Watergate

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Summary:

Explore: Watergate, Richard Nixon, U.S. history, the presidency, politics, the role of the press in politics, freedom of the press, anonymous sources, the press as watchdog, investigative reporting.

A break-in at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at Washington's Watergate hotel and office complex in 1972 leads to congressional hearings that result in the historic resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. Original news footage from reporters George Herman, Garrick Utley, Walter Cronkite, Roger Mudd, John Chancellor, Harry Reasoner and Tom Brokaw retells the story that brought down a presidency.

Introduction:

This video and viewing guide examine the role of the press in the historic Watergate scandal. In 1972, a team of burglars were caught red-handed attempting to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. In the months that followed, further reporting alleged that the president had approved the burglary and the cover-up that followed.

The journalists who broke this story relied heavily on anonymous sources and had to weigh the risks and benefits of printing information from individuals who did not want to be named. These journalists also demonstrated the power of investigative reporting, protected by freedom of the press, to unearth government corruption, keep the public informed and bring about political change.

Through the lens of historical examples and contemporary debates, this unit looks at the ethical guidelines journalists attempt to follow when dealing with high-stakes stories. Learn more about the press' role as a watchdog and Watergate's legacy.

Recommended grade levels: High school; college

Essential Questions:

  • What was the Watergate scandal, and what is its significance in U.S. history?
  • What is the role of the free press in a democracy?
  • What is the role of the press in politics? What is the relationship between the press and the president?
  • What is investigative journalism?
  • What are anonymous (unnamed) sources? What are the risks and benefits of using them?
  • What ethical guidelines should journalists follow?
  • What obstacles do journalists face when reporting the news?