According to a new book, a New York Times reporter learned about Watergate before the Washington Post published any of its groundbreaking investigative stories that eventually took down President Richard Nixon.

The only problem?  The reporter had just been admitted to Yale Law School and left the newspaper before he could actually write about the scandal.

Robert M. Smith LAW ’75, a Times reporter based in Washington, says that two months after the Watergate burglary, the acting director of the F.B.I., L. Patrick Gray, disclosed to him details about the scandal — including the involvement of the Nixon White House — over a lunchtime conversation.

But Smith was leaving the next day to enroll at the Law School, so he passed off the tip to an editor at The Times.  But that editor went away on a long trip shortly afterward and the Washington Bureau was busy covering the Republican National Convention, and, somehow, the tip was lost in the shuffle.

A recent article in The Times, of all places, recounts the unfortunate episode, which was first revealed in the book “God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at the New York Times,” published last month.

Of course, one Eli’s missed opportunity became another Eli’s claim to fame.  With Smith off the trail, Bob Woodward ’65 soon broke open the story of Watergate in the pages of the Washington Post.

(Photo: The Associated Press)