Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Watergate Wasn't a Press Story

Excellent column yesterday by Jack Shafer, which makes several very important points about leaks, the press, bureaucracies, and bureaucrats. Highly recommend it.

The occasion of the column is a new book coming out soon about Watergate and Mark Felt -- Woodward and Bernstein's Deep Throat. From what Shafer says, Max Holland in Leak gets it right: Watergate was fundamentally not a press story. It's probably true that had there been no press at all things would have been much easier for Nixon and his gang, and perhaps even easy enough for them to get away with it, but the point is that individual actors and actions by the press were never central to what was going on. The key players who brought the president down were the prosecutors, both in Justice and then the Special Prosecutors offices; the courts; and Congress. And, with the pressure that those people put on (and, to be fair, the press were part of it, if not the key actors), the whole thing collapsed internally. Oh, that, and that there was just a ton of good evidence against them. And, perhaps more than anything, Richard Nixon had alienated a large percentage of Washington, including his own party, by the way he conducted his presidency, just as Lyndon Johnson had before him.

All of which, or at least most of which, is just history, however interesting. For the lessons about reporting and governing, go read Shafer's column.


  1. The actual story of what happened wasn't a press story, true.

    But, I would argue, the ramifications for the press of the whole affair (including, as we must, the coverage of it and how that coverage was received) were huge.

  2. I agree with Schafer's implicit point, that Nixon got a very raw deal out of the whole affair because he had alienated the DC establishment. It's true that if Nixon's governing style had been more sympatico to their concerns, the minor kerfuffle would never have been made into a big deal the way it was.

    On the other hand, you'll never be able to drain the swamp if you have to worry about upsetting the mosquitoes.

  3. Nixon didn't get a raw deal; he earned it. And the myriad felonies he committed were hardly a minor kerfuffle.

  4. Of all the illegal and quasi-legal ways Presidents have acted since TR, Watergate ranks somewhere around the middle. Had Nixon been viewed differently, Watergate would have played out like Iran-Contra.

    To say that Nixon "earned" his treatment is effectively to say that the permanent Washington establishment has a veto on Presidential policy.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?