That’s a seriously exaggerated version of the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Not even Woodward embraces that interpretation, once telling an interviewer: “To say the press brought down Nixon, that’s horse shit.”
What most intrigues Media Myth Alert is Limbaugh’s repeated claim that Woodward’s reporting was decisive in ending Nixon’s presidency. The talk-show host’s remark yesterday about Woodward and Nixon marked the second time this week he has made such an assertion.
On his show Monday, Limbaugh said flatly that “Woodward brought down Nixon” in the Watergate scandal.
Their reporting in the summer and fall 1972 progressively linked White House officials to a secret fund used to finance the foiled burglary at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee — the signal crime of Watergate.
But by late October 1972, the Post’s investigation into Watergate “ran out of gas,” as Barry Sussman, then the newspaper’s city editor, later acknowledged.
Significantly, Woodward and Bernstein did not break such crucial stories as the existence of Nixon’s audiotaping system at the White House. The tapes ultimately provided evidence that the president had obstructed justice by approving a scheme to deflect the FBI’s inquiry into the burglary.
The disclosure about the taping system came in July 1973, during a Senate select committee’s investigation into the unfolding Watergate scandal.
Nor did Woodward and Bernstein disclose the payment of hush money to operatives arrested in the burglary — a key development in tying the White House to the Watergate scandal.
I discuss the media myth of Watergate in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, and write that the scandal demanded “the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.”
What I call the hero-journalist myth of Watergate — the notion that Woodward and Bernstein’s dogged reporting brought down Nixon — stems in large measure from the 1976 motion picture, All the President’s Men.
The movie, an adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein’s book by the same title, concentrated on the reporters and ignored the far more decisive contributions of subpoena-wielding investigators and special prosecutors.
The movie was critically acclaimed and widely seen. Its effect, I write in Getting It Wrong, was “to solidify and elevate the heroic-journalist myth, giving it dramatic power, and sustaining it in the collective memory.”
All the President’s Men, the movie, promoted a simplistic yet readily accessible interpretation of the Watergate scandal that is often invoked — as Limbaugh’s recent comments suggest. But it is an interpretation that nonetheless is utterly wrong.
More from Media Myth Alert:
- If Obama loses AP: Rush Limbaugh embraces media myths two days running
- ‘We’re trying to toughen you up’: Never happened with Obama and news media
- Who, or what, brought down Nixon?
- The ‘newsroom where two reporters took down a president’? Sure it was
- Landmark status for WaPo building? Watergate reporting ought not be a factor
- ‘Deep Throat’ garage marker errs about Watergate source disclosure
- Inspirations to journalists: Woodward, Bernstein — and Gaga?
- No ‘rock-em,’ no ‘sock-em’: What ails WaPo
- ‘Follow the money’: A made-up Watergate line
- Some snarky history from WaPo
- Oprah as ‘this generation’s Walter Cronkite’?
- ‘Commentary’ reviews ‘Getting It Wrong’