On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Watergate break-in, Bob Woodward noted, “The central dilemma of journalism is that you don’t know what you don’t know.” Uncertainty is at the heart of investigative reporting because it involves original research about a topic that someone may be trying to keep secret. The upside for society is that accountability reporting, though often hard to support via the marketplace, can change lives and laws when wrongdoing is revealed. For five decades Watergate has inspired reporters to probe how public and private institutions operate, to pierce the veil of hidden actions and hidden information, and expose what happens when delegated powers are abused. Revisiting the Watergate era is a chance to remember how reporters willing to make calls, knock on doors, and track down documents can hold even the highest officials accountable.
– James “Jay” Hamilton
James Hamilton is the Hearst Professor of Communication, Chair of the Department of Communication, and Director of the Stanford Journalism Program
This has been an alarming year for democracy, characterized by Russian aggression abroad and the further erosion of democratic norms here at home. As we reflect on the lessons of Watergate 50 years later, we hope to call attention to the urgent need for respectful bipartisanship, independent institutions of government, and a societal commitment to the truth.
– Rufus L. Edmisten
Deputy Chief Counsel for the Watergate Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities and former Attorney General and Secretary of State for North Carolina
It has been said that our democracy is fragile and its preservation demands constant vigilance. Just as Congress was left picking up the pieces and investigating in the aftermath of Watergate, our House Select Committee is now uncovering the truth behind the lead up to and events on January 6, in an effort to create recommendations so that this never happens again. The parallels between these historic events are fascinating and I’m looking forward to joining the discussion.
– Deborah Ross
Member, House of Representatives, North Carolina
The relevance of Watergate to the ongoing January 6 Committee hearings is obvious, but so is its irrelevance. Civil dialogue has been replaced by bitter polarization and propaganda. I hope we can reflect on how we can all play our part to ensure that facts still matter and pay tribute to a time when bipartisan acceptance of them saved our democracy.
– Jill Wine-Banks
Author, MSNBC analyst and former Assistant Special Prosecutor in the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s Office
In Watergate, all three branches of government and an implacable free press played essential roles in the exposure of corruption at the highest levels. Our democracy requires – now more than ever – that our citizens understand and vigilantly safeguard the rule of law.
– Richard Ben-Veniste
Chief of the Watergate Task Force, Special Prosecutor’s Office
The Senate Watergate Committee investigation—perhaps the most successful Congressional investigation in our history— demonstrates the good that can come when members of Congress diligently search for truth and partisanship is secondary. Consider these facts: The Senate vote to establish the Committee was 77 to 0. The Committee’s votes to subpoena President Nixon for the White House tapes and then to sue him when he failed to comply were unanimous. The testimony revealing the existence of those tapes was elicited by Republican staffers. The Committee’s lengthy report condemning the Nixon Administration was unanimously adopted. Would that such nonpartisan dedication to fact-finding and the common good existed in Congress today.
– Jim Hamilton
Assistant chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee
“Watergate was a seminal moment in journalism history and a singular demonstration of why a free press is essential in a democracy. Although the news media’s role in uncovering the crimes of the Nixon White House can be overstated, the heroic mythology continues to inspire new generations of investigative reporters to hold powerful individuals and institutions to account on behalf of the public. Today, as journalists are attacked as ‘enemies of the people’ and the very notion of truth itself is under assault, Watergate is a crucial reminder that courageous and independent journalism is critical to a free and open society.”
– Mark Feldstein
Watergate scholar and professor at the University of Maryland
Truth. Democracy. Integrity. They triumphed during Watergate. I look at it as a time of glory for our great country and our precious freedom of the press. What has become of those pillars? It is challenging for those of us who want to remain observers and only report. But we are at a critical moment. The lesson of Watergate is we cannot stand back and watch from the sidelines. Today, together, we must urge our citizens to restore all we have lost.
– Connie Chung
Renowned journalist during the Watergate years
Five years later, Watergate is being rewritten all over again, but now at a much deeper, more significant level that is challenging the very roots of the U.S. democratic system. A fuse was lit by the Nixon Administration a half-century ago that leads directly to the politics of today. It’s more urgent than ever that we explore both the historic and ongoing Watergate.
– Gordon Freedman
An education leader and Senate Watergate staffer