Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 7, 2009


Craig Crawford, CQ - Robert McNamara's death got me thinking about Martha Mitchell. She was the first person on the inside to blow the whistle on Viet Nam.

Of all the strange ways that the truth came out, one of the oddest sources was the colorful wife of one of Richard Nixon's Cabinet members. Her honesty with reporters behind the scenes put many on the path to the light in a very dark tunnel.

Publicly, Martha Mitchell was almost a cartoon character, her vivaciousness and blunt talk coming across as a bit nutty when chopped up into sound bites and pithy quotes.

Once on a trip aboard Air Force One, while her husband, Attorney General John Mitchell, was in a meeting with Nixon, Martha got bored and wandered into the press area. After demanding that reporters ask her "something important," Mrs. Mitchell was asked, "What do you think of the Viet Nam War?"

"It stinks," she said, launching a full-throated rant against the war. Later, the press corps asked her husband if he would like to hear what she had said. "Heavens no," the attorney general answered. "I might have to jump out the window."

Once the Nixon team got word of Mitchell's remarks, her husband said he would only allow his wife to give interviews in Swahili.

After her death from bone cancer in 1976, Martha Mitchell's funeral featured a telling wreath with flowers that spelled out the message, "Martha was right."


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