| Ronald Ziegler
Los Angeles, Feb. 12 (Reuters): Ronald Ziegler, the press secretary to President Richard Nixon whose dismissal of the Watergate break-in as a “third-rate burglary” came back to haunt him, has died at the age of 63, friends said yesterday.
Ziegler, who at the age of 29 became in 1969 the youngest US presidential press spokesman, died of a heart attack in Coronado, California, on Monday.
Friends said Ziegler, a Nixon loyalist to the last, had been working on a book about his tumultuous years as spokesman for the first US President to be forced out of office in disgrace. In a book published online in 2002 by former Nixon White House lawyer John Dean, Ziegler was mentioned as one of the four people who could have been the “Deep Throat” source who helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unravel the Watergate scandal. Ziegler denied it.
“Ron was, first of all, very loyal and devoted to the President. He was also a very discerning and, where necessary, tough adviser,” said John Taylor, executive director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation.
Ziegler first began working for Nixon as a press aide in 1962 and his relationship with the Washington press became increasingly hostile as the Watergate scandal unfolded.
Even before the Watergate burglary, he was criticised by reporters for being misleading and evasive. As the scale of the White House involvement in the subsequent cover-up became more apparent, relations strained further although Ziegler later denied that he had ever knowingly lied to reporters.
Friends said Ziegler had been caught between a rock and a hard place. “He was a guy placed in a very difficult situation. He was quite young. He was working for a President who had very definite views about the press, and not all of those were sympathetic to the role of the press,” said Gerald R. Warren, who worked as Ziegler’s deputy.
“Ron was sort of in the middle. He really was a good person at heart who was just placed in a very difficult situation,” Warren told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
After leaving the White House with the disgraced Nixon in 1974, Ziegler had a number of jobs including serving as president of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators. Most recently he worked for 10 years as chief executive of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), from which he retired in 1998 because of bad health.