The reporter rushed up to his editor, thunderstruck by what the FBI's acting director had just let him know: The former attorney general - maybe even the president - was complicit in the Watergate break-in two months before.
But The New York Times let the hot tip fall through the cracks, the reporter and editor say after decades of silence about the August 1972 conversation. They say it's unclear whether the Times pursued information that might have let it beat The Washington Post to the blockbuster story of political espionage, which was described in "All the President's Men" and helped unravel Richard M. Nixon's presidency.
"We missed out," the now-retired editor, Robert H. Phelps, said in an interview Monday, after the Times published a story about the monumental miscue.
Phelps revealed it in "God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at The New York Times," a memoir published last month by Syracuse University Press. The former reporter, Robert M. Smith, now a lawyer and mediator in San Francisco, confirmed Phelps' account.