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

The discussion after a prayer breakfast in February 1972 was included in recordings released Thursday (Feb. 28) by the National Archives.

"This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain," said Graham, agreeing with comments made by Nixon about Jews and 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 say that but I believe it."

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

The popular evangelist later spoke of his Jewish friends in the media who "swarm around me and are friendly to me." But he added, "They don'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 by a "powerful bloc" of Jews in the media, said: "And they're the ones putting out the pornographic stuff."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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