Garrett M. GraffJun 2, 2022
A New History
Simon and Schuster 2022
Award-winning journalist and editor Garrett Graff has produced a fascinating, propulsive, and captivating narrative about the Watergate scandal that rocked the United States and ultimately brought down a president. The idea of Watergate has long roots in American culture and politics, but Graff dives into this historical era, knitting together the actual reality of Watergate, and correcting, or at least interrogating the mythology that surrounds the scandal itself, the Nixon Administration, and this period in American politics. Watergate: A New History (Simon and Schuster, 2022) positions the Watergate burglary and cover-up within the broader “way of life” within the Nixon Administration, which was marked by a variety of different kinds of scandals, some of which are only now fully coming to light, others had been obscured at the time by the attention focused on Watergate. Graff outlines the dark criminal and conspiratorial mindset that dominated the Nixon Administration—and not simply the paranoia that is often associated with Nixon himself. Watergate: A New History delineates twelve different scandals, with overlapping actors and characters, executing wild schemes and crimes—and Graff notes that it was rarely clear where one scandal ended, and another began. Watergate was only one of the many scandals that entangled the Nixon Administration. Even so, the fallout from the Watergate scandal included 69 individuals who were criminally charged in association with the machinations around the break in and subsequent cover-up.
Graff notes that Watergate was such a spectacle because it was such a Washington, D.C. story, integrating power, ambition, the media, and politics, and all wrapped around the way things happen or work in D.C. He also notes that the myth of Watergate and the role of journalists in uncovering the scandal and reporting it out is more real than apocryphal, but that there were more reporters than Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein involved in following the story; Jack Nelson of the L.A. Times, and Seymour Hersh and Walter Rugaber at the New York Times all spent 1972 and 1973 covering the break-in and the evolving scandal. The way that elected officials approached the scandal and their role in uncovering its details is also a significant part of the story itself. Graff explained the distinction between how members of the Republican Party in the House and the Senate operated in the face of the Watergate scandal, how their behavior reflected a duty to carry out the work of a co-equal branch of government, the U.S. Congress, and how this is in contrast to the current Republican members of the House and Senate, who suppress their responsibilities as members of the legislature and elevate their role as members of the GOP. For those who already know much about Watergate and Nixon, this book will provide more insight, context, and understanding of the scandal that brought down the president. For those who might know little about the scandal, Watergate: A New History guides the reader through the history, politics, people, and events of a ceaselessly fascinating period in American political history.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at email@example.com or tweet to @gorenlj.