#ThrowbackThursday: Watergate Scandal

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Mid-to-late 20th century America represented some of the most interesting and complex political and foreign policies in American history.

National pride was at an all-time high following the victories over Germany and Japan. Then, Americans wept tears of sorrow when Camelot came to an end and when news of young men dying in strange Asian lands broke out.

America had become entangled in a war with Northern Vietnam and the powers of communism. The political scene on the home front was characterized by great divides and a lack of trust. This fire in D.C. lead to what would eventually be known as the Watergate Scandal.

Richard Nixon’s national political career began in 1946 when he was elected to the House of Representatives by the state of California, and he would become a senator in 1950.

Nixon quickly rose to national prominence due largely to his anti-communism policies and pursuit of Alger Hiss and other “New Deal” communists. The Hiss Trials brought Nixon to the public spotlight. He would become the 36th vice president of the United States underneath Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1960, Nixon ran for the presidency against the young John F. Kennedy. Nixon was barely beaten by Kennedy, leading to much discourse.

People who listened to the debates over the radio claimed Nixon did better, but for those who saw the debates televised, Kennedy had been superior.

The loss in 1960 did not deter Nixon and in 1968, Nixon tried again for the White House. Nixon campaigned as a stable figure during a time of great unrest and uncertainty.

With Democrats divided over the Vietnam War, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the chaos within the states, Nixon beat out Hubert Humphrey and the controversial George Wallace.

Nixon promised the nation that, “the long dark night for America was about to end.”

For many Americans, Nixon was keeping his promise.

Even though he escalated the war in Vietnam, he was the president to finally pull troops out of Vietnam in 1973.

He was the first president to go to communist China and help ease Cold War tensions of the Soviet Union with the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972.

He was the first president to see an American walk on the moon.

Yet, when we reflect back on the presidency of Nixon, we always remember what he did wrong.

The presidential election of 1972 was not a sure win for Nixon. This severe political environment scared Nixon and many of his key advisors.

With all this uncertainty in the air, Americans grew worrisome. The apex of their worries came following the observations made by security guard Frank Wills at the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972.

Wills had seen several men breaking into the National Democratic Convention headquarters. Suspecting the men to be burglars, Wills quickly called the local police and the culprits were caught red-handed.

At first, it was not clear that Nixon, who won the 1972 election, was involved with the scandal.

Two young reporters, Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were assigned by The Washington Post to cover the Watergate Scandal.

With their talented investigative tactics and inside information from “Deep Throat,” W. Mark Felt, the two were able to reveal the dirty tactics the committee used to reelect the president. They also brought to light many other scandals within the Nixon administration.

Soon it became public knowledge that Nixon was paying off the burglars to keep quiet and told the CIA to impede the FBI’s investigation of Watergate. These actions proved to be far worse than the scandal since presidential powers were being abused.

As Woodward and Bernstein brought more dirt to the table, many Nixon advisors were prosecuted for their involvement with Watergate and the cover-ups. With much of the nation against him, Nixon resigned from the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974.

One name forgotten in the history of Watergate is Howard Simons. Simons was the managing editor of The Post during the Watergate Scandal.

When Simons got the first phone call on the news of Watergate, he demanded for his reporters to get down to the facts and dirt which were so little known.

Simons was an energetic reporter and valued the tradition of covering the hard-hitting news. He was a true journalist in that sense.

Simons was the first reporter to see that Watergate was a huge story. When news first came out, many people, including The Post’s Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, didn’t think there was much depth to the story.

Simons knew there was much more to Watergate than anyone could have imagined.

He was one of the only men who pushed for its investigation and demanded that no one abandon the story, even though hundreds of other papers already had.

Very little credit is given to Simons for the coverage of Watergate, but without him, The Post may have never gotten down to the truth of the scandal. Simons greatly encouraged Woodward and Bernstein to pursue the story, even when all hope seemed lost.

Simons was one of the most important men in the success of Bernstein and Woodward during the Watergate Scandal. Many believe that Simons never got the credit he truly deserved.

Prior to pushing reporters to their limit, Simons himself was a reporter for The Post.  In addition, he was a Korean War veteran and got his master’s degree from Columbia University.

Long before his hard-hitting stories and service overseas, Simons was a student here at Union. A member of the Class of 1951, Simons graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

We can only hope for another man like Simons to come along and perhaps bring his journalism talents and enthusiasm to the Concordiensis some day.

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