2017, 2018, Podcasts

Slow Burn (2017)

It took me a long time to get around to listening to the entirety of this podcast about Watergate. I am pretty familiar with the story, as I’ve seen All the President’s Men multiple times, watched a Frontline documentary about it multiple times. So I guess I felt like I would be rehashing the story again. I listened to the first two episodes when it came out and, though I was interested, it didn’t grab me enough to distract me from my other podcasts or from listening to music for my own podcast. For some reason, I found the time this past week, and I regret letting it drop for all those months.

This is an excellent history of the Watergate scandal, which tells a very different version of the story than All the President’s Men, in part because it is about what happened when, not when Woodward and Bernstein knew it, but also because it tells the story in part through people involved in the government investigations. Not only is this a fresh approach but it reveals certain things I didn’t know about the whole story, such as the great degrees of partisanship until there was a “smoking gun” of Nixon ordering a cover up of the burglary. (If you despair about the level of partisanship in US politics currently know that it has been pretty bad in the past too, and multiple congresspeople and senators supported Nixon almost to the end, or to the very end, solely due to party affiliation or for political purposes, despite the various criminal acts he would have been convicted of had he not been pardoned.)

The podcast is particularly eye-opening if you want to understand why corruption is a problem in government and why it’s so hard to prosecute it, but it’s also particularly eye-opening in regard to the blase attitude so many Americans take to certain types of corruption. (Why are Americans so okay with the corruption of their own party but not okay with the minor mistakes of the other party? Well, this version of the Watergate story helps you understand.)

Watergate helped usher in the era of widespread belief in US government conspiracies but I don’t believe it deserves all the credit. Certainly the assassinations of major political figures in the 1960s (the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X) played a role in shattering Americans’ beliefs in their myths, and the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the government lying about Vietnam, likely convinced many Americans that the government never tells the truth. But Watergate did push people further into the world of conspiracy by giving proof that even the President was involved in the lies and dirty tricks, and for political naifs that was probably the end of faith in certain politicians. (Why some people support some and not others is more complicated.) This podcast helps you understand why, as I’m sure many Americans couldn’t actually tell you what Watergate “means” or why what Nixon did was bad. (Corruption remains extremely unsexy.)

Well worth your time.


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