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Kissinger's phone calls show mastery of spin

London Times | Oct 22 2004

Transcripts of Henry Kissinger's phone calls while he served under the US presidencies of both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford show that in his relations with the media he was the original master of spin.

The man known as Super K "schmoozed, spun and lectured" his way around the Washington media corps, winning the admiration of the journalists he was manipulating, according to a report in The New York Times.

Mr Kissinger's term in office started during the Vietnam War, and during one chaotic period he served simultaneously as both National Security Adviser, the job now occupied by Condoleeza Rice, and Secretary of State, the job now done by General Colin Powell.

The transcripts of 3,200 calls during this turbulent time have been released under the US Freedom of Information Act, and posted on the State Department's website.

Ted Koppel, a diplomatic correspondent with ABC News, told Mr Kissinger as he left office: "You are an intriguing man, and If I had a teacher like you earlier I might not have been so cynical... We are lucky to have had you."

The politician replied: "You have been a good friend."

Marvin Kalb, a correspondent with CBS, told him: "The only reason for this call was to tell you that despite all appearances in this city you still have some friends."

The politician said: "I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that."

Critics have claimed that Mr Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam war by ordering the bombing of Cambodia, encouraged the military coup that overthrew Chile's elected Government and brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, and supported right-wing dictatorships with poor human rights records when it suited his view of America's foreign policy interests.

Despite his reputation for ruthlessness, Mr Kissinger is nonetheless a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

His many supporters point to the skill with which he brokered the international power balance, negotiating America's detente with Russia and China, its two greatest threats.

Elsewhere in the phone call transcripts Mr Kissinger shows his powers of flattery and persuasion, says the New York Times, when he tells one hard-hitting newspaper columnist: "I speak to you frankly because I know you are a decent man who uses whatever information he gets as fairly as you know how."

He flirts with Sally Quinn of the Washington Post, telling her: "It would be suicidal to talk to you," then proceeding to do so at length.

And in a 1974 call to Hugh Sidey of Time magazine, he begins: "I'm calling you because you are the man I trust most."

Unbeknown to the journalists, their every word was being taken down by Mr Kissinger's secretary. The journalists who were the targets of such spin-doctoring are today somewhat embarrassed.

Mr Kalb excused himself, saying he had been bedridden and medicated for back pain when he made his fawning phone call.

Mr Koppel said he should be judged not by the things he said to get into a politician's good books, but by the tone of his television coverage. He added that he wasn't surprised he had been secretly taped.

"Hey, this was the Watergate era," he said.