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The Watergate Scandal

Updated on June 22, 2014
The Watergate Complex, Washington, DC.
The Watergate Complex, Washington, DC. | Source

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.

Nixon departing from the White House after his resignation.
Nixon departing from the White House after his resignation. | Source

The Scandal

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.

Bob Woodward today, an author and editor at The Washington Post.
Bob Woodward today, an author and editor at The Washington Post. | Source
Carl Bernstein today, an author and newsman.
Carl Bernstein today, an author and newsman. | Source
The Washington Post building.
The Washington Post building. | Source

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.


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  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

    srsddn: I think it was Nixon's hubris, ego and basic insecurity that led him to do what he did. It was really so stupid of him. (Sorry, I cannot think of another word to describe him.) It was also a Shakespearean tragedy that played out. As president, Nixon felt he was above the law and the ends justified the means. I have seen the Watergate building also but I have never been inside. It still has apartments for living there and Condoleeza Rice lives there today. I also think the journalists need to be reminded of what real investigative journalism is. They are so quick today to broadcast before finding out all the facts. Thanks for reading this and your insightful comments. Much appreciated.

  • srsddn profile image

    srsddn 3 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

    suzettenaples, Thanks for summarizing the Watergate so nicely. It is so puzzling to find a person of Nixon's stature involved in such a scandal. Incidentally, my co passenger pointed out the Watergate building when I was travelling by that road about 10 years back. Also the story was narrated to me. I think the politicians need reminders about such happenings and also about the consequences from time to time. Voted up.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

    Hi Martie: Yes, this was a scandal all because of Nixon's hubris. I am so sad to hear this is going on in South Africa. I thought your basic governing problems had been solved (and apartied) when Nelson Mandela became president or prime minister. I see the problems are just beginning for you in S. Africa. I am so saddened by the violence in your country, but it is not much better here in the U.S. Thanks so much for your visit and comments. Most appreciated.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

    tpksarathy: There are scandals in every country, I suppose. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is sad that politicians and governments resort to to fraud and crime to get what they want. Thank you so much for your comments and visit. Most appreciated.

  • MartieCoetser profile image

    Martie Coetser 3 years ago from South Africa

    Excellent report of the Watergate Scandal. Scandals like this are the order of the day in South Africa. Power corrupts.... and the Law is a donkey....

    Voted up, informative and very well presented.

  • profile image

    tpksarathy 3 years ago

    In India, we have 2G Spectrum Scandal, but still the enquirers are going on by the justice department, this scandal happened before 4 years.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

    Hannity and OReilley drive me nuts. I can hardly stand either one of them. I can't watch Fox news for very long without getting nauseated. I wish we could fix the news world, but I don't think that is going to happen! lol.

  • Alexander Mark profile image

    Alexander Silvius 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

    I am a conservative, but if I did watch FOX, I would vomit too. Hannity is also on my dog-doo list. They both present a false front and put out propaganda that goes beyond the facts.

    And don't worry, some people reverse my Hubpages pen name, thinking that Alexander is the last name! In reality, it is my middle name, but I love it - so thank you for the compliment :-)

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

    Alexander: I goofed and addressed you as Mark on one of your hubs - so sorry. I love a solid sounding name such as yours. I agree with you again. If I hear Fox News purport to be unbiased and objective again I think I'll keel over. They are so right wing conservative - but I know that when I listen to them so I take that into considertation. I know, today everything and anything is out there on the web and on these writing sites and blogs we are all so opinionated. Thanks so much for commenting again. I enjoy your points of view!

  • Alexander Mark profile image

    Alexander Silvius 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

    When I was first taught about the rules of objective journalism, I wholeheartedly agreed with them. Certainly citing sources is the bedrock of journalism, because the whole point of reporting is to expose and educate. Now, objectivity is something most media purport to have, but sadly do not. I just wish they were honest about being biased!

    That's not to say that real reporting can't be found in fringe papers, or on Youtube or even blogs, but those are the exceptions to the rule. The old newsroom is gone but I probably couldn't write in such a chaotic environment anyway!

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

    Thank you for reading this and your insightful comments. The reason they agonized over what to print in The Post was because they wanted to print the truth and they wanted to avoid libeling anyone with false accusations. Bradley's and Graham insisted Woodward and Bernstein had to have at least two sources confirm each item they published in the paper. And they complied for every article they had published. It is a shame that we don't have great investigative reporting as we did then. I, too, think reporting is so biased today, but as you said we can listen to all sides and then determine for ourselves what the truth is. Reporting is supposed to be objective, but I rarely see or hear this type of reporting today. I'm glad you enjoyed this. It was something to see history in the making so many years ago!

  • Alexander Mark profile image

    Alexander Silvius 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

    The last line you wrote is so true: "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." It is unfortunate that such an earth shaking event only exposed the politics to come. Much in the same way, news reporting is today not the honorable profession we all wish it to be, and it might have been several decades ago.

    What is interesting is that the journalism team and Deep Throat were agonizing about what to run in the paper. If there is any response to conscience in the media today, it is for the benefit of the paper's owners, not its audience. Yesterday I heard that not only are countries like China and Germany asking Google to censor information, but so is the US!

    Because of this trend, I have come believe in the truthfulness of openly biased news reporting. Then you can listen to both sides and sort out the truth from the shared facts.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 6 years ago from Taos, NM

    phdast7: Glad you liked this. I was so interested and did watch it every day. I guess I had no life - LOL It was such a moment of history to live through and witness, that I just had to watch it. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

  • phdast7 profile image

    Theresa Ast 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Suzette - I was 19 too, and I was not nearly as well informed as I should have been about an event of such grave importance. You have provided an excellent summation of the players involved and the events. Very, very well done. Impressive. SHARING.

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 6 years ago from Taos, NM

    Alastar: Thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting. Yes, this scandal was so disturbing on so many levels, but did we learn anything as a country from this. I don't see any evidence we have. Our government and politics is still full of "dirty tricks" and corruption. The cycle just seems to continue.

    You are right, Laugh-in was so funny and did do a trip on Richard Nixon. Turns out they were so right!

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 6 years ago from Taos, NM

    gmwilliams: yes! Nixon was like Richard III by Shakespeare. I can't believe I forgot that Shakespeare character! Thank you for your insightful comment and for reading this piece. Your analysis of Nixon is phenonmenal and I agree with everything you say. He most certainly did do it all to himself. He was so deluded and delusional! Yes, he felt cheated out the the presidency in l960 when Kennedy won. And he never forgave an enemy. What a sad, sad, tragic figure he turned out to be. Thank God he resigned and left the presidency. An impeachment trial would have been horrible. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

    "I'm not a crook." Hey suzette you've helped fill in some facts and bio on Watergate wasn't aware of. Good piece on it. A lot of things are coming to the light about that scandal that go very deep and are down right disturbing. There were some very powerful forces that wanted Nixon out of there for a number of reasons. I like to remember Nixon on Laugh-in: "Sock me?"

  • gmwilliams profile image

    Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

    I remember it so well. Richard Nixon reminds me of the dark prototypical character Richard III in The Tower of London. He wanted to be king so bad that he destroyed and killed anyone who got in his way and when he became king, his ruthless ambition and megalomania was his downfall. The same thing was "king" Richard Nixon. He wanted to be President of the United States since 1960. He finally achieved his life wish in 1968. He wanted the ultimate power at any cost. He was fearful of anyone who would compete with him and the issue of Watergate proved it to the milnillionth degree. He wanted to eradicate anyone he perceived to be his enemy and in the process, he destroyed his presidency by being impeached! How power in the wrong hands can corrupt and ultimately lead to one's downfall and ruin! Karma is the ultimate taskmaster!