WASHINGTON -- Dick Tuck, a political prankster who dogged Richard Nixon's presidency, played a number of Watergate tapes for the record Tuesday, and the three television networks played excerpts on their evenings newscasts.
The National Archives has been playing 12 ? hours of tapes used at the Watergate cover-up trials since May in its Washington headquarters, but has not allowed anyone to record them.
Tuck, now political editor of the humor magazine National Lampoon, called a news conference to announce he had obtained the tapes himself and he played about 30 minutes of them for reporters.
CBS, NBC and ABC played excerpts on their evenings news programs, and NBC and CBS radio played some of Tuck's tapes on their news programs, NBC making it clear to listeners that they would have to make up their own minds as to whther the tapes were genuine.
On the excerpts, Nixon referred to Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy as 'nutty' and Nixon and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman discussed getting the CIA to get the FBI to steer clear of the Watergate investigation.
CBS vice president and news director Burton Benjamin said in a statement, 'As a result of this press conference, we believe it is important to report this story and to broadcast the tapes which were involved.'
The tapes include numerous conversations between Nixon and his aides and among the aides themselves on the activities that led to Nixon's resignation in August 1974.
James Hastings, deputy director of the Nixon project at the Archives, said it appears the tapes Tuck played are legitimate.
'I have a copy of what Dick Tuck played today _ what was played during the press conference,' Hastings said. 'It appeared to be a copy of the tapes.'
United Press International Audio, Associated Press Radio and the Mutual Broadcasting System decided for the time being not to play the tapes.
Hastings said his chief worry is whether Tuck somehow got the tapes from the Archives because 'if he did get it, there could be some problems for us.' He said the Archives agreed when it started running the tapes it would provide enough security to keep the documents from being copied.
'If he did get it from us, the opportunity would arise for Nixon's lawyer to try to stop us from playing the tapes anymore,' Hastings said.
The Archives decided to check the Tuck tapes against its own to see if he had extra words at the beginning or end, which would show he obtained them somewhere else.
Besides the Archives, federal courts and the House Judiciary Committee have copies of the tapes. Defense attorneys for the Nixon aides also have had access to some of them.
Tuck, who displayed a sign saying, 'Nixon in '80; why not the worst?,' said he also had a copy of the infamous 18 ? minute gap on one of the tapes and contended he could hear some words in the background not previously made public.
He said his copy appears to reveal talk dealing with the CIA and the Bay of Pigs invasion, but said there was nothing spectacular he could make out. Tuck did not play the gap at the news conference.
Hastings said the Archives has not played the 18 ? minute gap at all and keeps it in a vault. 'It's extremely unlikely that he could have penetrated our vaults and found these portions,' he said.
Tuck said he got the tapes over the summer and plans to make a short film on them with producer Robert Altman.