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

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill 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.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs