Monday, June 18, 2012

Watergate - 40th Anniversary: Lessons For India

This day marks the 40th anniversary when the first story of the burglary at the Watergate building broke. I believe the story has a lot of relevance to the current Indian political and media scenario more than ever before. The story had started as an unusual case of burglary and bugging and the rest, as they say, is history. This was the first report that appeared in the Washington Post then:

By Alfred E. Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 1972

Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here. Three of the men were native-born Cubans and another was said to have trained Cuban exiles for guerrilla activity after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. They were surprised at gunpoint by three plain-clothes officers of the metropolitan police department in a sixth floor office at the plush Watergate, 2600 Virginia Ave., NW, where the Democratic National Committee occupies the entire floor. There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee offices or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations… (Read the full report)

Bernstein & Woodward during the Watergate scandal
It was because the burglary and the story seemed so ordinary that Bob Woodward, who was almost a rookie, was assigned to the case. Carl Bernstein was assigned to the story only later when it got bigger and together they combined to build what will forever remain one of the finest pieces of investigative journalism ever. The journey took them to hundreds of leads and people with the story often going cold and reaching dead ends. Their persistence did finally pay off. Their reports and other related incidents led to the only President of the USA ever resigning from office. As the story unravelled it became clear that Watergate was only a cover up. Ever since any major and minor scam and scandal has been suffixed with ‘gate’.

The real story was the massive spying, covert operations, destroying opponents, destroying evidence, misuse of election funds, slush money, misuse of FBI and misuse of CIA operatives. Even little Don Segretti famously coined the term ‘Rat F**king’ for the operation to malign and defame political opponents. Richard Nixon started the practice of recording conversations in the White House as a spying and blackmailing tool. In the end those very tapes ended his presidency. 18 minutes of those tapes were erased and could well hold the secrets to the greatest presidential crime ever.

In all 69 govt officials were charged and 48 found guilty and sentenced. Among the biggies were John Mitchell (Attorney General), Richard Kleindiest (Attorney General), H.R. Haldeman (Chief of staff for Nixon), John Erlichman (Counsel to Nixon), John Dean (Counsel to Nixon) and yes even Don Segretti went to prison. Secret informer Mark Felt, the late former Deputy Director of FBI, popular as ‘Deep Throat’ would reveal his identity only 33 years after the scandal.

So why is the story important to India? In the last many years many of our institutions and govt officials have been compromised and misused by the govt. It is quite Nixonesque in proportions. CBI, ED, IT, IB all of them seem to have become a mere tool for spying, defaming, framing false cases and in some cases even deaths under custody in the hands of the govt. Not even the judiciary has been spared. There have been cases where judges have been easily bribed to grant bail. There is the case of a High Court judge resigning under threat of impeachment. It may be shocking but none less than the former Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, has admitted that IB is used for political spying (Read the story). Nobody in the media has even bothered to explain the recent fire in the Finance Ministry, what was the cause and what was destroyed.

There is just one tiny difference. Woodward, Bernstein and the Washington Post stood up to the threats from the govt and the White House. Deep Throat even told them: “Your lives are in danger”. In the current Indian scenario, our news media instead of exposing the govt’s misdeeds and hauling them over the coals have more or less become their doormats. In particular, media celebs on TV and print do the “Rat F**king” for the govt more than political operatives. Hit jobs, fake stories, character assassinations, paid news, outright lies, lobbying and the engaging of spurious NGOs and activists in their endeavour is what our news media is pretty much engaged in. Anyone in opposition to the govt has been fair game with even stories of imaginary coups. Journalists have been found brokering ministerships and have even indicated judges can be bought. Anyone fighting corruption or black money has been tarred with generous splashes of paints of taint. All to protect the most corrupt govt. India has ever seen.

In response to the frequent allegations in Watergate, Nixon once famously said "I am not a crook". In comparison to the misdeeds of our govt it does seem that he was far less a crook. They have not only corrupted various institutions but indulged in the biggest loot of the nation ever seen in a democracy and the daylight plundering of our natural resources. Andhra Pradesh is a great example of how our media turned a blind eye to the extremely corrupt YSR govt. YSR's son is now paying the price since he is no longer with the ruling party, not that he deserves any sympathy. So far, it has been the CAG and the SC that have been exposing the misdeeds of the govt. One can only hope they stay that way.  

It will take nothing short of a mini revolution to cleanse our corrupt media. At the risk of sounding repetitive and boring I can only reiterate that our corrupt media is the greatest danger to our democracy.


  1. I never bothered to find out if anyone was really sentenced in the watergate scandal, and the sentenced list is a revelation. So many high profile people were sentenced in one go. In India, not a single minister has been sent to prison. Even if sentenced, they quickly get out on bail. But this does not explain why media has lost its independence and became just another arm of the government. I think as they know that no police or secret service is going to uncover this media-government monetary nexus. So they are indulging so brazenly into it. Unless CBI or police or the prosecution department is made independent of the political influence, I dont see if the situation can improve. As they said, if anything can go bad, it will go bad.

    Anna Hazare's movement was a ray of hope. But that is fading fast. If they concentrate on the demand of a free CBI, then all this dirty media nexus will be uprooted, and we can hope for a progressive society in future.

  2. US has a policy to protect the US interests at any cost. That is what makes the difference with India. There is so much of power and authority vested upon the Indian Govt that it can do anything and get away with it by using the strong arms of law and order which they have deliberately kept inefficient with limited powers. A parallel Lok pal independent from Govt control is a real nightmare for a Crooked Govt at anytime. Lok Pal will not see the light of the day for time to come bcoz it can also retroactively investigate. Hong Kong was highly corrupt till 80s, but after the independent public prosecutor [read Lok Pal], HK is now one of the most clean govt. No Indian Media ever sought to have a discussion on the point that how Lok Pal type laws in other countries have transformed those countries. All what they discussed that how the Lok Pal will create a mammoth parallel body with no answerability blah blah. Corruption is a virus that spreads by feeding on the host and ultimately kills the body.

  3. While working abroad, I felt personally insulted if anyone spoke anything against my India. In fact, while discussing Nobel Peace prize and Mahatma Gandhi's being deserving candidate, I told the Australian "Nobel Prize needed Mahatma, rather than away round. Nobel Prize would have been honored".

    Here we have bunch of adults, leading the country but willing to sell our India. How can tell a foreign company to quote higher so long as all stakeholders in Government got their cut? How can they present themselves so cheap in front of the foreigners?

    This is plain and simple selling of India that our forefathers fought for. Indians have fallen so below that we can't even claim that Rafale is the best aircraft even if everyone got their pound of flesh and sold my India to foreigners.

    Most of the time, I feel that the current class of politicians just represent East India Company. They just could not care less so long as they get their cut.

  4. Although Nixon was guilty of it, the Watergate was a farce perpetrated by leftist media beacon, The Washington Post.

    Ben Bradlee was the legendary former executive editor of The Washington Post then.

    In a taped interview in 1990, revealed now in "Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee," Bradlee himself dynamites the myth:

    "Watergate ... (has) achieved a place in history ... that it really doesn't deserve. ... The crime itself was really not a great deal. Had it not been for the Nixon resignation, it really would have been a blip in history."

    "The Iran-Contra hearing was a much more significant violation of the democratic ethic than anything in Watergate," said Bradlee.

    More at

    1. @Mukund Naik

      If you think WaPo is leftist that doesnt make Watergate a farce. History hangs on tiny chances... that Nixon got trapped into the Watergate scandal may be accidental but his resignation was not. I doubt you are fully aware of the senate hearings and the final subpoenas of the US Supreme Court.

      That notwithstanding, read the last two paras of this post ( when the incident itself was unfolding nobody cared. Nobody knew it better than Ben Bradlee.

    2. I know you are trying to show how corrupt the media is in India and I agree with you completely.

      But you are citing Watergate exposure by the Washington Post as a prime example of the Free Press in the US. And that is wrong. The Washington Post (and its cousin, NYT) is highly corrupt and partisan newspaper. It hounds only Republicans such as Sen. George Allen for Macaca incidence, Nixon for Watergate and so on. But the same corrupt newspaper is glum on any infractions by Democrats such as tax dodger Rangle, amorous stabbings of Lewinsky by Clinton and anything remotely connected to Islam.

      There are worse Democratic scandals than Watergate that are under-reported or totally hushed by the WaPo and NYT.

      Let us separate the Watergate incident from its partisan reporting in the Washington Post.

      The Watergate as reported by the Washington Post is part fiction and fully partisan. The Woodstein duo broke the law, tampered with the grand jury and hence they are as criminal as Nixon and his cohorts. And you are extolling them as the Gods of Freedom (It's like worshiping a hooker for a virgin queen.) If Nixon's cohorts went to jail for it, Woodstein duo should have been sent to jail too.

    3. Whatever your problem is with WaPo or NYT has nothing to with the issue of Watergate. US media is known to acknowledge their political persuasions. Between the 70s and now US media has its own problems too. Wanton statements do not justify your comments. Nobody has been called Gods of freedom and whether you see hookers or virgins is your vision, so be it. If you feel Woodstein duo should have gone to prison, write a full post about it with all the facts. Nothing stops you.

      Lastly, the story relates to Watergate alone and in case you question any facts stated in the post that would be welcome. If WaPo or NYT didnt report Democrat scandals that is not part of the business of this post.


Comments are welcome and are now being moderated due to excessive spam on older posts. Genuine comments by readers will not be blocked. However, comments that are off topic, abusive, defamatory or slanderous may be deleted. Comments disclosing personal information of individuals/entities will be deleted.Comments appearing here do not imply endorsement by author of this blog.