It has now been more than a week since the 35th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon on August 9, 1974. Other than comments by an occasional blogger (for example, here, here and here) one finds little to commemorate the event on the Internet. The media silence over their “heroic” role in Watergate is particularly surprising. It’s as if they were afraid public opinion might finally catch up with them.
In fact, there was nothing heroic about the Watergate Affair. Its real significance shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s noticed the incredible venom and obsessive persistence of the legacy media’s attacks on Sarah Palin since the day she became McCain’s running mate. Imagine the attacks on Palin ratcheted up about an order of magnitude, continuing for a year and a half, with no blogosphere or talk radio to push back. That was Watergate. It amounted to the media assassination of a freely elected and effective President.
Oh, I know all about all of Nixon’s crimes and misdemeanors in excruciating detail. You had to know about them if you were alive during the affair, because the media hammered Nixon day after day. So obsessed were they that they hardly bothered to inform the American people about anything else. Their vendetta against Nixon was the be all and end all for them. He had dared to challenge them, and they were bitterly determined to get him. They kept up their attacks day after day, month after month, to the bemusement and consternation of foreign leaders, who couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about. They weren’t stupid. They knew what Nixon had done. They also knew that any number American Presidents had done as much and worse with impunity. The idea that the media took Nixon down out of a noble sense of responsibility to the American people is one of the more absurd myths of the 20th century. They assassinated Nixon because they hated him.
It wouldn’t be easy for anyone living today to get a true sense of the reality of the Watergate Affair. Most of the book length accounts have been written by journalists, whose attempts to write history are almost uniformly useless, except, perhaps, to psychologists, because of their persistent tendency to interpret the world in terms of noble good guys and evil bad guys. One would have to go back to the source material. Archives of the Washington Post or the New York Times for the six months leading up the resignation would be a good place to start.
In the end, Nixon was forced to resign because his own party deserted him. They had tired of the struggle, and were even beginning to swallow the media propaganda themselves. Remember, there were no significant public voices to counter the media slant. If Watergate had happened today, I suspect they would never have dared to abandon their chief. Such an act would likely have been rightly condemned as a craven act of betrayal and treachery by the powerful voices that have risen to challenge the legacy media in the decades since Watergate. The changed nature of the media landscape is a development we should all be truly thankful for, and fight to protect.
It is a good thing that the aftereffects of Watergate were relatively benign. The outcome of the media’s blind rage and fury, culminating in the deposing of a democratically elected leader, could have been much worse. The destabilizing effects of their irresponsible abuse of the great power they controlled might have torn apart a country with a weaker tradition of responsible government and the rule of law. It is unlikely that the similarly irresponsible attempts to impeach Clinton would ever have happened without the precedent of Watergate. We must hope that the affair’s baneful effects won’t come back to haunt us at some future date.