In his memoirs, Nixon said he was stunned to discover “the depth of the impact Watergate had been having … how deeply its acid had eaten into the nation’s grain.” The old pol was being disingenuous, or his ear had failed him. Either way, he had terribly miscalculated his chances of survival. The public looked at the Saturday Night Massacre and saw the flailing of a guilty man.
By then, after months of news coverage and the summer of Watergate hearings, Americans knew what Nixon was alleged to have committed. They had studied Dean and the other witnesses, heard the conflicting testimony and placed their faith in the American system: If the Constitution so allowed, the courts would order Nixon to give Cox the tapes, and the tapes would tell the tale.
They had faith that the truth would come out. And that was why, when Nixon fired Cox, it triggered such a reaction: The president’s motives were obvious. He was out to save his skin.