Lessons to learn from Nixon

Published: Monday, July 29 2013 12:50 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Aug. 9, 1974 black-and-white file photo, President Richard M. Nixon and his wife Pat Nixon are shown standing together in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Thirty-six years after Nixon testified secretly to a grand jury investigating Watergate, a federal judge orders the first public release of the transcript.

Charlie Harrity, File, Associated Press

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Forty years latter, Nixon’s Watergate scandal is still seen as the defining moment of his presidency, and is seen as a defining moment in the relationship between public trust and politics. However, Juilian Zelizer at CNN thinks there are four key lessons the public needs to learn from the Nixon administration's fall from grace.

The first key takeaway is to know the limits of executive power. “Even though Congress reasserted its role [since Nixon] in a number of areas, such as the budget, the nation's political leaders and voters continued to accept an extraordinarily strong presidency in which members of the executive branch were able to take actions without accountability and the public was supposed to trust presidents to do the right thing.”

Another major lesson is that a strong independent media is essential. “Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two reporters for The Washington Post, were a driving force behind the investigation as they discovered and uncovered that the burglars in Watergate had links to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Other journalists, such as CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, played a major role in connecting the dots in this scandal.

Woodward and Bernstein became models for younger journalists, encouraging them to conduct fearless investigations. Investigative journalism moved to the forefront of the journalism profession, with younger reporters determined to uncover the next Watergate.

Yet today, that kind of journalism is under attack, as Katrina vanden Heuvel notes in The Washington Post.

Freeman Stevenson is a Snow College grad and writes for the DeseretNews.com opinion section. Reach him at fstevenson@deseretdigital or @freemandesnews.

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