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The Daddy of Political Scandals

Updated: May 15, 2022

The 1972 Watergate break-in that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation is the subject of a new exhibition.

It was Watergate that led to history’s only resignation of a U.S. President with nearly 50 others convicted or jailed, including several top White House officials. The scandal lingers, too, in the trope of affixing the 'gate' suffix to seemingly every subsequent corruption, big and small. Such as 'Partygate', currently engulfing the British Prime Minister.

It was 50 years ago on 17 June 1972, that a quintet of recruited so-called “plumbers” broke in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex of apartments, shops, offices and a hotel near the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t until the following year - months after Richard Nixon’s landslide re-election in November 1972 - that information came out tying the break-in to the president’s re-election committee, largely through the efforts of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward at The Washington Post. The Senate established a select committee to investigate, leading to a series of televised hearings that revealed a broad cover-up among other abuses of power, that lead to Richard 'I am not a crook' Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

The golden anniversary of that lowly, ultimately consequential break-in is being marked two miles east of the Watergate complex at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery with an exhibition depicting some of the scandal’s prominent figures in oils, cartoons and sculptures. If you can't visit yourself (the show ends on 25 September) you can see a broad selection of what's on display by clicking here

Sean Penn and Julia Roberts in character in Gaslit

The exhibition comes hot on the heels of Gaslit, the story about the Watergate Whistleblower - Martha Mitchell - who tried to tell the truth about the scandal but President Nixon’s cronies trashed her reputation. Now her forgotten story is going mainstream and her reputation restored. The 1970s celebrity socialite is being played by the Hollywood actor Julia Roberts in Gaslit, an eight-part TV drama on Starz network, co-starring Sean Penn as John Mitchell and Dan Stevens as the White House counsel, John Dean.


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