Help me fall down a Watergate rabbit hole
August 9, 2023 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in TV shows, documentaries, podcasts, books, etc. on Watergate. I just finished the delightful White House Plumbers, and rewatched the classic All the President's Men, and am lining up Gaslit and Slow Burn (both podcast and TV documentary). What's next? What else should I be watching and reading?

I'm open to fiction or non-fiction - the movie Dick is on my list - in pretty much any media form. I have less of an attention span for long books these days, but I did download Watergate: A New History to my kindle. Less interested in Nixon as person or president than the scandal itself, including the various players, repercussions, etc. I was a kid when it happened, so remember all the adults in the house being riveted by the to-me hideously boring TV. I have a basic understanding of the mechanics of it. The White House Plumbers played it all as farce, which is appropriate, but got me wondering about other aspects of it.

What's your favorite media about Watergate and why?

I've seen this question from 5 years ago, and am hoping for an update or other new suggestions.
posted by gingerbeer to Law & Government (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
the book. the detail is impressive. it's a great tale.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:43 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]

Gosh darn it, I came into this thread just to write DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK but you beat me to it. It really is a must watch.

Frost/Nixon was also good.
posted by phunniemee at 11:44 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]

Best answer: The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein does a great job of putting Watergate in a wider social context, explaining how Watergate connects the 1960s to Reagan. If you have the time, then reading the prequel Nixonland would add context, but is not at all necessary.
posted by caek at 11:47 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]

In case you're also interested in more tangentially Watergate-related material, then I'd recommend Muriel Spark's 1974 novel The Abbess of Crewe, an allegorical treatment of the Watergate scandal set in a Catholic convent. It is a quick read (only a novella, really) and wickedly funny.

As quoted in the Wikipedia article, "Muriel Spark is the first writer to demonstrate that Watergate and its attendant immoralities are materials not of tragedy, but of farce".
posted by fregoli at 11:56 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Woodward and Bernstein wrote a "sequel" to All The President's Men, called The Final Days - it covers the last few months of Nixon's presidency, including his reaction to the Watergate investigations (and Woodward/Bernstein's reporting) and the increasing threat of impeachment.

There's also a 2017 biopic of Mark Felt, a former FBI officer who revealed in 2005 that he had been "Deep Throat".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:57 AM on August 9

Best answer: Doonesbury! The complete archives are online...
posted by staggernation at 12:01 PM on August 9 [13 favorites]

The new Watergate book by Garrett Graff is amazing. Also tangentially related is Bag Man.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 12:01 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I was just agreeing with a friend that most of what we know about Watergate is from Doonesbury - I will re-read those asap. Thank you, staggernation.

And thanks for all of the great suggestions - keep them coming, please!
posted by gingerbeer at 12:03 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just finished listening to Bag Man, a Rachel Maddow podcast about Spiro Agnew. It’s a fascinating story and, though not focused on Watergate, is good complementary material.
posted by bunderful at 12:13 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]

If you need a humor break, the movie "Dick" is a satire set around the Watergate scandal.
posted by COD at 12:28 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]

BBC docu on the sounds of silence [25mins] in the tapes.
Background Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom (2021) about young Carl Bernstein cutting his investigative teeth in the newsroom. available
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:43 PM on August 9

Best answer: The Slow Burn podcasts were great.
I also recommend the 1975 book The Women of Watergate by Madeline Edmondson and Alden Duer Cohen.
Also Jill Wine-Banks’ memoir The Watergate Girl or interview podcasts or videos.
posted by calgirl at 12:45 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]

It is possible to watch the recordings of the actual hearings online. The whole thing is long, long, long of course. If you check out the landing page, they have a section of "Featured Items" lower right, which includes the testimony of major players like Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean, etc.. There are also some other resources on the landing page. As someone who lived through the era and watched a bunch of the hearings as they happened, I do endorse a Doonesbury reread, and I liked Gaslit better than some of the critics did, despite it playing around a bit with the facts.
posted by gudrun at 12:48 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

nixonland is great because of the contemporary sources and reactions but also digging into what a complete clown g gordon liddy was. OPERATION GEMSTONE!
posted by Ferreous at 12:56 PM on August 9

Response by poster: > digging into what a complete clown g gordon liddy was. OPERATION GEMSTONE!

Justin Theroux as Liddy in White House Plumbers is just an absolute scene-stealing delight, and he had a lot of great material to work with.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:09 PM on August 9

I watched White House Plumbers and Gaslit back-to-back and found it amusing there’s almost no overlap between the focal characters of the two (Hunt is barely in Gaslit, Martha Mitchell isn’t in Plumbers at all and John not much)... except for Liddy! He’s just an irresistable character to write and play.
posted by staggernation at 1:10 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

Also recommending Nixonland.

What's your favorite media about Watergate and why?

Here's a story you'll only read here. I am a DC native, and on August 9, 1974, I was 20 years old, goofing off between the end of a summer job and the beginning of my junior year at the University of Maryland. For some reason I was with friends downtown, drinking beers in Georgetown, probably, when word came through that something was going down at the White House. So we went over there, and found exactly two paparazzi, waiting around outside the fence, who ignored us. Since nothing else was happening we went back out to school where one of my buddies had a dorm room because summer school, where we watched Nixon give his resignation speech on a black&white TV set. Of course we were jubilant, post-hippies all who couldn't stand Tricky Dick, more reason to party.

I can't imagine the contrast between the media circus a White House resignation would cause today, compared to what we saw that day.
posted by Rash at 1:13 PM on August 9 [7 favorites]

If you get through all that and still want more, you might want to read some of John Dean's books; I read Conservatives Without Conscience years ago and found it pretty interesting.
posted by kristi at 1:21 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

The new Watergate book by Garrett Graff is amazing.

I just finished this book and strongly second the recommendation.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:17 PM on August 9

Will: The Autobiography of G Gordon Liddy.

A scarey man. A guy as far off the main road as your average maga but none of the ignorace or stupidity. An inside view of Watergate.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:29 PM on August 9 [3 favorites]

I was just going to recommend Will. That is a fascinatingly non-self-aware book.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:52 PM on August 9

A childhood memory of mine is that my mom’s soap operas were interrupted for the hearings.
I remember the tv showed a long table and the “damn lying lawyers “ that ticked off my mom so much.
She was so indignant that educated privileged men would disregard the law in this fashion.

Our family fascination with Watergate was something we shared throughout the years.
posted by calgirl at 2:54 PM on August 9

Best answer: Elizabeth Drew covered Watergate for the New Yorker as it happened. In 1975, she published Washington Journal, a book of her articles; it was reissued with a new afterword in 2015. Her work is absolutely gripping.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 3:20 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]

The movie 18 1/2 is a bit of a mixed bag, but you might find it a fun watch.
posted by paper scissors sock at 3:59 PM on August 9

I first learned about Watergate through Doonesbury (already cited) and political cartoons by the Washington Post’s Herblock. His work was printed in several collections, but I don’t know if they’re still in print. But here (gift link) are some of his works from that time.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:46 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

This is more just for fun, but Austin Grossman's Crooked is a fictional Nixon bio if he were secretly the inheritor of the secrets of a Lovecraftian struggle. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I bet you'd get aaaall the jokes.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:27 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Has anyone read J. Anthony Lukas' Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years? His book Big Trouble is one of my favorite non-fiction works, but Nightmare isn't available as an ebook so I'll have to go search for a used copy or see if the library has it. Wondering if anyone has read it before I start that.

I did watch Dick this evening and it was lovely. Next up, because they are available to me now, are Gaslit and the Mark Felt movie.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:25 PM on August 9

Best answer: I recently read the Graff book, it's a good overview. Second half sags a bit with pages of prosecutors pushing paper.

'Watergate: A Novel' by Thomas Mallon is an interesting fictionalized re-telling from different perspectives. This version often follows around bagmen with packets of hush money.

This is cool: The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has some of the famous White House Tapes available free to listen online: Always murky sound quality, but as close as you'll get to being there in the room!
posted by ovvl at 5:45 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]

SemiSalt's mention of G. Gordon Liddy's autobiography above reminded me that I can offer you an interesting anecdote, right here in this thread. This is a story my father tells.

After they retired, my parents moved to Cape Cod; for their first few years there they worked part-time in the local florists' shop, to bring in fun money and to have something to do. They got on great with the owners, and it was fun work for them; Mom helped out in the shop and Dad did most of the deliveries. Dad said he especially loved the deliveries "because whereever you go and no matter who you're visiting, everyone is happy to see you, because you're giving them flowers."

That is - everyone was happy to see him, except one person. Dad once had an evening delivery to a hotel just outside Hyannis. He got to the hotel, showed the front desk attendant the delivery slip, and they said he could bring it straight to the room. Dad knocked on the door to the room - and when it opened, he was face-to-face with a scowling G. Gordon Liddy. Dad just blinked a bit and said something like "Uh, I have flowers for you here." Liddy kept scowling the whole time he was signing for the order, taking the flowers out of Dad's hands, and finally shut the door on Dad, after giving him one last dirty look.

He doesn't know what Liddy was doing in Cape Cod at the time, or what might have made him so annoyed - but when thinking about Liddy's attitude, Dad just figured "yeah, that kinda tracks."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 AM on August 10 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for helping with this and sharing your anecdotes. The Watergate book I referenced in my post IS the Graff book that a few of you recommended, so it's already on my list and glad to hear you liked it. The Doonesbury link has turned into a total nostalgic timesuck, so thanks/no thanks there.

I'm not sure I'm going to start listening to the tapes themselves, but good to know they are available. Same with some of the more serious tomes. I am for sure adding the Bag Man podcast to my list, though, as well as Watergate: A Novel and a few of the other books suggested here.

I've marked a few best answers, but definitely open to more recommendations.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:42 PM on August 10

Best answer: Drunk History episodes include:

Whistleblowers (s 6 ep 13), about Martha Mitchell
Washington DC (s 1 ep 1), about Woodward and Bernstein
I'm not clear if this is the same episode
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:48 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: Thanks for all of the recommendations here.

So far I have watched/read/listened to: (in addition to White House Plumbers and All the President's Men), Gaslit, Dick, the Graff Watergate book, Drew's Washington Journal, the Slate Slow Burn podcast plus extras (on which Gaslit is based), a few other random podcast episodes, Watergate: Blueprint of a Scandal documentary, various TV specials found on YouTube, and about 20 years' worth of Doonesbury comics.

I have the Lukas book, all 800+ pages of it, McCarthy's Mask of State, Wine-Banks' newish book, a couple of others. The 2018 documentary (they are all confusingly titled Watergate) is up next. Then on to Bagman and Agnew.

My favorites so far - the Graff Watergate: A New History really is all that. We know a whole lot more about a lot of things than we did in the 70s and he adds a lot of context. Slow Burn and Gaslit are good companion pieces.

My takeaways: I am kind of fascinated by all the things we still don't know and all the additional crimes (and treason) committed by the Nixon campaign and presidency. It WAS the crimes, not the coverup. G Gordon Liddy is an actor's dream to portray. John Dean is STILL a self-serving slimeball. Martha was right.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:19 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]

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