It happened today - November 17, 2015 On Nov. 17, 1973, Richard Nixon convinced everyone he was a crook by denying it pointedly on TV. There’s an important lesson here.

Now to be fair to Nixon, not always an easy task, he was in pretty deep trouble over Watergate by that point anyway. There wasn’t much he could say that would have helped and much he could say that would have hurt and he had to say something. And it was all his fault.

Hey, I’m trying to be fair to him. So while he doesn’t make it easy let me add that technically he was not a crook. Watergate wasn’t about shoplifting. It was about sinister abuse of power. Indeed the emphasis Nixon placed on Nov. 17, 1973 on not having profited from his long years in public life, though literally true and perhaps an unconscious or even deliberate attempt to repeat his brilliant 1952 escape from scandal with the “Checkers” speech about not profiting from public life, was a fairly transparent piece of misdirection and thus deeply dishonest and clearly desperate.

It didn’t work. Nor could it work. It’s not just that Nixon always looked shifty, guilty, paranoid, grim, glum, sweaty and bitter, even in triumph, a bad foundation for an appeal to be judged on one’s character. It’s that the vehemence with which he denied something of which he had not been accused was a clear, as well as shifty, guilty, paranoid, grim, glum, sweaty and bitter effort to change the subject.

His presidency endured, or was endured, for nearly nine more months. But it was just a very slow motion tumble into a pit, painful for the audience and the performer. It was inevitable before that Nov. 17 press conference. But it was obviously inevitable afterward and that’s not good.

If you’re accused of something you didn’t do, obviously you want to deny it. Ideally you want to laugh it off. Unless, say, you have a laugh like Nixon’s, which was shifty, guilty… well, you get the idea. But that assumes you didn’t do it and basically he did. At that point you’re in a heap of trouble, because when you have uttered a vehement denial, pounding the table, of something irrelevant, the message is clear.

I’m guilty. That’s g-u-i-l-t-y, pronounced “Rich-ard Em Nick-son”. Guilty of the big stuff. You know it, I know it, I know you know it and um what was I saying? And at that point, you’ve had it.

Since I’m giving advice, obviously I should say the key point is not to abuse power, corrupt the Constitution, give in to paranoia and seek unjustified vengeance especially if you’re winning handily anyway, as Nixon was, after a landslide reelection in 1972, an end to the Vietnam war, an opening to China, an arms deal with the Soviets and so on. But while I’m on the subject, if you do these things, don’t then deny being a crook while a bead of sweat trickles down your manifestly dishonest nose.

It won’t work, it can’t work, and it didn’t work.

It happened todayJohn Robson