50 a very long time of Watergate: Woodward and Bernstein didn’t deliver down a president – however the fantasy that they did life on


Like most media myths, the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate rests on a basis of simplicity

Of their dogged reporting of the Watergate scandal, Washington Submit reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered the crimes that compelled Richard Nixon to resign the presidency in August 1974.

That model of Watergate has prolonged dominated well-liked information of the scandal, which unfolded about 26 months beginning in June 1972.

It’s, nonetheless, a simplistic trope that not even Watergate-period principals on the Article embraced.

For living proof, the newspaper’s writer throughout Watergate, Katharine Graham, pointedly turned down that interpretation in the middle of a programme 25 a few years previously on the now-defunct Newseum in suburban Virginia.

“Generally, individuals accuse us of ‘bringing down a president,’ which of sophistication we didn’t do, and shouldn’t have completed,”Graham reported. “The processes that induced [Nixon’s] resignation have been constitutional.”

Graham’s phrases, having mentioned that right and incisive, scarcely altered the dominant well-known interpretation of Watergate. If almost something, the intervening 25 a few years have solidified the “heroic-journalist” fantasy of Watergate, which I deal with and dismantle in my guide “Receiving It Incorrect: Debunking the Best Myths in American Journalism.”

Two men, one in a topcoat and one in a raincoat, walk away from a building. One is carrying a file folder.
Washington Publish reporters Bob Woodward, left, and Carl Bernstein on March 1, 1974, Washington, D.C. David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
Results exaggerated

Nonetheless well-liked, the heroic-journalist fantasy is a big exaggeration of the impact of their get the job performed.

Woodward and Bernstein did disclose monetary hyperlinks between Nixon’s reelection advertising marketing campaign and the burglars arrested June 17, 1972, at headquarters of the Democratic Nationwide Committee, in what was the sign crime of Watergate.

They publicly tied distinguished Washington figures, akin to Nixon’s former lawyer regular, John Mitchell, to the scandal.

They won a Pulitzer Prize for the Submit.

However they missed decisive points of Watergate, notably the fee of hush funds to the burglars and the existence of Nixon’s White Family tapes.

Nonetheless, the heroic-journalist fantasy turned so entrenched that it may withstand disclaimers by Watergate-period principals on the Submit these sorts of as Graham. Even Woodward has disavowed the heroic-journalist interpretation, on the time telling an interviewer that “the mythologising of our objective in Watergate has gone to the purpose of absurdity, through which journalists produce … that I, one-handedly, introduced down Richard Nixon.

“Completely absurd.”

So why not simply take Woodward at his time period? Why has the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate persevered on account of the 50 a number of years since burglars joined to Nixon’s marketing campaign had been being arrested on the Watergate difficult in Washington?

https://www.youtube.com/have a look at?v=DC3YFyah_Yg
The film ‘All of the President’s Males’ positioned Woodward and Bernstein on the decisive middle of Watergate’s unraveling.
Glosses greater than intricacies

Like most media myths, the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate rests on a foundation of simplicity. It glosses in extra of the scandal’s intricacies and bargains the significantly much more essential investigative do the job of explicit prosecutors, federal judges, the FBI, panels of equally houses of Congress, and the Supreme Courtroom docket.

It was, instantly in any case, the court docket’s unanimous ruling in July 1974, shopping for Nixon to surrender tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate distinctive prosecutor, that sealed the president’s destiny. The recordings captured Nixon, 6 instances following the housebreaking, agreeing to a system to forestall the FBI from pursuing its Watergate investigation.

The tapes ended up essential to analyzing that Nixon skilled obstructed justice. Devoid of them, he most likely would have served out his presidential time period. That, no less than, was the interpretation of the late Stanley Kutler, a single of Watergate’s high historians, who noted: “You needed to have that kind of corroborative proof to nail the president of the US.”

The heroic-journalist delusion, which commenced using keep even forward of Nixon resigned, has been sustained by a number of associated influences.

A single was Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Adult men,” the very well-timed memoir about their reporting. “All of the President’s Males” was launched in June 1974 and swiftly arrived on the main of The New York Intervals bestseller report, remaining there 15 weeks, by way of Nixon’s resignation and outdoors of. The e-book inescapably promoted the influence Woodward and Bernstein had been being important to Watergate’s finish outcome.

Way more so than the reserve, the cinematic adaptation of “All the President’s Adult men” positioned Woodward and Bernstein on the decisive centre of Watergate’s unraveling. The movie, which was unveiled in April 1976 and starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, was relentlessly media-centric, disregarding the operate of prosecutors and the FBI.

The reserve and movement image launched Woodward’s tremendous-mystery provide, “Deep Throat.” For 31 a very long time instantly after Nixon’s resignation, Washington periodically engaged publicly in guessing games concerning the supply’s id. Such hypothesis in some cases pointed to W Mark Felt, a former senior FBI official.

Felt openly denied proudly owning been Woodward’s provide. Had he been “Deep Throat,” he once advised a Connecticut newspaper, “I’d have completed a lot better. I’d have been further highly effective.”

The “who-was-Deep-Throat” conjecture retained Woodward, Bernstein and the heroic-journalist delusion on the centre of Watergate discussions. Felt was 91 when, in 2005, he acknowledged by the use of his household’s legal professional that he had been Woodward’s provide simply in any case.

It’s modest marvel that the heroic-journalist fantasy nonetheless defines well-known comprehending of Watergate. Apart from Woodward and Bernstein, no personalities distinguished in Watergate have been the topics of a bestselling memoir, the inspiration for a star-studded movement picture, and the protectors of a legendary supply who eluded conclusive identification for many years.The Conversation

W. Joseph Campbell, Professor of Interplay Analysis, American University College of Communication

This write-up is republished from The Conversation beneath a Modern Commons license. Learn via the initial short article.


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