The best way to intimidate the nation's three major television networks, President Richard M. Nixon concluded in 1971, was to keep the constant threat of an antitrust suit hanging over them.

"If the threat of screwing them is going to help us more with their programming than doing it, then keep the threat," Nixon told a White House aide in a tape-recorded Oval Office conversation recently transcribed for the first time. "Don't screw them now. [Otherwise] they'll figure that we're done."