Being of an age where I distinctly remember Watergate - I was just shy of 22 when Nixon resigned - and the scandal that ultimately forced a suiting president to resign - the only time up until now in the nation's history. Now, with Russiagate continuing to dominate the news, several factors from the Watergate era need to be remembered. First, now, as then, many Republicans and Trump supporters are down playing the dangerous nature and shrugging off concerns that the occupant of the White House and his henchmen may have conspired with a foreign enemy to throw the presidential election to Trump. Second, we see the likely law breaker attacking the independent news media in a desperate attempt to change the topic and/or damage the credibility of stories that expose possibly illegal activities by the President and his inner circle. Lastly, we see citizens wondering whether Congressional Republicans will put the nation first and their political party second. In the Watergate era, the truth prevailed and Congressional Republicans rose to the challenge and put the nation first. Whether they will do so again - especially in the House of Representatives - remains a looming question. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Robert Redford reflects of both scandals and questions whether the truth will prevail now. Here are highlights:
In July 1972, I was on a train tour through Florida promoting the film “The Candidate.” Entertainment and political press were on board, and I heard them gossiping about a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. The story was being covered by two young reporters from The Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.The reporters were at the infancy of an investigation that would come to be known as Watergate, the greatest political scandal in modern American history. But at the time it was simply a few small articles about a break-in. . . . It was only later that the depth of the Watergate scandal was discovered.
I tried to get in touch with Woodward and Bernstein. . . . . We finally made contact and eventually made a movie about their story, “All the President’s Men.”
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Watergate scandal. Because of my role in the film, some have asked me about the similarities between our situations in 1972 and 2017.
There are many. The biggest one is the importance of a free and independent media in defending our democracy.
When President Trump speaks of being in a “running war” with the media, calls them “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” and tweets that they’re the “enemy of the American people,” his language takes the Nixon administration’s false accusations of “shoddy” and “shabby” journalism to new and dangerous heights.
Sound and accurate journalism defends our democracy. It’s one of the most effective weapons we have to restrain the power-hungry. I always said that “All the President’s Men” was a violent movie. No shots were fired, but words were used as weapons.
[T]he real-life Watergate scandal didn’t have just two people searching for the truth. It had an entire cast of characters in minor and major roles who followed their consciences: President Richard Nixon’s counsel John Dean, whose testimony blew open the congressional hearings; Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who both resigned rather than follow Nixon’s demand to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox; and, most of all, congressional Democrats and Republicans.
Nixon resigned from office because the Senate Watergate Committee — its Democratic and Republican members — did its job. It’s easy now to think of Watergate as a single event. It wasn’t; it was a story that unfolded over 26 months and demanded many acts of bravery and honesty by Americans across the political spectrum.
What’s different now? Much. Our country is divided, and we have a tenuous grasp on truth.
There was a time during a period of national crisis when politicians from both sides of the aisle put partisan politics aside to uncover the truth. There was a time when Democrats and Republicans united to navigate a peaceful ending to a corrupt and criminal presidency. There was a time when members of Congress placed defending our democracy above party interests for the greater good. There was a time.
Now is a different time. If we have another Watergate, will we navigate it as well? In a statement in May 1973, John Dean addressed what he described as efforts to discredit his testimony by discrediting him personally. He famously said: “The truth always emerges.” . . . . I’m concerned about its chances these days.
The more Trump and his surrogates malign the mainstream media, the more likely he is guilty of high crimes - possibly treason. The independent media - which excludes Fox News, Breitbart, etc. - must stay resolute and continue to dig and report until the truth is revealed. Trump, Devin Nunes and others have made it clear that they will do everything possible to subvert the truth.