Woodward and Bernstein are synonymous with Watergate itself. What if The New York Times had scooped their story? Robert M. Smith, a reporter for the Times in 1972, lunched with the acting FBI director, who told him about aspects of the case including former attorney general John Mitchell’s involvement and hinted at White House involvement. Smith rushed back to the bureau to work on the story, but he had to hand it over the next day when he set off for Yale Law School. The editor he told about the story, Robert H. Phelps, traveled to Alaska for a month, and the rest of the reporting staff was overwhelmed by the Republican convention. So what happened to Smith’s tape recordings and notes? “I have no idea,” says Phelps, whose memoir Editor: My Search for Meaning at The New York Times comes out this month.
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