Watergate revisited…

I don’t remember what I was doing on 17 June 1972. That was the summer before my sophomore year in high school, so I was likely playing sandlot baseball with the neighborhood kids in the field behind my house. But, like many of my generation who took up journalism, that day changed my life.

I can’t recall the specific influence of Watergate on my choice of careers. I do, however, remember thinking that being a journalist was a noble and interesting profession with great potential to help people and change the world for the better. For the most part, I still believe.

Ten years after Watergate, I found myself working in Washington D.C. for States News Service. It had been my goal to make it to Washington. I attended several of the Watergate anniversary parties with a reporter for the Boston Globe. That night is my fondest memory of working in that city. I discovered that, while I was talented enough to do the job, I was not cut out to live in Washington D.C. I live in Kansas City today, and that suits me better.

Things change. Today, I am an academic and no longer a journalist in the standard sense. I see myself as a critic of the news media and the press-politics relationship. Watergate had a massive influence on what the news media and press-politics relationship became. I might even go so far as to say that Watergate had a greater impact than did television. Or, rather, Watergate changed the way journalists viewed politicians in a way conducive to the drama-hungry medium of television.

While Watergate spawned a host of needed government reforms, all in all the impact of that scandal has been negative. Our view of the politician has been forever tarnished much to the detriment of our nation. The press and politicians slap the suffix “-gate” onto every little hint of scandal as if the very rough and tumble of politics has become criminal behavior. Presidents no longer may aspire to the stature of a Lincoln or a Roosevelt (either one). We cut them down to size long before election day.

There are many interesting ways to “enjoy” the anniversary. John Dean has published an e-book on Salon speculating about the identity of Deep Throat. Journalism students at the University Illinois have completed a similar project that’s well worth reading. Also be sure to check out Howard Kurtz’s Media Notes column this morning for more on Deep Throat hunting. And, at noon EDT, The Washington Post will have a live webcast with Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee.