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Wed, Nov 26, 2014

MEDIA MATTERS: Watergate precedent still important today

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It was 40 years ago this week, June 17, 1972, that five men broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and touched off the greatest scandal in American politics: Watergate.

In terms of sheer magnitude, no scandal before or after touched so many lives and brought to ruin so many political and public figures.

And no scandal before or after has showed the power, potential and promise of the media.

To be sure, the scandal made household names of two relatively unknown reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

And it certainly put The Washington Post into the ranks of the great papers in America.

More importantly, it showed the benefit of a free press.

Watergate was not just about buggings, laundered money and political dirty tricks.

It was also about a president who tried to manipulate public opinion by lies and deceit on an unprecedented scale.

Sure, every president since this scandal has tried to cover up bad news, but Watergate was orders of magnitude different.

And this wasn't a scandal involving sexual impropriety or land deals.

This was a scandal that struck at the very way the government in this country works.

It struck at the very foundation of the republic itself.

And we can thank the media for uncovering the cover-up.

But have we learned anything over the past 40 years?

Sometimes, with all of the hew and cry about the media, I wonder if we really want the press to be the watchdog it is supposed to be.

More and more, I suspect, we expect reporters to be lap dogs, and just take what the government gives out.

Well, that's not what the Founding Fathers intended, and that's certainly not what the media are supposed to be doing.

A strong, fearless news media is essential to the proper functioning of a democracy.  

So, perhaps as we build that bridge to the future, we need to maintain some of those bridges to the past as well.
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Tags: 
History, Journalism, Larry Burriss, Politics, Voices, Watergate
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