By The Skin Of Our Teeth. Little Noticed Near-Hits And Near-Misses That Change Our Lives

By David Grace (

The Difference Between A Near Miss & A Near Hit

Paraphrasing the comedian, Gallagher, “I don’t want a couple of airplanes approaching each other and then having a near miss. A near miss means that the other plane almost missed me, but not quite. No, I want the other plane to almost hit me, but not quite. I don’t want a near miss. I want a near hit.”

I’ve come to believe that we don’t think often enough about the really bad crap that almost happened or all of the good stuff that we almost didn’t get.

I think that we usually go through life blithely unaware of the near hits that could have but barely didn’t rock our world.

The thing that saves us from one of those near hits is often infinitesimally small. Tiny. Microscopic.

Take Watergate For Example

The discovery of the events that we now call the Watergate Scandal was a societal Near-Miss. President Nixon came this close (right now I’m holding up two fingers about millimeter apart) to getting away with it all.

In case you don’t know about Watergate, President Richard Nixon and his closest advisors organized and operated a burglary ring out of the White House.

This criminal gang included former FBI and CIA agents and their job was to burglarize offices and organizations which they thought would yield information that would:

  • be useful in keeping the President in power, and
  • that could be used to damage people whom the President had placed on his enemies list, and
  • identify people who had publicly revealed wrongful conduct by members of Nixon’s administration.

As part of this criminal organization, the President’s subordinates, with his approval, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars as hush money to the men who had been arrested committing one of the White-House-ordered burglaries in order to encourage them to keep their mouths shut.

In connection with the hush-money payments, the recipients were instructed to lie under oath in Federal court.

But burglaries weren’t the only crimes on the White House agenda. Blackmail and murder were seriously discussed by White House senior staff with the aid of, or at least with the consent of, the Attorney General of the United States.

BTW, that Attorney General, John Mitchell, was tried, convicted and served nineteen months in federal prison before being released early for health reasons.

The President and his closest advisers were directing burglaries, eavesdropping, theft, perjury, hush money and obstruction of justice for the purpose of keeping the Nixon administration in power, all with, if not the help at least with the acquiescence of the Attorney General and some former members of the FBI and the CIA.

This is toxic stuff.

That high a level of corruption is kind a big deal for a what was supposed to be a free country.

What If They Had Gotten Away With It?

Suppose they had gotten away with it? Supposed that we had never found out what they were doing? What might they have done next?

For one thing, they seriously considered murdering a reporter whose stories upset them.

Special Counsel to the President, Charles Colson, asked former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy and former CIA agent Howard Hunt to come up with a plan to murder nationally-syndicated columnist Jack Anderson because of the damaging leaks about Nixon’s administration that Anderson had reported in his column.

Hunt and Liddy researched and seriously considered various ways to murder Anderson including poison and a fiery car crash, but, luckily, Liddy never got the final go-ahead for the assassination.

If Nixon’s gang had never been caught, how long would it have taken before somebody else pissed off the President enough that Colson or someone else would have finally given Liddy the Bat Signal?

When you realize that the White House almost went ahead with the murder of a reporter, the discovery of the criminal activities of the President, his Attorney General and the senior members of his staff was a really, really important thing. And it almost didn’t happen.

It was a close thing, but fate intervened in the form of a B-Minus movie called The Attack Of The Puppet People.

How Fate Intervened

The Attack Of The Puppet People was the missing nail that lost the shoe that hobbled the horse, that lost the knight, and so on.

Here’s how that happened.

Early in the morning of Sunday, June 18, 1972 five White-House-directed burglars broke into the Democratic Party national headquarters in the Watergate Office complex. A sixth member of the burglary team, former FBI agent Alfred Baldwin, waited in a room in the Howard Johnson Hotel across the street. His job was to keep watch for the arrival of any police so that he could warn the burglars by walkie-talkie to flee the building.

It was a boring job, sitting there for several hours watching the traffic drift by across the street four floors below, so Baldwin turned on the TV in his room and started watching the 1958 black and white Sci Fi movie, The Attack Of The Puppet People, starring John Agar and John Hoyt.

The movie apparently so mesmerized Baldwin that he failed to notice two street-clothes detectives tap their badges against the Watergate’s glass front doors and then be admitted by the security guard, Frank Wills.

Shortly thereafter, the detectives discovered the burglars in the offices of the Democratic National Committee and arrested all five of them. One of them was James McCord, a former CIA agent who was then employed as the Security Coordinator for the Committee to Re-Elect the President, CREEP. (No I’m making that up. CREEP was actually it’s name).

At least two of the burglars carried address books that contained the entry: “H Hunt–WHouse.”

Bob Woodward later called the White House switchboard and asked for “Mr. H Hunt.” He was swiftly connected to Howard Hunt. Woodward asked Hunt why two of the Watergate burglars had his name and White House phone number in their address books at the time of their arrest.

Hunt reportedly issued a startled exclamation and slammed down the phone.

None of this means that the truth was inevitably going to come out. One of the most important reasons why the country eventually learned of Nixon’s crimes was that the number-two man in the FBI, Associate Director Mark Felt, revealed key details about the criminal acts committed by the members of the Nixon White House and the Department of Justice to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

Mark Felt’s leaked details of the White House’s crimes were vital in the truth eventually coming out. In my view, Felt’s revelations, his leaks if you will, were heroic and patriotic acts.

So I have to ask the questions:

  • What if Mr. Baldwin had not become enthralled by The Attack Of The Puppet People?
  • What if he had dutifully manned his post at the window with his binoculars steadfastly trained on the Watergate’s front door?
  • Wouldn’t he have seen two men park a standard, unmarked police sedan at the curb directly in front of the Watergate office building between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. that Sunday morning?
  • Wouldn’t he have seen them confidently approach the front door and tap something against the glass?
  • Wouldn’t he have seen the security guard look at what was apparently some kind of identification and hastily let them in?
  • If Mr. Baldwin hadn’t been captivated by the inventive plot and riveting acting of The Attack Of The Puppet People wouldn’t he have gotten on his radio and called out:

Hey, two guys in what looks like an unmarked police car just showed some kind of ID to the security guard and he’s letting them inside. You’d better get the hell out of there just in case.”

Since there is no such thing as a real time machine, thank God, we’ll never know.

Lessons We Should Have Learned

A few other things that bear mentioning.

The infamous White House tapes reveal that over and over again Richard Nixon told Haldeman and Ehrlichman, “The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy.”

Where have we heard that recently?

Nixon was so upset by Washington Post articles revealing his administration’s involvement in the burglary that he banned all Washington Post reporters from the White House.

Where has that happened recently?

Nixon was infuriated by the revelation in the press of his administration’s wrongful conduct. He called these unpleasant, truthful reports “leaks” as if his and his aides’ criminal conduct was a military secret and as if the American citizens who read about them were actually America’s enemy.

When have we heard that recently?

The plan to murder reporter Jack Anderson was driven by Anderson’s reporting of the President’s wrongful conduct, including Nixon’s trading the Justice Department’s dropping of its opposition to a series of mergers proposed by ITT in exchange for a $400,000 payment from ITT to the City of San Diego to finance the city’s hosting of the 1972 Republican National Convention.

In Nixon’s view there were few crimes worse than members of the government, Leakers, revealing to the press details of the actual and sometimes criminal conduct of the members of his administration.

Distilling This Into Some Basic And Very Important Themes

A free press that reports facts harmful to the government is the enemy.

On February 17, 2017 President Trump wrote “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

Media outlets that report news that is harmful to the government should be banned from receiving government information.

On President Trump’s orders, on February 24, 2017 reporters from The Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC and The Huffington Post were barred from a White House press briefing.

Government employees who reveal truthful information about the activities of elected officials are enemies of the state.

On February 16, 2017 President Trump wrote: “The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”

On February 24, 2017 he wrote that reporters should not be allowed to use anonymous sources, and “we’re going to do something about it.”

Also, on that date: “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time.”

On April 2, 2017: “The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and LEAKING! Find the leakers.”

That lying to the public, not to mention to investigators, Congressional committees and judges, is acceptable conduct if it is necessary to protect the President’s reputation.

As of almost three weeks after President Trump learned that Michael Flynn had lied on the disclosure forms he signed under penalty of perjury in connection with his appointment as National Security Adviser he was still a member of the President’s inner circle.

Members of the government have the right to use their power to prevent an investigation of possible wrongful conduct by those working with the President.

On May 9, 2017 President Trump fired FBI director James Comey because, according to Mr. Trump, “And in fact when I decided to just do it [fire FBI Director Comey], I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

In connection with the Comey firing, on May 19, 2017 Trump reportedly told the Russian ambassador, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

That those working for the President have the right to commit crimes that they think will help keep him in power.

We will see. Time will tell.

–David Grace (

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David Grace

David Grace

Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 16 novels and over 400 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.