Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Other Shoe Drops

In our last posting, we took a look back at the 1972 Presidential election. We also talked about the relatively minor role the June, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington played in that contest.

But after the election, the Watergate break-in and its resulting cover-up became an issue that just would not go away. And as more and more revelations were made, there came the first real breaking point for the Nixon White House.

It was the announcement in late April, 1973 of a major shakeup at the top of the administration. It shook the country, and put the President forever on the defensive about Watergate until he resigned his office in disgrace in August, 1974.

When this White House shakeup occurred, involving several top presidential aides and the Attorney General either resigning or being fired, it was about the time we were all wrapping up our classes and looking forward to graduation from Vanderbilt after taking our last final exams as seniors. So I am not sure how much attention any of us paid to this news at the time.

But, again courtesy of the Vanderbilt TV News Archives, here is the way the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite related the story as it was breaking on the evening of April 30, 1973....

It is amazing to note in watching this coverage, how all the CBS journalists we've just seen, Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer and Daniel Schorr are still active in their profession some 35 years after they filed these reports.

It is also interesting to note how Watergate still impacts and shapes our politics even today. As for happened in April, 1973, it was far from the end of the story, as Daniel Schorr noted in his report. What would follow would include the special Senate Watergate hearings; the discovery of the White House taping system, another round of high-level firings and a cabinet shakeup when the President got into a dispute with the Special Watergate prosecutor; the 18-minute gap on one of the White House tapes; the vote of the House Judiciary Committee to impeach the President; and on and on, until the discovery of the final "smoking gun" tape that led to his resignation from office.

Only then could we say, as new President Gerald Ford did, that our "long national nightmare is over."

As always, please leave your thoughts or memories below by clicking on the comments link.

1 comment:

Steve said...


Did you notice how L-O-N-G the sound bites were back then?

The CBS characters wouldn't stand a chance in today's newscasts.

The personal note I remember from Watergate was that Don House (The Grinch) (Class of 1975) was a neighbor of Jason McCord, one the ringleaders of the Watergate break-in. Although Don was a died in the wool Democrat, it was personally very painful for him to see his neighbor held up to such ridicule and have to serve time to protect someone higher up.

I also remember you and I coming back from St.Louis the day that Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, and hearing that as we rode through the cornfields and tornadoes of Illinois.

I remember being ticked off at the time, but as I've grown older and maybe wiser, I have come to understand the importance to having a national nightmare be over.

It was a pardon for Nixon, a religious conversion for Charles Colson and Jeb McGruder.

It was political suicide for Gerald Ford and, the start of a national political career for Howard Baker, Fred Thompson, and Hillary Clinton.

It was the catapult to a talk show for G. Gordon Liddy, and hard prison time for Haldeman, Erichman, Mitchell, and a career CIA man taking one for the team, James McCord.

And all in an election where 49 states voted for Nixon. What a waste, what a nightmare, is it finally over? Have we learned the right lesson from Watergate after 36 years, or is it too soon to really understand it. Maybe that was just the first shoe, and the other one is still on the bed.

Wake me up when it drops.

Steve Womack