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Robert Redford, right, and Dustin Hoffman as reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, respectively, in the 1976 film "All the President's Men." (Globe files/Globe files)
Robert Redford, right, and Dustin Hoffman as reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, respectively, in the 1976 film "All the President's Men." (Globe files/Globe files)

Rod Mickleburgh

Robo-calls worse than Watergate, dirty-tricks op opines Add to ...

How bad is the alleged robo-call scandal?

Worse, apparently, than Watergate – or at least worse than any of the infamous dirty tricks that were an integral part of the mind-blowing scandal that eventually brought down U.S. president Richard Nixon.

That comparison comes from none other than the man who spearheaded the series of dirty tricks financed by Mr. Nixon’s re-election committee, the unmerry prankster himself, Donald Segretti.

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Mr. Segretti told me over the phone from his Orange County law office that he was appalled to learn robo-calls may have been used to provide misleading polling-station information to Canadian voters on election day.

“We never tried to do something that would, at the end of the day, take away the right of somebody to vote,” he said. “That goes beyond a prank. It’s just wrong, on many levels.”

Their dirty tricks campaign, Mr. Segretti claimed, was designed to disrupt the Democrats, not hoodwink voters.

Among other things, it involved sending out wild sex allegations written on stolen candidate letterheads, along with more harmless pranks such as advertising free beer parties at local Democrat campaign offices and ordering large pizza deliveries there.

“It was more to upset the other side,” said Mr. Segretti, 70. “Nothing was ever done with respect to specific voters.”

The most notorious stunt conducted by Mr. Segretti’s operatives, however, had serious implications. That was the false, so-called “Canuck” letter to the editor that claimed Democrat presidential candidate Edmund Muskie had used a derogatory term for former French-Canadians living in the States.

In denying the charge, Mr. Muskie appeared to shed tears, an incident that severely damaged his bid for the nomination.

Like many other conspirators, Mr. Segretti was jailed for his role in Watergate, sentenced to six months on three counts of distributing forged campaign literature.

These days, he said, computers have opened up vast opportunities for enhanced political skulduggery.

“I’m from the typewriter age. You did brochures by mimeograph. Who’s even heard of a mimeograph today? Things have changed,” Mr. Segretti said. “Everything can be done so much easier, and the impact can be incredible. It’s far more dangerous for the candidates.”

Asked whether he thought Canada was slipping into the mire that has characterized American politics in recent years, the Watergate veteran said he hoped not.

“I would like to think better of my Canadian cousins. You’re a democracy, as we are,” Mr. Segretti said. “But these kind of things [robo-calling]shouldn’t be done. It’s a shame.”

But he’s not a movie-goer

Okay, so what did Donald Segretti think of All the President’s Men, the terrific depiction of Bernstein and Woodward’s Watergate sleuthing. I’ll tell you the truth, he said. “I’ve never seen the entire movie. It was such a difficult part of my life, I told myself: ‘I just don’t want to deal with it any more.’”

In my winning way, I told him to give it a try. He promised to think about it.

Kettle hold his water dear

When a man named Kettle enters a water competition, expect things to come to a boil. So it was for the mayor of all the people in fabled Greenwood, the Interior municipality that bills itself, for some reason, as “the smallest city in Canada.”

But Mayor Nipper Kettle thinks big. A sample of local tap liquid sent off by his Nippership to an international tasting competition was proclaimed best municipal water in the whole world.

“We’re pretty stoked,” said Mr. Kettle, a more modest but distinct grammatical improvement over the reaction of Gibsons Mayor Barry Janyk when his town won the same award in 2006. “We wuz de man,” gushed Mr. Janyk at the time.

Mr. Kettle says he dreads drinking big-city water with bleach in it, and loves returning to tap water purity. Unlike cynical café owner Rick Blaine in Casablanca, Nipper Kettle really did go there for the waters.

Joan Baez would weep

You know the tune. Joan Baez did it at Woodstock.

I dreamed I saw Jim Green last night

Alive as you or me

Says I, “But Jim, you’re three days dead,”

“I never died,” says he.

“I never died,” says he.

Standing there in pork pie hat

With yet another plan

What Big C couldn’t kill

Was what he did for Van.

By Hastings Street and up to Main,

In every place that’s clean

Where down-and-outers used to fail

That’s where you’ll find Jim Green.

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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