The Washington Post

If Watergate hadn’t happened... a look back at a look back

In case you haven’t noticed, one of our favorite activities at The Washington Post is looking back at the June 1972 Watergate break-in and all the journalism and presidential ignominy that followed. We chew over it. We mull over what’s changed since that era, in politics and in reporting. There are lots of panel discussions.

View Photo Gallery: Here are the most important figures from the biggest political scandal in American history.

But suppose none of it ever happened?

The anniversary retrospectives (we’re hitting the 40th this Sunday) brings to mind one of my all-time favorite essays in the Style section — and just maybe my favorite thing ever written about Watergate — by reporter Martha Sherrill. Published on June 7, 1992, when the Post was preoccupied with the 20th anniversary of the burglary and cover-up, the piece begins:

It was early morning on June 17, 1972. Security guard Frank Wills paused momentarily during his rounds of the Watergate complex, glanced briefly at a door to the second basement level, and continued amiably on his way. This is because no electrical tape had been applied to the door lock, because no burglars were up on the sixth floor replacing the bug on a telephone.

What if?

What if Watergate hadn’t happened?

“Deep Throat” is only a dirty movie. Daniel Ellsberg is still seeing the same psychiatrist. Robert Bork sits on the Supreme Court, appointed in 1976, because he never sacked Archibald Cox, because Archibald Cox never left Harvard to become a special prosecutor, because there was nothing to prosecute, specially.

And I especially love this bit:

Elizabeth Taylor is dead. She was never saved from drugs and booze and overeating by the Betty Ford Center, because the Betty Ford Center does not exist, because Betty Ford remained a perfectly happy golf widow in Grand Rapids, Mich., who sometimes acted a little silly at Christmas parties. ... [READ the full version here ]

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.


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