A few Watergate messages
Watergate has plenty of political messages. Here are a few that stand out.
- The power of public opinion. As the Watergate scandal developed, few national leaders spoke out against Nixon despite his obvious crimes, and Nixon might have withstood it all except for the power of public opinion. But citizen outrage rose so high – measured in part by tons of mail descending on Capitol Hill – that members of Congress finally realized that the risk factor had changed: it was safer to be against Nixon than for him.
- The role of the press. To this day Nixon’s resignation is seen as a great victory for the press, but it wasn’t. Only four news organizations did much original reporting – The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Time Magazine. A fifth, the old Washington Evening Star (which went belly up in 1981) was kept in the fray by a columnist on Nixon’s enemy list, Mary McGrory, who knew a good story when she saw it and never let go, winning a Pulitzer prize for her Watergate work. The rest of the print press and all the TV networks were almost totally absent until the story could no longer be ignored. Some leading American newspapers would ignore Washington Post stories when they first appeared and then give prominent display to White House non-denial denials and attacks on the Post.
- Just plain good luck. Never discount the benefits of good luck. On June 17, 1972, a DC police dispatcher asked a uniformed officer to check it out reports of a possible burglary at the Watergate office building but he declined and three plainclothes detectives went instead. A uniformed cop would have been spotted by the burglars’ lookouts, and, if so, there would have been no arrests that night and, quite possibly, no Watergate scandal at all.