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A Farewell Gesture Richard Nixon Departs the White House • Bill Pierce • Aug. 9, 1974


“In victory, magnanimity,” Winston Churchill counseled. “In defeat, defiance.” Resigning as President after the long, self-inflicted wound of the Watergate crisis, Richard M. Nixon showed his defiance of critics by flashing the two-fingered V-for-victory salute with which Churchill had rallied Britons during World War II. Nixon had adopted the gesture as his own during his 1968 campaign for the presidency, even though the antiwar protesters who opposed the U.S. engagement in Vietnam used the same two-fingered salute to express their desire for peace. Vice President Gerald Ford, who would shortly take Nixon’s place, looks up at his predecessor. Photographer Bill Pierce was covering the White House for TIME when he caught this gesture, which came to define Nixon’s exit.


He recalled the moment in 2003 for online site the Digital Journalist: “Unexpectedly, and only for a second, President Nixon flashed his trademark ‘V’ as he got on the chopper. There were a fair number of photographers, but less than should have got the shot … I think it may have been because many photographers had gotten used to staged events. News photography doesn’t take a big brain. But it does require amazing concentration and really good reflexes. You can get a little relaxed on a pleasant diet of staged opportunities.”


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BILL PIERCE


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