This analysis of the news media coverage will focus on the Watergate affair which originally began on June 17, 1972 with the break-in of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the prestigious Watergate office complex in Washington D.C.. I will primarily concentrate on the negative impact that media coverage had to the publics eye. This media coverage, although justified and appropriate for the situation, ultimately destroyed the credibility of Nixon's administration and the ability to run an effective government which forced the first resignation of an American president.
The history of the events at hand is as follows. The Nixon Administration financed a White House Special Investigative Unit called the plumbers. This unit was initially established under John Erlichmann a top White House aide, to "plug" leaks from the White House to the press and consisted of former FBI and CIA operatives. It comes to fact that these plumbers were involved in illegal break-ins and wiretapping before the Watergate scandal. On June 17, 1972, the night watchman at the Watergate complex discovered adhesive tape on the basement doors of the complex. Five men were arrested that night and began a series of inquiries and investigations into the possible corruption of 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 (CRP also known as CREEP). (New York Times, June 21, 1972, page 1, column 3) Immediately after the arrests, the news media had already began initial accusations and offering possible motives to the public through statements like:
" There was continuing speculation here and in the Cuban community in Miami that unnamed men, in or out of an anti-Castro organization, had carried out a number of politically sensitive operations to win the Governments sympathy for 30,000 to 40,000 Cuban refugees living in Spain." (4 Hunted in Inquiry on Democratic Raid, New York Times, June 21, 1972, page 44, column 1)
On June 20, it came to the attention of President Richard Nixon that there were connections made between the burglars and CRP and various White House personnel. The president, on June 23, recommended that the CIA should prevent a FBI inquiry into the Watergate incident based on national security interests. To no avail, the FBI continued its investigation and eventually sifted through the maze of paper trails and cover up. Evidence began to surface, pointing to the 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 curious non-cooperation from the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President, the suspicion grew that someone not far from the center of Republican 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. On September 15, 1972, the Justice Department obtained the indictments of seven men said to be implicated: James W. McCord, Bernard L. Barker, Eugenio R. Martinez, Frank A. Sturgis, and Virgilio R. Gonzalez, the five men originally arrested at the Watergate complex. Also involved, and indicted were G. Gordon Liddy, chief of 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 plant listening devices into the phone lines at the Democratic National Headquarters. One man, although implicated, was not charged. His name was Alfred Baldwin, an FBI agent who was a bodyguard for John Mitchell, the campaign manager, and his wife. Mr. Baldwin had admitted to being assigned by James McCord to monitor and transcribe the transmissions from the illegal bugs. These transcriptions were then given to McCord who then turned them into memos that were distributed among the 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 Stuart Magruder, who became one of Nixon's committee's deputy directors. Before joining 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 being used to get information about radicals and protesters who may try to disrupt the Republican National Convention. (Denials and Still More Questions, TIME Magazine, October 30, 1972, pages 18-19)
The news media continued to portray the event as a conspiracy from the highest pinnacle of power within the United States. Although President Nixon was never brought up on charges or indicted, the people definitely had a general distrust of the Nixon Administration. The negative image portrayed by the various news media eventually brought about questions of the legitimacy and ethics of the current presidential administration. The televised committee hearings led by Ervin on live television cast a light of criminality onto the administration. White House aides and assistants were questioned and regarded as common criminals. Typical "playing up" by the media sources portrayed Nixon as besieged, his popularity sagging, his Administration near shambles, his reputation- 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 some coverage of the President in defense. One article wrote:
" A few Nixon defenders have vehemently challenged the press's role in Watergate. Last week, Franklin B. Smith, editorial-page editor of the Vermont Free Press predicted there would be a severe backlash against the sordid press McCarthyism and intellectual punksterism of those who mindlessly sought to tear down a great President, a great office, and a great nation....zealous communicators on the trail of Watergate ignore the principle that innocence must be presumed until guilt is proven." (Defending Nixon, TIME Magazine, May 28, 1973, page 61)
Much later in the investigation, after refusing to give up subpoenaed tapes and transcripts, claiming executive order, Richard Nixon himself, was ordered to give up the tapes. The President, although, demanded the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General to fire the special prosecutor requesting the tapes. Both men disagreed to do so and consequently resigned. This situation put the Administration into an embarrassing light and the President agreed to surrender the tapes. On arrival of the tapes, they were found to be missing exerpts and information. On July 27, 1974, a committee recommended the impeachment of the president. To avoid almost certain conviction in the impeachment trial, President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. Gerald Ford, who was appointed Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned, gave the former president an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes he may have committed. (Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, Volume 13, page 1605)
In conclusion, the Nixon Administration was eventually overturned and destroyed 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 the Interior was convicted with bribery and sentenced to nine months in prison, the Watergate scandal was covered more due to the increase in technology and the amount 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 not because of the good he did like withdrawal
from Vet Am and passing of the Equal Rights Amendment, but for the negative connotation still adherent to his profile as a leader. That connotation is one of dishonesty and trickery. As long as the memory of Richard Nixon lives, so too, will his legacy of secrecy.
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