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The Watergate Scandal significantly altered journalistic standards. This high-profile case led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974. President Nixon was accused of hiding facts regarding a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC. The early 1970s was a period of intense political campaigns in the United States. The Vietnam War, which the United States was unlikely to win, divided the country and reduced President Nixon’s chances of being re-elected. Therefore, the Republicans employed different strategies to secure their win, including the break-in. After this incident, President Nixon gave a speech denying his involvement in the act. Due to the trust that the United States citizens had in their leaders, President Nixon was re-elected. While the Watergate Scandal had notable political ramifications, it also presented a dilemma to media players regarding whether always to trust or doubt leaders.
Part 1- Context
On the morning of June 17, 1972, several individuals broke into the Democratic National Committee offices. The burglars were caught stealing documents and wiretapping the phones in the offices. While the incident could have been treated as an ordinary burglary, the intruders’ connection to President Nixon’s campaign team raised suspicions. However, President Nixon denied his involvement in the incident. Additionally, he assured citizens that none of his staff was responsible for the break-in. While many people believed him, two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigated the case further and found evidence incriminating the President.
The Watergate Scandal was precipitated by the tense political environment in the United States. When President Nixon was seeking another term in 1972, the country was embroiled in a deadly war with Vietnam. This war had divided the country and had the potential to make President Nixon lose in the upcoming elections. Thus, the Republicans felt that a forceful presidential campaign was necessary. Notably, they applied various strategies to secure a win, including illegal espionage. Evidence showed that in May 1972, some individuals within the Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, popularly referred to as CREEP, illegally entered the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters (Schudson 1233). The burglars stole sensitive documents and bugged the phones.
The tapes installed in May did not work as expected. Therefore, five individuals broke into the offices again, in June, to rectify the situation. However, a guard saw them and alerted the police, prompting their arrest. The police became suspicious when they found copies that contained the phone numbers of high-profile individuals in the Nixon re-election committee. In August, the President denied that any of his staff was involved in the case, resulting in his re-election in November. In the subsequent months, it was established that the President had been involved in the burglary. Additionally, he had abused his presidential powers when he tried to sabotage the investigations (Kutler 1748). Political pressure from various stakeholders led to his resignation in August 1974.
Part II – Potter Box Analysis of the Decision
Facts. The Watergate Scandal was a matter of national interest, with the United States citizens being the biggest stakeholders. Notably, people deserve to be led by trustworthy leaders. During the Declaration of Independence, the Americans unanimously agreed that power belongs to the citizens, and they chose a representative democracy system to create order. Therefore, leaders should be directly responsible to the people. The United States citizens deserved the truth from the President (Berger and Tausanovitch 3). Notably, many of them re-elected him after he denied any involvement in the case. In short, they voted him in without the full facts, as President Nixon had chosen to lie (Bowman). A leader should always account for his decisions.
While lying appears like a minor mistake to warrant a resignation, it is worth noting that governments have social contracts with the people they represent. A president is responsible for making key decisions touching directly on the lives of the citizens. Thus, such an individual should have an impeccable character. The other stakeholder in the case, President Nixon, knew that the scandal could easily have made him not to be re-elected. Thus, he chose to lie to protect himself. Other than bringing his political career to an end, he understood that this scandal could also tarnish his reputation. President Nixon would have wished to maintain a positive image throughout his life.
In this case, the dilemma was whether the media should take what leaders say for truth or if it is necessary to doubt them. Before this case, people held the elected representatives in high regard, and it was hard for an ordinary citizen to convince the public that their political leaders could not be trusted. The overwhelming re-election of President Nixon exemplified the people’s trust in their political representatives. While there were certain pointers that he was involved in the scandal, it only took a press conference for people to consider him clean. Therefore, the media was in a big dilemma. Doubting the president was in itself an act that could make the media lose credibility and viewership. The media’s confusion was whether to avoid investigating the case and protect its individual interests, or whether to question the president and handle the consequences later.
Values. One of the values involved in this case was honesty. Elected leaders are supposed to be truthful to the citizens. A president makes decisions that could have significant ramifications for the country. Therefore, it is important to have an individual who gives factual information without concealing anything. Another value in the scandal was integrity. Leaders are entrusted with key national resources. Thus, they should be virtuous. The media’s role was to highlight the beach of these values.
Principles. The principle involved was respect to the laws of the nation. President Nixon abused power when he tried to conceal his involvement in the break-in. The media has a role in exposing people who violate the constitution; hence, this case was relevant.
Loyalties. The media and the decision-makers were ultimately loyal to the citizens. This case’s pressure resulted in Nixon’s resignation, although he had tried to prevent some incriminating files from being released. However, the court rule that all materials that were relevant to the case should be provided. Thus, American citizens won.
Part III – Decision
The media decided to investigate the case and unearth the truth. Particularly, the Washing Post and journalists, such as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were instrumental in helping the United States citizens understand their leaders’ character. Although this was a sensitive topic that could have severe ramifications on the media, especially the journalists, they chose to cover it. The danger that comes with handling such topics can easily make the media and the stakeholders in the industry to be silent. Notably, people are threatened or injured for covering politicians negatively. Therefore, the media and the journalists had a valid reason not to investigate the scandal. However, they prioritized their love for the country over their personal interests. This decision sparked new dawn for the media industry.
Young people at the time saw the significance of the media in promoting nation-building. Notably, the country had been involved in a war that some people considered unnecessary. People had started focusing on national importance matters, and they wanted to be part of the nation-building process. This case revitalized this zeal, especially for young people. Collette asserts that many individuals were impressed by the idea that journalism could make a difference in the country. Additionally, they started realizing that the career could be rewarding and purposeful. Therefore, many young Americans started enrolling for journalism courses. These individuals had the drive, persistence, and ambition to use this platform to positively change society. Overall, the Watergate Scandal was a defining moment for the United States media industry. The decision to investigate the story was helpful to both the media and the country.
I would not have investigated the story had I been in the same situation. While I love my country and my patriotism is unquestionable, I also know the risks involved in politics. Specifically, investigating a president who was not ready to leave power could be disastrous. One of the reasons I would not involve myself with the scandal is to protect my career. An influential individual within the president’s inner circle could decide to tarnish my name or arm-twist my supervisors into firing me. I believe that every person has a breaking point, and if my bosses were pressured enough, they would relieve me of my duties. The second reason I would not investigate the president is to protect my family. Politicians can employ any strategy to achieve their ends. Political assassinations have happened in the past, and safety while investigating such a high-profile case would not be guaranteed. The love I have for my family would not allow me to put them at risk. Although this reason appears selfish, I believe in avoiding such risks when I can. My third justification for not investigating the case is the resources involved. Notably, one requires a significant amount of money, time, and energy. While the employer would facilitate the process financially, the investigations would drain my energy, making me unable to focus on other projects.
The Watergate Scandal was a defining moment in United States politics and the country’s media industry. The case happened between 1972 and 1974. The United States involvement in the Vietnam war had attracted sharp criticism from a section of the population and threatened President Nixon’s re-election bid. Thus, he authorized a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, DC, to obtain sensitive documents and tape the phones (Isbitts; Madden). When the intruders were arrested, the President denied any involvement in the case. He called a press conference denying that his staff members participated in the incident, leading to his re-election. However, journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward investigated the story and found the President culpable, prompting his resignation in 1974. This case made many young people to join journalism and opened the citizens to the real character of many politicians.
Berger, Sam, and Alex Tausanovitch. “Lessons from Watergate: Preparing for Post-Trump Reforms.” Center for American Progress, 2018, cdn.americanprogress.org/content/uploads/2018/07/27101947/WatergateReformsReport-3.pdf.
Bowman, Karlyn. “Watergate Revisited: How Has America Changed?” Forbes, 5 Aug. 2014, www.forbes.com/sites/bowmanmarsico/2014/08/05/watergate-revisited-how-has-america-changed/.
Collette, Matt. “3Qs: How Watergate Changed Journalism — And the Nation.” [email protected], 2012, news.northeastern.edu/2012/06/13/watergate-burgard/.
Isbitts, Rob. “Watergate and the Stock Market: A Brief Review.” Forbes, 23 May. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/robisbitts2/2017/05/23/watergate-and-the-stock-market-a-brief-review/?sh=4d6120993381.
Kutler, Stanley. “In the Shadow of Watergate: Legal, Political, and Cultural Implications.” Nova Law Review, vol. 18, no. 3, 1994, pp. 1-21.
Madden, Duncan. “Is the Watergate Hotel Still as Scandalous as Ever?” Forbes, 31 May. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/duncanmadden/2018/05/31/is-the-watergate-hotel-still-as-scandalous-as-ever/?sh=ce3267d71aa3.
Schudson, Michael. “Notes on Scandal and the Watergate Legacy.” American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 47, no. 9, 2004, pp. 1231-238.