Imagine you're a newspaper editor, and you get a phone call. From the president. And he wants to talk about pandas having sex.
That's what happened to Crosby Noyes, the foreign editor of the Washington Star in 1972, when President Richard Nixon called him to leak the news that pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing — given as gifts after First Lady Pat Nixon spoke about admiring the adorable animals — were going to go to the National Zoo once they arrived from China.
Nixon made some more small talk about the pandas, but things got really interesting when he started discussing their mating habits. "The problem, however, with pandas is that they don't know how to mate," Nixon said. "The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate. You see?" Noyes did see, and Nixon continued, "And so, they're keeping them there for a little while — these are younger ones — to sort of learn, you know, how it's done."
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Then came the big offer. "Now, if they don't learn it they'll get over here and nothing will happen, so I just thought you should just have your best reporter out there to see whether these pandas have learned," Nixon said. Noyes laughed, but didn't make any promises to send a crack reporter out to watch pandas possibly (and likely awkwardly) attempt to mate. Listen to the conversation, which is recounted by Douglas Brinkley and Luke A. Nichter in their new book The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972, below. --Catherine Garcia
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