Monday, June 17, 2013

June 17: Watergate Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1972 Watergate break-in, the event that lead ultimately to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The third-rate burglary of the Democratic Headquarters was not a significant event at the time, but two inexperienced reporters for the Washington Post, William Woodward and Carl Berstein, followed the story and the many people involved until it led them to the White House and into the Oval Office.

In their book All the President's Men (1974), Woodard and Berstein tell the story of how it all started:

June 17, 1972. Nine o'clock Saturday morning. Early for the telephone. Woodward fumbled for the receiver and snapped awake. The city editor of the Washington Post was on the line. Five men had been arrested earlier that morning in a burglary at Democratic headquarters, carrying photographic equipment and electronic gear. Could he come in?

The Democratic Party headquarters was located at the Watergate, a complex of buildings along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. that contains hotel rooms, apartments, and office space. The burglars at Watergate on June 17 were trying to bug the offices of the Democratic headquarters. Woodward and Berstein were able to trace the burglars and the money they were paid to President Nixon's Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP).

Since the 1970s, the word Watergate and the suffix -gate have become synonymous with political scandal. Like the word marathon (see Word Daze April 10th), Watergate is an example of a toponym: a word that began as a specific place name (a proper noun) and evolved into a common noun. After Watergate, other scandals involving both Republican and Democrat politicians took on the -gate suffix:

Koreagate (1976)
Floodgate (1978)
Iraqgate (1989)
Travelgate (1993)
Filegate (1996)
Whitewatergate (1994)
Zippergate (1998) (1)

The 1976 film All the Presidents Men portrays Woodward and Bernstein's (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) journalistic pursuit of the Watergate story. The film, like the book, begins at the Watergate complex with the break-in and ends with the announcement of Nixon's resignation on August 8, 1974. Some of the most dramatic scenes involve the secret meetings between Bob Woodward and Deep Throat, whose true identity was kept secret until 2005 when the world learned his real name was W. Mark Felt, one-time Associate Director of the FBI. The film won four Oscars, including the Best Supporting Actor award for Jason Robards' portrayal of Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee.

Today's Challenge: "Follow the Money."
Long before the famous movie line "Show me the Money!" there was a famous line delivered by Deep Throat (played by Hal Holbrook) to Woodward in one of their secret meetings. He told Woodward that the key to solving the puzzle of Watergate was to "Follow the Money." Below are six additional quotes from the film All the President's Men followed by descriptions of the speaker and the situation. See if you can match them up.

1. All non-denial denials. They doubt our ancestry, but they don't say the story isn't accurate.

2. I was at a party once, and, uh, Liddy put his hand over a candle, and he kept it there. He kept it right in the flame until his flesh was burned. Somebody said, "What's the trick?" And Liddy said, "The trick is not minding."
3. I don't mind what you did. I mind how you did it.
4. We're under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.

5. Look, there are two thousand reporters in this town, are there five on Watergate? When did the Washington Post suddenly get the monopoly on wisdom? Why would the republicans do it? McGovern's self-destructed just like Humphries, Muskie, the bunch of them. I don't believe this story. It doesn't make sense.
6. Boy, that woman was paranoid! At one point I - I suddenly wondered how high up this thing goes, and her paranoia finally got to me, and I thought what we had was so hot that any minute CBS or NBC were going to come in through the windows and take the story away.

A. Woodward repremanding Berstein after Woodward edited one of his stories without his approval.

B. Editor Ben Bradlee talking about the White House's reactions to the stories about Watergate written by Woodward and Berstein.

C. Scott, the Foreign Editor expressing his doubts about the importance of the Watergate story.

D. Deep Throat telling Woodward about one of the key figures involved in Watergate.

E. Editor Ben Bradlee talking to Woodward and Bertein about the importance of their work.

F. Carl Bertein expressing his surprise after a conversation with a source.

Quote of the Day: The most effective means of ensuring the government's accountability to the people is an aggressive, free, challenging, untrusting press. -- Colin Powell

Answers: 1. B 2. D 3. A 4. E 5. C 6. F

1 - Flexner, Stuart Berg and Anne H. Soukhanov. Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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