It’s true. Watergate was pretty crazy.
I had an idea, but it was never an idea rooted in that many specifics. I knew there was Nixon, I knew there was a hotel called Watergate, or The Watergate, and that the Democratic party had their headquarters there. Some dudes then broke into the hotel with the intention of bugging the joint. But they got busted and at some point in the years following, Nixon ended up resigning with the threat of impeachment all but a guarantee. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of blank space on that timeline, space I knew existed, but not to the extent to which it did exist.
Now, with the help of podcasts, I am damn close to being fully informed on Watergate. Like for instance, it wasn’t the Democratic party that had set up shop in the Watergate Hotel, it was the Democratic National Committee. Big difference. Right? Whatever, it was them, and that makes sense because this was during an election (I think) and Nixon was super paranoid. He wanted to know what they were up to, so he had them bugged. We know this because he also had the Oval Office bugged. Nixon enjoyed a good bugging. He claimed the bugging of the Oval Office was for his memoirs, but come on, if that were really the case than he would have ponied up for a higher quality recording system.
Thanks to Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate, I’ve become incredibly more well-informed on Watergate and I’m going to be honest, Watergate is fascinating. This comes through on the podcast, which has currently featured seven episodes, episodes about everything from the testimony of the fellow who installed the recording devices in the Oval Office to the idea that Watergate brought conspiracy theorists into the mainstream. That was especially interesting because these days, conspiracies and those that peddle them, are a dime a dozen. But as “Rabbit Holes” pointed out, for the longest time, the conspiracy theorist business was driven on the idea that there was a secret government conspiracy afoot, run by those harboring intentions to run the government out of sight from the public. Well then Watergate happened and everyone realized that holy shit, there was a secret government conspiracy afoot, run by those harboring intentions to run the government out of sight from the public.
The meat sticks peddled by conspiracy theorists had proven to be mostly true, or true enough. The fringe had become mainstream and nothing would be the same anymore.
Yet what has really made Slow Burn so engrossing are the parallels that can be drawn between that scandal and all 1,800 of the scandals currently circling the present administration. Lies, deception, manipulation, fall guys, collateral damage and ultimately the public erosion of trust in our elected officials – it’s all there.
Most interestingly though are the stories of the public’s reaction to Watergate, outlined mainly in two episodes. In “True Believers,” it’s the stories of diehard Nixon supporters, people who refused to believe anything about the scandal or worst, believed it, but didn’t really see the harm in it. Their issues are the same Trump folks have today, that the whole thing was a Liberal conspiracy and/or driven by the Nixon-hating media. And speaking of the media, “A Very Successful Cover-Up” talks about the struggle the media faced, whether it was Woodward & Bernstein at The Washington Post or even the legendary Walter Cronkite, who once dedicated an entire broadcast to the scandal, done with the hopes of forcing the public to wake up and fully realize what it was that was happening and what the President had allegedly done.
Even though Watergate was largely one scandal and there are really too many scandals with Trump to keep track of, there are similarities between the two when it comes to the media coverage. The main similarity is that both are tough to explain. With Watergate, it was a challenge to report on it and explain why it mattered. With Trump, it’s just hard keeping track of everything. Either way, the job of a reporter during both Administrations was a tough one.
Over the past year, the job of podcasts have also been somewhat of a tough one. For avid listeners and subscribers, podcasts have helped to clear things up that we hear about the news, to provide context, nuance and clarity. But they are also meant to provide a distraction, which is why a podcast like S-Town was ultimately so successful. They take our mind off of the bleakness surrounding us and grant us a much needed reprieve from that darkness.
Slow Burn is unique in that it manages to do both, all within a thirty to forty minute episode. It explains our current situation with our current President and does so by providing some historical context. Yet it also grants us some mild escapism in that it is history, but also history told in an engaging way, an immersive way that transports you to the early 1970’s. It really is a two-fer, something not yet really accomplished by a podcast yet. Finding a way to inform and entertain does seem to have been the last frontier for podcasts and while I’m not saying Slow Burn is the first, the dudes at Pod Save America have been creating a cottage industry doing it in the past year, Slow Burn might be one of the best.
Plus, dude, Watergate was nuts, man.