In 1972, a scandal struck the United States. 5 burglars broke into the Democrat National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building. Two years later, the president Richard Nixon had to resign. What really happened ?
1969 : Richard Nixon (Republican Party) became President of the USA.
*1971 : Publication of the Pentagon Papers (revelations about the Vietnam War).
June 17, 1972 : 5 men are caught by policemen because they broke into the Watergate Hotel, trying to set bugs in the headquarter of the Democratic National Committee. Indeed, the burglars were seeking information that could be used against Democrats in the upcoming elections. They were indicted later for conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping. Among these 5 men : James McCord, just retired from the CIA. He was now the security director for the Commitee for the Re-Election of the President Nixon (= CRP).
*August 1972 : $25,000 went to Bernard Barker (one of the 5) when it was supposed to go to the CREEP.
*September 1972 : John Mitchell, the Attorney General for the United States, controls a secret Republican fund which is used to finance the different people involved in the break-in and the people who cover them up.
November 1972 : Nixon is reelected.
January 1973 : 7 men from the White House or the CIA were found guilty of conspiracy in the Watergate scandal.
April 1973 : Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Nixon's 2 main advisors, resigned because involved in the watergate scandal. Nixon referred to them as “two of my closest friends.” White house Counsel, John Dean is fired by the President.
June 1973 : John Dean reveals that he had at least 35 encounters with Nixon to talk about the watergate cover up.
July 1973 : Former President secretary reveals that Nixon recorded all conversations and phonecalls since 1971. Therefore, the Senate Watergate Committee asks for the tapes to Nixon who refuses to turn them in.
November 1973 : Nixon declares he's not a crook, claiming his innocence.
July 17, 1974 : The House Judiciary Committee reports articles of impeachment. However, before the full House could vote on whether the president should be impeached, Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974.
Impeachment is the process taken by the House of Representatives when an official (for instance a President) is accused of wrongdoing. This procedure is undertaken against an official in order to discredit him or to remove him from the office.
August 9, 1974 : Nixon resigns and Gerald Ford (V-Pre) becomes President. Nixon became the first and only U.S. president ever to resign the office due to an increasing pressure over the Watergate scandal.
What about the media ?
During the presidential election of 1972, Nixon was extremely popular. He was seen as a man above the fray. Public opinion didn’t care about this burglary’s affair. But, three newspapers : Time, the New York Times and particularly the Washington Post covered the event. Benjamin Bradlee, the Washington Post’s editor-in-chief requested two of his journalists to work on it. Bob Woodward, former officer of the US Navy, and Carl Bernstein set to work.
They discovered some elements, all linked with the White House through the Committee for the re-election of the President. Moreover, a mysterious FBI’s member, nicknamed “Deepthroat” gave informations to the journalists.
For the past 30 years, guessing the identity of Deep Throat has become something of a “parlor game that would not die” as the Philadelphia Inquirer once put it. Deep Throat met with Woodward seven times between 1972 and 1973 to help the two reporters about the involvement of Nixon in the burglary. He did his best to provide on “deep background” anonymous confirmation of facts reporters had gathered. Woodward and Bernstein had kept their promise not to reveal his identity until after his death. Thus, Deep Throat became the most famous source in modern American journalism. "Deep Throat" became an everyday term, referring to the anonymous source who divulged informations. In 2005, Deep Throat revealed his identity. His decision to unmask himself, in an article in Vanity Fair, ended this guessing game. W. Mark Felt was the No. 2 official of the F.B.I.
"People may have liked to say that Bob was the big reporter and Carl was the better writer. It's just clear they were a team." NY Times.
Woodward and Bernstein, now called “Woodstein”, made a real investigation. They discovered that the burglary was financed by a member of the Nixon electoral team.
At this moment, the Washington Post published, on October 1972, an article which explained that the Watergate affair was part of a huge destabilisation campaign of Democratic Party ran by the White House.
This affair began to be considered as a real scandal when Walter Conkrite, one of the most respected and important journalist of the XXth Century in the United States, who worked on CBS, supported the Woodstein’s investigations. He did not bring any information about it, but his credibility and reputation pushed the Watergate scandal to the forefront with the American public. It was also Cronkite who announced the impending resignation of Nixon, the night before Nixon really did it.
To conclude, Woodstein, with their determination, illustrate well the idea of the Fourth Estate.
for the Media and Politics ?
The media played a massive role in impeaching one of the most powerful men in the World. As Nixon himself admitted, this would not have been possible without the help of the media, which reported the scandal every day. Furthermore, because they investigated the case so deeply, some reporters managed to surpass the justice. This is a perfect illustration of "investigative journalism". The journalists, thanks to their tenacity, managed to write a page of the History of the United States.
But which were the consequences of this scandal on political life and on the media ?
First of all, after this scandal, the media became more confident and aggressive. As a consequence to the Washington Post success on this scandal, newspapers tried to develop teams of "investigative" reporters.
After this affair, the public opinion was careful about the executive. We saw then, a rebalacing of the powers. The president lost part of its power for the benefit of the Congress.
Nowadays, wiretappings are very common and denounce many politic abuses. The "Watergaffe" is a french spying affair which took place in the 1970s during the Pompidou’s presidency. The president was afraid of the “Canard enchaîné” and he decided to spy the journalists. The “DST” (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) tried to put mikes into the walls of the Canard Enchainé’s locals. But the agents were discovered by a cartoonist of the newspaper. The public opinion supported the newspaper.
Finally, political scandals are now called “–gate”. For instance, the "Irangate" in 1980.
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
This 1976 movie is based on the book written by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The film, starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein, is centered on how these 2 journalists led their inquiries and how they unfolded the numerous mysteries that justice was too slow to resolve. The movie portrays how investigative reporters comport themselves, ask questions and conduct interviews. In the movie, Deep Throat gives Woodward probably the most famous advice in the history of investigative journalism. It was the heart of the matter: “Follow the money.” Mr. Felt never said it. It was part of the myth that surrounded Deep Throat.
Bernstein & Milza - Histoire du XX° siècle Tome 3
Nixon et le Watergate - Claude Moisy
A history of the USA - volume 3, The American Dream
Deep Throat :
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language