Another go at Nixon tapes
- By William Matthews
- Sep 25, 2000
For nearly 30 years, historians and audio experts have believed that nothing
remains of the tape-recorded conversation that once filled the infamous
18.5-minute gap on President Nixon's White House tapes.
But Steven St. Croix, an audio technology expert, told a National Archives
and Records Administration panel Sept. 21 that it might be possible to reconstruct
the conversation through highly detailed scanning and computer analysis
of the magnetic material on the tape.
The tantalizing portion of the tape is believed to have recorded a June
20, 1972, conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman,
about the Watergate break-in that occurred three days earlier. Ultimately,
the Watergate scandal forced Nixon's resignation in August 1974.
Since late 1973, when the gap was discovered, conversation on that part
of the tape has been considered lost forever. Extensive analysis concluded
that the conversation was erased and recorded over, possibly several times.
All that remains is a buzz interrupted by clicks, pops and changes in volume.
The buzz is believed to be "electrical noise" caused by the electricity
that powered the tape recorder. The pops and clicks were probably caused
by starting and stopping the tape recorder, a 1974 analysis concluded.
At the time, experts concluded that "recovery of the speech is not possible
by any method known to us."
But St. Croix, president of Intelligent Devices Inc., insists that "erasure
is never 100 percent." Even after multiple erasures, some of the magnetic
particles on the tape are likely to retain the pattern they assumed during
the original recording, he told the NARA Advisory Committee on Preservation.
Detailed scanning of the minute magnetic particles that make up the recording
medium of the tape could reveal traces of the original conversation, he
St. Croix proposes to scan the tape with an array of 100 to 200 magnetic
readers. Each reader would examine a band of tape that is one-hundredth
to two-hundredths the width of the whole tape, which is about a quarter-inch
The readers' findings would be fed into a computer, which would filter out
noises such as the buzz. What's left would be the dialogue between Haldeman
and Nixon — or, if the 1974 investigators were correct, perfect silence,
St. Croix said.