Book Cover with photo of Nixon doing peace signs
As someone who has a master’s degree in political science, I am somewhat embarrassed   to say that my first reaction to the congressional hearings on Watergate was one of extreme   annoyance: the networks cancelled all regular programming in favor of televising the hearings.   This meant that all the soap operas I watched were effectively cancelled for weeks. But my late   father was home in the afternoons a lot that summer, and I began watching the hearings with him.   I was soon quite fascinated at the spectacle.   Although the break­in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate, a complex of   offices, stores and luxury apartments, on June 17, 1972, happened as I was heading into my junior   year in high school, I don’t remember much about it. I do remember that it was an election year,   and having been a supporter of Robert Kennedy and then Hubert Humphrey in 1968 with some of   my classmates at Hilltonia Junior High, I wasn’t particularly interested in the 1972 election. Nixon   not only beat the South Dakota Democrat George McGovern, he whipped him like he stole   something, winning every state but Massachusetts. He finally seemed to have reached the summit   he had spent his lifetime seeking.   The Watergate burglary itself was very clumsy. Frank Wills, the security guard on duty   that night, noticed that the lock on the door to the Democratic headquarters had been covered with   duct tape so as to ensure that it would not lock when the door was closed. He removed the tape,   but noticed the same thing about thirty minutes later. It was then that Wills called the police. The   five men caught in the office–Virgilio Gonzales, James W. McCord, Jr., Frank Stugris, Eugenio   Martinez and Bernard L. Baker–were arrested, tried and convicted for conspiracy to violate   federal wiretapping laws, conspiracy, and burglary. They were tried by federal judge John Silica,   known as Maximum John for the heavy sentences he imposed. Those sentences were enough to   loosen the tongues of the defendants and others, and the game was afoot.   During the investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found that the cash   some of the men carried came from a slush fund–remember the Checkers speech?–of President   Nixon’s campaign committee, the Committee for the Re­Election of the President (CREP),   thereafter pronounced ironically as creep. Hearings set up by the Senate Watergate Committee   found evidence that a number of White House staffers were implicated in the burglary and other   “dirty tricks” designed to vanquish President Nixon’s enemies, intimidate possible witnesses and   harass individuals and groups who opposed Nixon administration policies. A Nixon staffer   revealed that the president taped conversations, and there was a pitched battle in federal court over   the tapes. After the United States Supreme Court ordered the president to turn over the tapes, it   was discovered that Nixon was deeply and personally involved in some quite nefarious activities.   He subsequently resigned on August 9, 1974.   We have to remember that Watergate happened in what from our advantage point in 2015   looks like the dark ages of communication. There were no cell phones, FAX machines, or   internet. The twenty­four­hour news cycle didn’t exist. Everyone from reporters to government   officials to American citizens pretty much received the news of the goings on at the same   time–from the three national network news programs and the morning and evening papers. Each   new revelation was more shocking than the one before it. Drew said “It is harder than ever to   know where reality stops and fantasy begins. When, time after time, the incredible proves to be   fact, it’s quite an achievement for something to remain incredible. The borders of fantasy keep   receding as fantasy is overtaken by reality.”   I had not read this book since it was published forty­five years ago, but from the first page   I was immediately transported back to that summer which saw my high school graduation and the   first resignation of a United States president. There were so many people involved, from low level   crooks to the highest echelon of American society, that Drew provides us a five­page, alphabetized   dramatis personae so the reader can keep the characters straight. It is during the televised hearings   we were introduced to some people whose names and work remain with us still, including the late   Barbara Jordan, the first southern black woman elected to the United States House of   Representatives, and a young lawyer named Hilary Rodham.   Drew writes with crispness and verve, and even though the book–indeed all of her   books–is chock full of details, they aren’t the kind that makes the reader wish for the editor’s blue   pencil. The intricate details she uncovers represent old fashioned hard work, solid reporting, and   meticulous attention to detail.   The forty­fourth anniversary edition of Washington Journal contains a new afterward that   tells us even more about Richard Nixon and how a man sitting atop the pinnacle of the free world   came crashing down so spectacularly. It also shows us that from the moment he resigned he was   engaged in a campaign to erase Watergate from our memories and reward him with the status of   elder statement–something that to some extent was achieved by the time he died in twenty years   later in 1994.   Lest we forget, the Watergate scandal was a scary time in America. Serious questions   about the constitution, checks and balances, and separation of powers hung in the air like Spanish   moss. Politicians and professors alike lobbed theories at each other, and no doubt many people   dug out their moth­eaten copies of The Federalist Papers, trying to divine what the authors meant   about executive privilege and high crimes and misdemeanors.   Not to worry, however. By the end of the book, Elizabeth Drew has made everything   perfectly clear.