Fifty years ago, on June 17, 1972, a group of men were arrested here in Washington for breaking into the offices of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building. The event was seen as odd. It was not heavily reported at first; but, it unleashed, over the following two years, major congressional and grand jury investigations, numerous criminal convictions, an impeachment proceeding and ultimately the first and only resignation of a sitting president, Richard Nixon.
The Watergate scandal changed many American institutions including the press, congress, political campaigns and the judicial system. But, America was changing even prior to the Watergate break-in and in some ways accounted for the misjudgments and illegal behavior of the burglars, Nixon campaign officials, White House staff and even Nixon himself.
In this episode of Early Returns, we discuss what Washington and America was like in 1972 and how Watergate seemingly changed things, including the sensationalism of the media.
Our episode guest is the respected journalist and historian, Evan Thomas. Watergate affected his own decision to enter journalism instead of the law after graduating from University of Virginia Law School. Evan spent decades reporting for Newsweek as Washington Bureau Chief, and also wrote books about Edward Bennett Williams, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Sandra Day O’Connor.
Evan shares his observations, knowledge and opinions on what Watergate represented; how America was changing before Watergate; and how Watergate changed politics, journalism, and perhaps contributed to today’s polarized society. He also addresses the age-old question of how history most certainly repeats itself. Some believe America was then and is now losing faith in all traditional institutions. Is the situation hopeless? Can a great leader like Lincoln, Kennedy, or Reagan be sought to help bring this country together? Evan believes America can summon its “better angels” as outlined in his book recommendation, The Soul of America by Jon Meacham.
About Evan Thomas:
Evan Thomas is the author of ten books: The Wise Men (with Walter Isaacson), The Man to See, The Very Best Men, Robert Kennedy, John Paul Jones, Sea of Thunder, The War Lovers, Ike’s Bluff, Being Nixon and First: Sandra Day O’Connor. John Paul Jones, Sea of Thunder, Being Nixon and First were New York Times bestsellers. Thomas was a writer, editor and correspondent for 33 years at Time and Newsweek magazines, including ten years (1986-96) as Washington bureau chief at Newsweek. His current book-in-progress is an account of the final days of World War II. He has appeared on many TV shows, including Meet the Press, CBS Morning News, Morning Joe and the Colbert Report. Thomas has taught writing and journalism at Harvard and Princeton, where, from 2007-2014, he was Ferris Professor of Journalism.