Press Secretary Defends Nixon Pardon, Lauds Ford's Humor

Pardoning disgraced president Richard Nixon allowed Gerald Ford and his staff to full concentrate on important U.S. business, according to Ford's press secretary.

Also, Ford did not take himself too seriously and even enjoyed comedian Chevy Chase's spoofs of Ford on Saturday Night Live, Ron Nessen told attendees of an online chat.

"President Ford said that left-over Nixon matters were consuming 25 percent of his time and 25 percent of his staff's time," Nessen said on the chat. "He granted the pardon in order to be able to concentrate full-time on the pressing issues facing the nation, particularly the Vietnam war, the economy, and the Soviet threat. From the perspective of 30 years of subsequent history, the pardon is now recognized by most people...including Bob Woodward and the Kennedy 'Profiles In Courage' being a right and courageous thing to do."

With Carl Bernstein, Woodward was one of the journalists who first brought the Watergate crimes to light.

Nessen became Ford's White House spokesman after the resignation of Jerry terHorst.

"Jerry ter Horst disagreed with President Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon, and he resigned in protest," Nessen says. "I respect his views. But my view of the Press Secretary's job was that it was immaterial whether I agreed or disagreed with presidential job was to announce and explain the President's actions."

Ford knew of, and enjoyed, Chevy Chase's bumbling antics in portraying Ford on SNL back in the 1970s, Nessen says.

"President Ford had three teenage children living in the White House -- Susan, Jack, and Steve -- so he was very aware of the program," he says. "In addition, Chevy Chase was the entertainment at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 1975, during which he did his 'clumsy Ford' routine with President Ford sitting about two feet away from him on the podium. President Ford laughed harder than anyone. He had a good sense of humor and didn't take himself too seriously -- unlike some presidents I could name."

Nessen also disputes a reported assertion by Chase that Chase's routines helped lead to Ford's defeat to a full term.

"The assessment in the White House was that Ford's agreement to record several bits for the show, and his self-deprecating put-down of Chevy Chase at a White House Correspondents Association dinner, probably helped him with voters because it showed he had a good sense of humor and didn't take himself too seriously," Nessen says.

The 38th president, Ford became the U.S. chief executive once Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal. Ford, who lost election in 1976, died last week at home in California at age 93. Ford was memorialized today in Washington at the National Cathedral.

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