This analysis of the news media coverage will focus on the Watergateaffair which originally began on June 17, 1972 with the break-in of theDemocratic National Committee Headquarters at the prestigious Watergate officecomplex in Washington D.
C.. I will primarily concentrate on the negative impactthat media coverage had to the publics eye. This media coverage, althoughjustified and appropriate for the situation, ultimately destroyed thecredibility of Nixon’s administration and the ability to run an effectivegovernment which forced the first resignation of an American president.
The history of the events at hand is as follows. The NixonAdministration financed a White House Special Investigative Unit called theplumbers. This unit was initially established under John Erlichmann a top WhiteHouse aide, to plug leaks from the White House to the press and consisted offormer FBI and CIA operatives. It comes to fact that these plumbers wereinvolved in illegal break-ins and wiretapping before the Watergate scandal. OnJune 17, 1972, the night watchman at the Watergate complex discovered adhesivetape on the basement doors of the complex. Five men were arrested that nightand began a series of inquiries and investigations into the possible corruptionof White House Officials. (Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, Volume 13,page 1603)Among those arrested on the night of June 17, 1972 were James McCord Jr.,security coordinator for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRPalso known as CREEP).
(New York Times, June 21, 1972, page 1, column 3) Immediately after the arrests, the news media had already began initialaccusations and offering possible motives to the public through statements like:There was continuing speculation here and in the Cuban community inMiami that unnamed men, in or out of an anti-Castro organization, had carriedout a number of politically sensitive operations to win the Governments sympathyfor 30,000 to 40,000 Cuban refugees living in Spain. (4 Hunted in Inquiry onDemocratic Raid, New York Times, June 21, 1972, page 44, column 1)On June 20, it came to the attention of President Richard Nixon thatthere were connections made between the burglars and CRP and various White Housepersonnel. The president, on June 23, recommended that the CIA should prevent aFBI inquiry into the Watergate incident based on national security interests.
To no avail, the FBI continued its investigation and eventually sifted throughthe maze of paper trails and cover up. Evidence began to surface, pointing tothe administration itself. Realizing the internal nature of this situation,stories began to look like this:No one was making any accusations yet, but in the midst of a curiousnon-cooperation from the White House and the Committee for the Re-election ofthe President, the suspicion grew that someone not far from the center ofRepublican power in Washington had engineered the Watergate Caper. (Watergate,Contd.
, TIME Magazine, August 14, 1972, page 21)As time went on, more and more evidence had begun to surface. OnSeptember 15, 1972, the Justice Department obtained the indictments of seven mensaid to be implicated: James W. McCord, Bernard L. Barker, Eugenio R. Martinez,Frank A.
Sturgis, and Virgilio R. Gonzalez, the five men originally arrested atthe Watergate complex. Also involved, and indicted were G. Gordon Liddy, chiefof the security unit called the plumbers and former White House consultant, E.Howard Hunt. These men were all charged with conspiring to break in and plantlistening devices into the phone lines at the Democratic National Headquarters.
One man, although implicated, was not charged. His name was Alfred Baldwin, anFBI agent who was a bodyguard for John Mitchell, the campaign manager, and hiswife. Mr.
Baldwin had admitted to being assigned by James McCord to monitor andtranscribe the transmissions from the illegal bugs. These transcriptions werethen given to McCord who then turned them into memos that were distributed amongthe CRP. (Investigations: Seven Down On Watergate, TIME Magazine, September 25,1972, page 21)The funds used for this operation were authorized by one man, Jeb StuartMagruder, who became one of Nixon’s committee’s deputy directors. Beforejoining CRP, Magruder was an assistant to the President’s chief of staff, H.R.Haldeman, then later became assistant to Herb Klein, Director of Communications.
It has been said that Magruder was sent to Klein to spy on him for Haldeman. Magruder, was not charged or indicted because he thought the money was beingused to get information about radicals and protesters who may try to disrupt theRepublican National Convention. (Denials and Still More Questions, TIMEMagazine, October 30, 1972, pages 18-19)The news media continued to portray the event as a conspiracy from thehighest pinnacle of power within the United States.
Although President Nixonwas never brought up on charges or indicted, the people definitely had a generaldistrust of the Nixon Administration. The negative image portrayed by thevarious news media eventually brought about questions of the legitimacy andethics of the current presidential administration. The televised committeehearings led by Ervin on live television cast a light of criminality onto theadministration. White House aides and assistants were questioned and regardedas common criminals. Typical playing up by the media sources portrayed Nixonas besieged, his popularity sagging, his Administration near shambles, hisreputation- and his future, dangerously on the line. (And the Mess Goes On,Newsweek, September 25, 1972, page 16)Despite the negative media coverage, in all fairness, there was somecoverage of the President in defense.
One article wrote:A few Nixon defenders have vehemently challenged the press’s role inWatergate. Last week, Franklin B. Smith, editorial-page editor of the VermontFree Press predicted there would be a severe backlash against the sordid pressMcCarthyism and intellectual punksterism of those who mindlessly sought to teardown a great President, a great office, and a great nation….
zealouscommunicators on the trail of Watergate ignore the principle that innocence mustbe presumed until guilt is proven. (Defending Nixon, TIME Magazine, May 28,1973, page 61) Much later in the investigation, after refusing to give upsubpoenaed tapes and transcripts, claiming executive order, Richard Nixonhimself, was ordered to give up the tapes. The President, although, demandedthe Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General to fire the specialprosecutor requesting the tapes.
Both men disagreed to do so and consequentlyresigned. This situation put the Administration into an embarrassing light andthe President agreed to surrender the tapes. On arrival of the tapes, they werefound to be missing exerpts and information. On July 27, 1974, a committeerecommended the impeachment of the president.
To avoid almost certainconviction in the impeachment trial, President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.Gerald Ford, who was appointed Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned, gavethe former president an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes he may havecommitted. (Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, Volume 13, page 1605)In conclusion, the Nixon Administration was eventually overturned anddestroyed due directly to the large amount of media coverage given to this event.Compared to the Teapot Dome, in which Warren Harding’s Secretary of theInterior was convicted with bribery and sentenced to nine months in prison, theWatergate scandal was covered more due to the increase in technology and theamount of press people involved.
Although never charged or tried for any crimes,Richard Nixon still remains one of the most notorious Presidents of our time notbecause of the good he did like withdrawalfrom Vet Am and passing of the Equal Rights Amendment, but for the negativeconnotation still adherent to his profile as a leader. That connotation is oneof dishonesty and trickery. As long as the memory of Richard Nixon lives, sotoo, will his legacy of secrecy.