(RNS) March 1 -- Evangelist Billy Graham, in a tape-recorded conversation inPresident Richard Nixon's Oval Office, spoke of a "stranglehold" thatJews had on the American media, the Chicago Tribune has reported.

The discussion after a prayer breakfast in February 1972 wasincluded in recordings released Thursday (Feb. 28) by the NationalArchives.

"This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going downthe drain," said Graham, agreeing with comments made by Nixon about Jewsand how they were perceived to have influenced American life.
A Statement by Evangelist Billy Graham
March 2, 2002
Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon and Mr. Haldeman some thirty years ago. They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks. Throughout my ministry I have sought to build bridges between Jews and Christians. I will continue to strongly support all future efforts to advance understanding and mutual respect between our communities.
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"You believe that?" Nixon asked after Graham used the word"stranglehold."

"Yes, sir," Graham replied.

"Oh boy," replied the then-president. "So do I. I can't ever saythat but I believe it."

"No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able todo something," Graham responded.

The popular evangelist later spoke of his Jewish friends in themedia who "swarm around me and are friendly to me." But he added, "Theydon't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."

Graham, concurring with a Nixon claim that the president is faced bya "powerful bloc" of Jews in the media, said: "And they're the onesputting out the pornographic stuff."

The 83-year-old evangelist, who has suffered various medicalailments, told the newspaper through spokesman Larry Ross that he didnot recall the conversation and, thus, could not respond.

Scholars learning of the conversation expressed surprise at thecomments, the Tribune reported.

"I find this rather stunning," said William Martin, a RiceUniversity professor of religion and sociology who authored "A ProphetWith Honor: The Billy Graham Story."

"This is out of character with anything else I have heard BillyGraham say or be quoted as saying. It's disappointing."

Martin Marty, a historian of religion at the University of Chicagocalled Graham's remarks "inexcusable."

"Did it ever occur to him that he should have countered thepresident?"

Michael Kotzin, a vice president at the Jewish United Fund inChicago also criticized the comments.

"One really did not associate him with this," Kotzin said. "Ratherthan try to direct Nixon in a different direction, he reinforces him andeggs him on when it came to these stereotypes, and that's troubling."