The heroic-journalist myth has it that the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post exposed the Watergate scandal and forced President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
“The heroic-journalist interpretation minimizes the far more decisive forces that unraveled the scandal and forced Nixon from office.”
Those forces included special Watergate prosecutors, federal judges, bipartisan panels of both houses of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.
To explain Watergate through the lens of the heroic-journalist, I write in Getting It Wrong, is to short-change and “misunderstand the scandal and to indulge in a particularly beguiling media-driven myth.”
The myth, though, is endlessly appealing–as suggested anew by the comment posted yesterday at the eWeekEurope online site. In a discussion about legal troubles facing Wikileaks founder and frontman Julian Assange, eWeekEurope declares that the Washington Post “played a major part in bringing down Nixon with its Watergate exposé.”
Woodward himself noted a few years ago:
The heroic-journalist myth has given rise to what I call “a stubborn subsidiary myth of Watergate—namely, that the exploits of Woodward and Bernstein were a profound stimulus to enrollments in collegiate journalism programs.”
“After Watergate, colleges were swamped with kids wanting to study journalism and find the next big government scandal to expose,” as a commentary at the online site of the Herald News in Fall River, Massachusetts, put it the other day.
But there is no evidence to support the notion that “enrollments in journalism programs surged” in any meaningful way in Watergate’s aftermath, I write in Getting It Wrong, noting:
“The subsidiary myth lives on despite its thorough repudiation in scholarly research.”
One such study was financed by the Freedom Forum media foundation and conducted by researchers Lee B. Becker and Joseph D. Graf. They reported in 1995 that “growth in journalism education result[ed] not from specific events as Watergate … but rather to a larger extent from the appeal of the field to women, who ha[d] been attending universities in record numbers. The growth also in part reflect[ed] the applied nature of the field and its link to specific job skills.”
Becker and Graf added:
“There is no evidence … that Watergate had any effect on enrollments.”
Regrettably, there is little evidence that such fine research has put much of a dent at all in the subsidiary myth of Watergate.
Recent and related:
- Woah, WaPo: Mythmaking in the movies
- ‘Follow the tenspot’
- ‘Follow the money’: A made-up Watergate line
- That made-up Watergate line resonates abroad
- Jimmy Carter fumbles Watergate history
- Some snarky history from WaPo
- Invoking media myths to score points
- Cinematic treatments can solidify media myths
Many thanks to fivefeetoffury for linking to this post