News / USA

US Media, Historians Mark 40th Anniversary of Watergate Scandal

Former Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, is seen on the monitor as moderator Charlie Rose, left, Woodward and Bernstein speak during an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Watergate, June 11, 2012.
Former Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, is seen on the monitor as moderator Charlie Rose, left, Woodward and Bernstein speak during an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Watergate, June 11, 2012.
WASHINGTON - Sunday, June 17, marks the 40th anniversary of the most consequential political scandal in U.S. history, the Watergate scandal.  What began as a bungled break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. eventually led to Richard Nixon’s resignation as president and continues to resonate today as a cautionary tale of political ambition, money and the abuse of power. 

Start of a scandal

It began in the early morning hours of June 17, 1972. Five men working for President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign were arrested trying to break in to Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex.


Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward covered the story and found that the Watergate break-in was only part of an elaborate program launched by the Nixon re-election campaign to undermine the president’s political opponents.

“We named people in specific acts of participation in a criminal conspiracy essentially to destroy the free electoral system we have in this country to spy and sabotage on the Democrats,” said Woodward.

  • Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House in Washington as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the presidency in Washington, D.C., August 9, 1974. (AP Photo)
  • Reporters Bob Woodward, right, and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting of the Watergate case won them a Pulitzer Prize, sit in the newsroom of the Washington Post in Washington May 7, 1973. (AP Photo)
  • Carl Bernstein, Washington Post reporter is shown in this photo dated May 7, 1973. (AP Photo)
  • President Richard M. Nixon is shown pointing to the transcripts of the White House tapes in this April 29, 1974, file photo, after he announced during a nationally-televised speech that he would turn over the transcripts to House impeachment investigators
  • A general view of the Senate Watergate Committee hearings on August 3, 1973. (AP Photo)
  • Notes taken by White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman during a June 20, 1972, meeting with President Richard M. Nixon reflect the president's fear that the office in the Executive Office Building might be bugged. (AP Photo)
  • Members of the Senate Watergate Investigating Committee are seen during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington as they listen to witness Robert Odle, foreground, in this May 17, 1973 photo. (AP Photo)
  • President Richard M. Nixon and his wife Pat Nixon are shown standing together in the East Room of the White House in Washington August 9, 1974. (AP Photo)
  • Movers remove furniture from the Watergate Complex in Washington, on July 21, 2009. The Watergate Hotel that is part of the complex, was made famous by the Watergate scandal. (AP Photo)
Criminal and congressional investigations followed the Post reporting and found a massive cover-up orchestrated by the Nixon campaign and the White House, right up to the president himself.

During Senate hearings in 1973, it came to light that Nixon recorded his conversations in the White House, and those tapes eventually helped to prove Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up.

The most dramatic thing

VOA’s David Dyar covered the Watergate scandal as a young reporter for United Press International, including President Nixon’s decision to order the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor in 1973.

“When I was hearing all this unfold in the White House briefing room, there was a sense among many there that something truly historic had happened and that the president was putting himself above the law and that the entire constitutional fabric of the justice system in the country was being challenged," said Dyar. "It was the most dramatic thing I have ever witnessed firsthand as a reporter.”

Once the White House tapes showed Nixon’s complicity in the cover-up, the president lost his base of Republican Party support in Congress and he announced his resignation in August of 1974.

“I have never been a quitter," said Nixon. "To leave office before my term is completely is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president I must put the interests of America first.”

"Long national nightmare is over"

Nixon’s vice president, Gerald Ford, was sworn in after Nixon left and moved quickly to heal a divided country.

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," said Ford. "Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule.”

American University historian Allan Lichtman says Watergate remains the most serious attempt by a president and his staff to undermine the democratic process.

Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the Presidency, August 9, 1974.Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the Presidency, August 9, 1974.
x
Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the Presidency, August 9, 1974.
Richard Nixon says goodbye to members of his staff outside the White House as he boards a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base after resigning the Presidency, August 9, 1974.
“It was a widespread conspiracy," Lichtman said. "Several dozen people went to jail, including other very high officials of the [Nixon] campaign and of the Nixon administration. So a lot of people who should have known much better got sucked into this terrible scandal and it is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions because in many ways Richard Nixon did a lot for the country.”

"Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them"

Before he left the White House, Nixon gave an emotional speech to staffers and then concluded with what struck many as an ironic piece of advice.

“Always remember, others may hate you," he said. "But those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then, you destroy yourself.”

Some 40 years later, the Watergate scandal is seen not only as a victory for the democratic process but also as a defining example of the importance of a free press in a democratic society.

Watergate - Washington's Biggest Scandal
Related report by Suzanne Presto:

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: James from: Broadwater, Nebraska, USA
June 18, 2012 2:42 AM
Interesting. The BBC marked yesterday the 200th anniversary of the start of the 1812 War including history of the National Anthem, what banner inspired Francis Scott Key to write it, the source of the music (a British drinking song), and when it became official (1931). VOA has no mention of it, but does mention Watergate.

by: Ron Henzel
June 15, 2012 10:28 AM
I believe that the Watergate scandal left an indelible mark on my generation — the one that was passing through junior high and high school at the time, and had its youthful idealism and naïveté about government exploded earlier than I think the previous generation's had. As a middle school history teacher, I've endeavored to explain to my students just how disillusioning that entire period was. I put together a video summarizing the events. You can watch it at https://vimeo.com/43366697.
In Response

by: no-name
June 20, 2012 9:51 AM
Powerful documentary reduced for a bite size. Thanks

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More