The Watergate Scandal
Recently, I caught part of the movie, "All the President's Men," on TCM and it got me thinking back to the time when I was just nineteen years old.
It was the summer of 1973, I was taking summer classes at The University of Akron, and rushing home each afternoon to view the Watergate hearings in congress each day on TV. I was watching history in progress and it was the most interesting and stimulating thing I had ever seen on TV in my life. I was a literature major, and here I was watching the greatest "Shakespearean tragedy" our country and government had ever been through unfold each afternoon on TV.
It had all the Shakespearean characters, the dark, moody, evil antagonist, President Richard M. Nixon, His trusty "Prince Hal" and "golden boy", John Dean. There was the evil "Iago", Attorney General John Mitchell. And there was the supposedly "crazy" wife, Martha Mitchell, who talked too much, aka Lady MacBeth. And of course, the two protagonist heroes who had brought these senate hearings into being, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, investigative journalists of The Washington Post, and who would bring down the President with their investigative findings. It taught me the timelessness and universality of Shakespeare and his plays. A Shakespearean tragedy of monumental proportions was taking place each day right before my eyes. I was mesmerized and glued to the television that summer. How did the Shakespearean downfall and tragedy of President Richard M. Nixon all begin?
By a silly little burglary of an office in the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC.
But, it was not just any office and it was just not any old burglars. It was Republican white-collar men breaking into the office of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to steal information and wiretap the telephones in the office. It was a botched break-in discovered by a night watchman, and the name of the office building, Watergate, would forever become synonymous with scandal and the abuse of power.
The actual political scandal was the result of the of the June 1972 break-in of the DNC headquarters at the Watergate office complex in DC and the Nixon administration's attempt to cover up its involvement. Had Nixon just been honest and admitted to the planning and involvement in the break-in, he probably would not have had to resign. But. hubris and worrying about his "lasting legacy" were his flaws that destroyed him.
Attorney General John Mitchell and Presidential Counsel John Dean saw a CIA plan to burgal the DNC headquarters and Mitchell did evenutally approve the plan. Also, the FBI was able to connect payments to the burglars to a "slush fund" used by the Committee for the Re-election of the President, a fundraising group for President Nixon headed by Attorney General John Mitchell. Because of The Washington Post's investigation of the burglary and scandal, in the summer of 1973, congress convened the Senate Watergate Committee to hold hearings to do their own investigation of Nixon's presidency. Sam Ervin was named chairman of the select committee to investigate Watergate in Congress.
Through testimony from many of Nixon's aides, the select committee discovered President Nixon had a tape-recording system in his offices and he had recorded many conversations. These recordings from the tapes implicated President Nixon in attempting to cover-up the burglary. Finally, there were several court cases over whether Nixon should have to turn over the tapes to the select committee and the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that the President was required to hand over the tapes to government investigators and Nixon did comply.
When others in Congress heard the tapes, they were convinced of Nixon's involvement in the burglary and the resulting cover-up. Facing near-certain impeachment by Congress, Nixon chose to resign.
The Heroes of Watergate
The two heroes of the Watergate scandal became Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, investigative reporters for The Washington Post. They were low-level news reporters in the news room at The Post, and they were two of the most unlikely heroes the journalism profession ever expected.
Bob Woodward was born in l943 in Illinois. He attended Yale University on a NROTC scholarship and graduated with a BA in history and English literature in l965. He then completed a five year tour of duty in the U.S. Navy. In August 1970, Woodward was discharged from the Navy as a lieutenant and promply applied for a job at The Post. A two week trial as a reporter did not result in a full-time job because of his lack of journalism credentials. So, for the next year, Woodward wrote for a suburban Washington, DC newspaper to gain experience and in September 1971 he was hired by The Post as a news reporter.
Carl Bernstein was born in l944 in Washington, DC. He graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Springs, MD. He then attended the University of Maryland, College Park, MD but never graduated. In l966, he began working at The Post as a stringer. In 1972, he was teamed with Woodward to report on the June 17, 1972 burglary of the headquarters of the DNC in the Washington, DC Watergate office building.
Woodward and Bernstein reported on the burglary as did many newspapers and broadcast news companies, but Woodward and Bernstein remained dogged in finding out the reasons for the burglary and following up on the burglary to see who really was behind this botched job. Both Woodward and Bernstein were only in their 20's when the investigation began. These two were the first to report on a number of "dirty tricks" used by Nixon's re-election committee during his l972 campaign for re-election. Bernstein was the first to suspect that Nixon played a part in the scandal and it was Bernstein who found the laundered check that linked Nixon to the burglary. From there, the two just followed the money trail and discovered a secret money fund run by Attorney General John Mitchell. The Watergate scandal finally led to the numerous indictments of government and White House officials:
- H.R. Haldeman
- John Ehrlichman
- Charles Colson
- John Mitchell
- John Dean
"All the President's Men", and 43 other people were convicted of perjury or obstruction of justice.
Two young and relatively green Washington Post reporters remained on the Watergate story and with the help of Deep Throat, a deep government man who was Woodward's secret source, broke the scandal wide open revealing new information each day on the front page of The Post. Their editor, Ben Bradlee, a cantankerous, experienced old newsman and Katharine Graham, owner and publisher of The Post, believed in these two young, fresh reporters and supported their investigation until the end. All four of them would agonize over what to run in the paper each day or what not to run, but between them all (including Deep Throat), they managed to blow open wide the scandal that forced President Richard M. Nixon to resign from the presidency in August of l974 .( Nixon was later pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford).
Woodward and his anonymous source, Deep Throat, would meet secretly in the basement of various DC parking garages so Deep Throat could help lead Woodward and Bernstein in the correct direction during their investigation. Woodward and Bernstein kept their source secret for thirty years, and Deep Throat finally revealed himself in a Vanity Fair magazine article in May 2005. He is W. Mark Felt. Sr., deputy director of the FBI at the time of the Watergate break-in and The Post investigation. Today, he is a 90 year old man suffering from alzheimer's and lives with his daughter. Bob Woodward did confirm that Felt was Deep Throat at the time Felt "outed" himself.
Because of their outstanding investigation and reporting of it, Woodward, Bernstein and The Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in l973. From there Woodward and Bernstein's careers took off. Both authored, "All the President's Men", the tale of their reporting and investigation of the Watergate scandal and eventual resignation of President Nixon. This was turned into a movie by Robert Redford, who played Woodward and Dustin Hoffman, who played Bernstein. They also authored together, another book, "Final Days" about the last delusional days of the Nixon presidency. Woodward has remained working at The Post since 1972 and today is an editor. Bernstein quit working at The Post in l976 and has worked mainly as an author and newsman in the succeeding years.
Gene Roberts, a former editor with The Philadelphia Inquirer, has said that the work of Woodward and Bernstein is "maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time."
As I watched this tragedy unfold on TV each day, it inspired me to learn more about journalism and in finding truth and justice in our societal and government institutions. I have done both of these over the years and I am sad that this same level of investigative journalism is not present today in our newspapers and/or broadcast journalism. Corruption and scandal seems to permeate politics and the political administrations of so many at the local, state and federal level. I don't really know if we have learned anything from the presidency and fall of Richard M. Nixon.
- watergate.info - The Scandal That Destroyed President Richard Nixon
The Watergate Scandal
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