Folks, I kept thinking about JFK and why it is we are so obsessed with him. And I think part of the reason is that he died so young and so popular, and everything that came after him was bad.
It’s comforting to think that without that assassination, the United States wouldn’t have gone through the traumas of Vietnam and Watergate. With JFK, no LBJ and no Nixon, so the thought goes.
And perhaps that’s true, but I tend to think that those sins would have been replaced by others. But we live in the world that we live in, so we gotta deal with the facts, and Watergate is one of them.
I’ll be honest with you – my knowledge when it comes to Nixon is very weak, because that guy annoys me when I so much see a picture of him. He’s an asshole, and it shows.
But I still wanted to know just how bad he was, so I picked up a book detailing some of his misdeeds. (Side note – your deeds must be bad if you have an entire book about them.)
Another fact in this honesty hour – my first association when I hear ‘Woodward and Bernstein’ is that horrible Gilmore Girls episode where Rory takes her first journalism class at Yale and the teacher is an arrogant asshole who says that people who don’t know the names of the journalists who uncovered the Watergate Scandal have no place in his class.
Sounds horrible to me – aren’t they there to LEARN about these things – but okay. The answer, in any case, is Woodward and Bernstein, the two journalists from the Washington Post.
And this book is about how the Watergate story – ‘the most devastating political detective story of the 20th century’, as the novel announces on the cover – unfolded. You know the basics – there was a break-in at the Watergate Hotel, which housed the Democratic Party Headquarters.
Woodward and Bernstein got assigned to the case, and they quickly uncovered that the thieves had connections to some of the people in Nixon’s orbit.
The rest is, I have to be honest with you, quite tedious.
You know these articles about the Muller Report and who did what and who spoke to whom and who knew what at which time? Yeah, that’s what this book is like. I don’t want sound flippant – obviously, the work of the two journalists was massively important – but it’s also … highly technical. There’s like twenty names and titles and they are all important and it’s a bit hard to keep track.
Also, and it hurts me to say this, but this book shows why journalists don’t necessarily make good book authors. Some of the stuff is a bit … cringe-worthy, especially the decision to write it all in the third person, so you have these odd paragraphs where Woodward and Bernstein are clearly talking about themselves in the third person.
Like this one:
“Back at the office, Woodward went to the rear of the newsroom to call Deep Throat. Bernstein wished he had a source like that. The only source he knew who had such comprehensive knowledge in any field was Mike Schwering, who owned Georgetown Cycle Sport Shop. There was nothing about bikes – and, more important, bike thieves – that Schwering didn’t know. Bernstein knew something about bike thieves: the night of the Watergate indictments, somebody had stolen his 10-speed Raleigh from a parking garage. That was the difference between him and Woodward. Woodward went into a garage to find a source who could tell him what Nixon’s men were up to. Bernstein walked into a garage to find an eight-pound chain cut neatly in two and his bike gone.”
You see what I mean?
One thing that I did not know though – and that’s important – is that Watergate wasn’t just Watergate. Nixon and his crew conducted a wide variety of sabotage and espionage acts, all to ensure his re-election.
(The joke is that Nixon was leading polls by 18% when the break in happened. He didn’t have to do it. But he did it, and that tells you a lot about what kind of person Nixon was.)
They did things like steal medical information about his political enemies and published them. (Interestingly, the JFK biography notes that efforts were made to break into JFK’s doctor’s office, but the burglars didn’t succeed. It can’t be proven, but who else would have an interest in this information?)
They also called locations where political rallies for Democrats were to be held, pretending to be campaign organizers, changing the hours of the rally. When the candidates arrived, nobody was there and the hall was locked up.
Basically, they were pulling a whole lot of asshole moves.
And then, when the truth began to emerge, Nixon did everything in his power to suppress it. And because he was President, he did have a lot of power at his disposal.
And the people around him helped – like our good friend Kissinger. (May he choke on his tongue.) Kissinger approved the wire-tapping of journalists. Which, just to be clear, is completely and absolutely illegal.
So Nixon was completely off the rails, and Woodward and Bernstein kept pushing and finding out things and … well, at this point, all I could think how horribly familiar all of this sounded. And then I remembered that this was the ‘most devastating political detective story of the 20th century’ and all I could think of was that this would be one average day in 2019.
Yes, it is a big deal, but at the same time, I feel like the world has moved on, and not necessarily in a good direction.
I wish I lived in a world where the fact that the President was doing illegal things was cause for general outrage, you know?
Ah, ye good olde days.