This week in CATS we talked about Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of the Watergate Crisis. To summarise the scandal and its socio-political impacts I have referred to Charlotte Wilson’s presentation:
On June 17, 1972, 5 burglars were arrested in the Watergate building in Washington DC.
They were caught trying to bug phone wires and steal secret government documents.
The story intrigued two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who began investigating the story.
The scandal led to many Americans questioning their leadership and numerous government investigations were carried out. It made people think more critically about politics and changed the way people thought about their government and the roles of journalists in society.
Woodward and Bernstein gained their journalistic fame through the Watergate scandal and helped the Washington Post become the bestselling newspaper at the time. It set the bar high for future journalists working in investigative journalism.
Woodward and Bernstein Investigation
“It is the single most spectacular act of serious journalism in the 20th century.”
it influenced a generation of journalists.
Resignation of President Nixon
69 government officials were charged and 48 were found guilty
Loss of seats for Republicans in 1974 elections
Trust in politicians decreased
New interest for journalism
Rise in investigative journalism
The story was gripping at the time, making young people think about their careers, attracting people to the idea that journalism can really make a difference. By the 1990s, there were a whole generation of journalists producing some of the best work newspapers had ever done. This time was described as the ‘golden age of newspapers’ and traced back many journalist’s careers paths beginning from the Watergate
This case illustrates the importance of investigative journalism and the freedom of the press. It leads us to question whether corruption on such a huge political scale would or could be uncovered and revealed by the press today. At the time of the Watergate Crisis huge pressure was being put on the Washington Post to try to dissuade them from publishing the story. It was only through the dogged determination of the investigative journalists and the willingness of the press to stand by them that enabled the US government to be held to account.
Personally, I don’t believe that the exposure of a story of such magnitude would happen today. Mainly because of the financial implications. The cost of funding the investigation and also the risk of losing revenue from advertising and political party allegiance. Moreover, news reporting has become far more superficial with the importance of getting news out there as fast as possible.
Would the costs of exposing a scandal be worth the time and effort that is needed? I would like to hope there is still a future for serious investigative journalism but it is becoming increasingly difficult in a society where celebrities sharing their breakfast menu is the latest ‘news’.