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The Gentleman from Tennessee

Senator Fred Thompson reinvents himself as a radio talk-show host following his unsuccessful presidential campaign.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Fred Thompson, March/April 2009

(continued from page 6)

The Watergate hearings in the summer of 1973 put Thompson in the national spotlight. But he and his fellow lawyers—not to mention the lawmakers—were so busy with the hearings themselves that they had no sense of how the spectacle of the Nixon administration unraveling on national TV was riveting the rest of the country.

"As the hearings got going, we were enmeshed in them day and night," he recalls. "Occasionally we'd come up for air—and realize that everyone was watching. That was the thing I was known for for a while. But then I went back to Nashville and started my own law practice and went on about my business."

Thirty-five years later, Thompson finds that people often have only a vague memory of his involvement in Watergate. As Thompson notes, there are entire generations that have no idea what Watergate was.

Indeed, when you've done as many things as Fred Thompson has in a lifetime, it's inevitable that other people have a hard time keeping track of them all. "People will say to me, 'I didn't know you were a lawyer' or 'I didn't know you were involved in Watergate,'" he says. "As we started talking about doing the radio show, people weren't even mentioning that I had been a senator. I was the actor who had been a presidential candidate. As you get older, things tend to drop off the back end of your résumé."

As a candidate for senator and again for president, Thompson emphasized his roots: that small-town, down-home sensibility that, no matter how long he's been away from Lawrenceburg, has never left him.

"The things my mama taught me all turned out to be true," Thompson says. "If things appear to be too good to be true, they probably are. There's no such thing as a free lunch. And if you behave yourself, good things will happen to you. I could go back there right now and it would feel just as much like home as it ever has."

Marshall Fine is a journalist and film critic whose movie reviews can be found at

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