Thursday, July 18, 2024

Watergate Scandal: An example of the Power of Investigative Journalism

 

Investigative journalism is the act of exposing matters that are kept hidden either deliberately by someone in a powerful position or accidentally behind a disorganized mass of facts and circumstances, and the analysis and exposure of all relevant facts to the public. It is quite different from mainstream journalism in many aspects. Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters do a deep investigation into a topic of interest, like serious crimes, political corruption, human rights abuses, or social justice issues. An investigative journalist spends months or years researching and preparing a report. Newspapers, wire services, and independent journalists have traditionally conducted the majority of investigative journalism. Essentially, it is a highly democratic practice that is fair, free, and honest. It also puts the spotlight on under-represented groups, which provides a much-needed voice for the voiceless.

There are some such powerful examples in the field of journalism, especially, investigative journalism, that have changed the history of a nation. The Watergate scandal was one of the worst scandals in the field of politics in the history of the United States.  It was a series of political scandals that happened while Richard M. Nixon was president of the United States. President Nixon held office from 1969 to 1974. In very brief terms, the scandal began when five men were arrested for breaking into the office of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on June 17, 1972, and ended with the resignation of President Richard Nixon on August 9, 1974.

The name “Watergate Scandal” came from a complex of buildings in Washington, D.C. called the Watergate complex. The headquarters of the DNC were located in the Watergate offices.

Several men who were trying to get President Richard Nixon re-elected decided that they wanted to spy on the DNC. They prepared a plan to break into the DNC offices in the Watergate building. On May 11, 1972, they burgled the offices, took photographs of secret documents, and placed wiretaps on the phone. At first, they got away with it. However, they tried to burgle again on June 17, 1972. This time they could not escape and got arrested.

The starting point of the entire incident was Frank Wills, a security guard in the DNC office in the Watergate building. Basically, we can say that he was the first hero in unfolding the whole case, apparently leading to President Nixon’s resignation. On the night of June 17, 1972, Will was making his usual rounds when he noticed a piece of duct tape covering the lock of the back parking lot door to the Watergate Building. He removed the tape, but after thirty minutes, he found that another piece of tape had appeared in the same place. He quickly contacted the authorities about his strange observation. After that, police arrived at the building and searched each office setting. The police, along with Wills, found five men hiding in the DNC office. These men were identified as Bernard L. Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, James W. McCord Jr., and Frank Sturgis. All of them had connections to Richard M. Nixon’s re-election campaign.

The incident of Frank Will’s discovery at the Watergate Office Building led to one of the largest political scandals in the history of the United States. Here is where Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two investigative journalists, come in. Together, they looked into the whole case. There was an anonymous source named “Deep Throat” who provided leaks to the journalists Carl and Bob. Only after around 30 years was it revealed that the informant was FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt, Sr. He confirmed the journalists’ suspicions and leads and helped focus their investigation on the trail of money from the burglars to the CRP to the White House. Eventually, on October 10, 1972, Woodward and Bernstein were able to reveal in detail that the Watergate break-in was part of a larger plan to hurt Nixon’s political opponents. This plan was paid for by the Committee for the Re-election of President Nixon (CRP) and led by some of Nixon’s closest aides.

The arrest and eventual conviction of the five men uncovered a series of slush funds, political sabotage, unjustified firings, wiretaps, and even kidnapping – all in an attempt to re-elect the president. Nixon claimed that he had nothing to do with the break-in at the DNC and was able to win reelection in November 1972. But on August 5, 1974, the audio tape ‘Smoking Gun’ was released to the public, which revealed a conversation between Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman discussing how to prevent the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from continuing their investigation into the Watergate burglary. Frank Wills’ discovery on June 17, 1972, ultimately led to the resignation of President Nixon on August 9, 1974.

Journalism today is much changed from that of past times. In the past, although we can’t set a fine timeline, all types of journalism, including investigative ones, followed proper journalism ethics and always had a sense of social responsibility. The profession of journalism has changed dramatically over the years. The structure and design of jobs in journalism are much different today than they were a few decades ago. The Internet has caused the most change in the media world, with newspapers’ readerships dropping and them becoming more dependent on ads for money. Since major advertisements come from the big corporate houses and the government, this has compelled the journalists to a great extent to not strongly oppose the activities of the government and big corporate houses. Adding to these are factors like cutthroat competition among the media houses for exclusive news, a rush to publish, Gonzo journalism, politicization, social media, and a lack of a serious check on the activities of media houses by the Press Council of India.

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