What Is Watergate ?

Posted by on Jun 20, 2012 | Comments Off on What Is Watergate ?

What is Watergate?

  • June 17, 1972 Five men are arrested after they break in and enter the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in the Watergate Complex. The burglars are traced back to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP), a fundraising group for the Nixon campaign. The White House denies any involvement
  • 1972 and 1973 The reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovers further evidence of political ‘dirty tricks’ orchestrated by Nixon officials to discredit their political opponents
  • July 1973 The discovery of recordings made in Nixon’s office implicates the president in the break-in, the cover-up and other dirty tricks
  • August 9,1974 Nixon resigns in the face of impending impeachment over obstruction of justice, the abuse of power and the contempt of Congress

Women of Watergate 

The year 1972 was a defining year in American history but also a pivotal one for American women – with changes in the nation as a whole reflected in the stories of the female players in All the President’s Men.

The essential book about Watergate is called All the President’s Men for a reason. It recounts the in-depth investigation into the powerful men working for the White House and the many ways they abused their power, and the men who took them down – most famously, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who painstakingly put the pieces together as reporters at the Washington Post.

The front pages of the book list a cast of characters crucial to the story, broken into descriptive categories: the president’s men, the burglars, the judge, the senator, the prosecution and the Washington Post. Fifty-one of the 52 names listed are men.

The lone exception is the powerhouse publisher of the Washington Post, Katherine Graham. But she is far from the only woman in the Watergate story. Female characters play pivotal roles in the book, but their stories have mostly faded from memory.

Minor people

Take “the bookkeeper”. While Deep Throat became the most famous anonymous source in journalism, the bookkeeper may have been more vital to exposing corruption inside the White House.

Last week, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein said: “The real turning point in the coverage of Watergate was when Carl found the bookkeeper. The bookkeeper had the details of the money and who controlled it and who got the money. You look at All the President’s Men, I really think the bookkeeper is the key source.”

The bookkeeper was Judy Hoback (now Judy Miller), at the time a young widow with a two-year-old daughter. She worked for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP), a Nixon fundraising group.

“You start with people like that and you build your case. When you did get to the big boys, they were already well-trapped by the role of minor people. And many of those were women.”

Raising consciousness

Both Watergate and the feminist movement had their roots in the 1960s, says Mary Thom, an early editor of the feminist magazine Ms, which was first published only a few weeks after the Watergate break-in.

“The feminist movement came a good deal out of the protest movement, and Watergate was Nixon’s crazed reaction to how he felt about the interior threat of protest movements,” she says.

She was one of the few committee employees willing to talk to reporters. Her job tracking political payments gave her access to a lot of information, but it was her relative obscurity that gave her the ultimate power to help take down the president.

“So called ‘minor people’ were very important in unravelling this story,” says Stanley Kutler, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin and author of The Wars of Watergate.

But the women who played crucial roles in the story didn’t see themselves as feminist crusaders.

“I never thought of myself as a ‘woman journalist,’ ” says Marilyn Berger, who worked at the Washington Post with Bernstein and Woodward. “I was a woman at home, and at work I was a journalist.”

Despite her success as a diplomatic reporter, she entered into the Watergate story when a White House staffer tried to woo her with tales of his misdeeds – only to be shocked and angry when she reported those tales in the paper.

“There was a pervasive assumption that to be female was to not be professionally serious or qualified,” says Nancy MacLean, professor of history at the University of North Carolina.

Women in 1972 were living through a period of transition. An equal rights amendment to the US Constitution passed Congress but would be rejected by the states. Equal access to education would help the generation that came of age in the 1980s more than those living through the 1970s.

Adult women often straddled convention and progress, caught between the past and the future.

“Just because the law changed didn’t mean the world changed, too,” says MacLean.

Nixon the chauvinist

The cultural and political tension of 1972 is also apparent in the tales of two Washington marriages.

Debbie Sloan, wife of Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) treasurer Hugh Sloan, worked at the White House as an assistant to the social secretary.

She met her husband there, who was then performing a similar role for the president. “We were the first White House marriage,” she says.

Bob Woodward called her “the Greek chorus of the Watergate story”. Richard Nixon put the blame of the scandal at her feet.

“I’m convinced there would be no Watergate without Martha Mitchell, because John wasn’t mindin’ the store,” he told David Frost in 1977. “He was practically out of his mind over Martha in the spring of 1972.”

And that, says historian Kutler, is about as much credit Nixon would give to a woman.

After all, she adds, up to that point there hadn’t been many young, single women working in the White House in a professional capacity.

Martha Mitchell was the wife of John Mitchell, the US Attorney General and the president’s campaign manager. She also worked for the president, and was an early member of CRP.

When it became clear that CRP was embroiled in illegal and unethical activities, the Sloans worked together to figure out Hugh’s next move. Martha Mitchell, however, was left in the dark.

She claimed she was plied with alcohol in an attempt to keep her quiet, and written off as “hysterical” when she demanded answers.

“You had a president who had contempt for women being involved,” he says.

On tape, Nixon confessed to nominating a weak female candidate to the Supreme Court so that she’d be rejected early in the vetting process.

It was a way to pacify his wife, who suggested a female nominee, without believing such a thing was possible.

“He was laughing behind her back,” says Kutler.

But thanks to those who helped expose his involvement in Watergate, he wasn’t laughing for long.

Nixon – A Documentary Part-1



Nixon – A Documentary Part-2



Watergate Documentary NHD


The Watergate Scandal Documentary

In 1972, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began to investigate and expose all the president’s men involved in the Watergate scandal. But as their book by the same name shows, the reporters were helped by several women who played crucial roles in revealing the White House’s dirty tricks campaign.

Beyond All the President’s Men

Elizabeth Holzman then and now

Elizabeth Holzman was just 31 when she challenged long-time New York Congressman Emanuel Celler for his seat.

In his book, How The Good Guys Finally Won, journalist Jimmy Breslin said that task would have been impossible without Rodino’s steady hand – or Holzman’s improbable victory. It was, he wrote, “one of the most meaningful elections the country has ever had”.

“There were very few women running at that time, so people remembered having met me,” she says of her 1972 campaign. “People wanted honest government. They wanted somebody caring. They wanted an end to the war. Being a woman fit nicely into those concerns.”

She won, and Cellar’s former position as chair of the House Judiciary Committee went to Peter Rodino, a well-liked, fair-minded politician. It was Rodino who helped steer the Congress through the Nixon impeachment hearings.

Judy Hoback  (The Book-Keeper)

Watergate watchers know about Deep Throat, the anonymous source made famous in All the President’s Men. But another unnamed informant, “the Bookkeeper” was an even more important source for the reporters. An employee at the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP), Judy Hoback was a young widow when Woodward and Bernstein came knocking on her door. Now known as Judy Miller, she is close to finishing her last bookkeeping job and retiring in Florida.

“They were pushy young men. I was really scared and they played on that.”


Debbie Sloan( The Wife)

Hugh Sloan, the treasurer for the CRP resigned from his post soon after the Watergate burglary. His wife, Debbie, was hailed as her husband’s moral backbone and a driving force behind his decision – a depiction she has routinely played down. She invited Woodward and Bernstein into her home, and her husband became a valuable source. Now a grandmother living in Michigan, she recalled the year her life changed completely.

“We began to sense something was not right, and we talked about it every night.”

Marilyn Berger(The Reporter)

Veteran diplomatic reporter Marilyn Berger didn’t set out to become part of the Watergate story. But the information she discovered – gained after a former Post employee turned White House insider tried to impress her over drinks – helped prove a connection between political “dirty tricks” and the Nixon administration. When she shared what she learned with the Post reporters, she became part of the story. Now in her 70s, Berger is a mother for the first time, raising a young boy from Ethiopia.

“He was probably trying to show me what a powerful man he was, and wasn’t he wonderful.”

Martha Mitchell(The Campaign Worker)

The wife of attorney general John Mitchell and an early member of CRP, Mitchell sounded a frequent warning about the committee’s misdeeds. But her outsized personality and rumoured drinking problem led many to disregard her. Later, psychologists coined the phrase “Martha Mitchell effect”, used when people are diagnosed as mentally ill because they’re telling a truth that seems too outrageous to believe. In 1974, she sat down with veteran broadcaster David Frost to tell her story. She died two years later.

“I was brainwashed. I was told that this is what goes on in campaigns.”
Produced by Kate Dailey, Bill McKenna and Adrian Brown


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