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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 84: The MRC's Watergate Complex

Fifty years after the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, the Media Research Center wants you to believe that the real victim was ... Nixon. And an MRC executive served up a fond farewell to the sleazy G. Gordon Liddy.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/12/2023

The Media Research Center has a bit of a complex -- still! 50 years after the fact! -- about the Watergate scandal, which it now slots into its victimhood narrative by portraying Richard Nixon as a victim of the media.

The MRC has been engaging in Watergate revisionism for years; for instance, a 2005 item insisted that Watergate was actually about "how to take down a Republican President for political gain and personal profit." In a 2012 post, Tim Graham had a weird a hissy fit over the Washington Post's story on the death of right-wing jurist Robert Bork noting his key role in President Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, culminating in a bizarre meltdown over that term being used shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre:

In the immediate aftermath of a real massacre, couldn't the Post back off its ancient ideological hissy fits and acknowledge that firing a special prosecutor -- and the resignation of several officials who didn't want to do the firing -- is not comparable to Adam Lanza mowing down first-graders? Could there be a one-week grace period on overheated Watergate metaphors? Apparently not. When liberal justices die, do they discuss the actual "massacre" of American abortion they legalized?

Is Graham really not aware that the Post did not just invent the term "Saturday Night Massacre" to describe Bork's actions? That it has been called such since shortly after the incident in 1973? It's even in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, for Pete's sake.

As the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in that triggered the scandal was noted in June 2022, the MRC made sure to complain. Alex Christy complained in a June 15 post that Woodward and Bernstein talked about it on TV:

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein joined CBS The Late Show host Stephen Colbert on Tuesday to reminiscence for four segments about the fall of Richard Nixon during Watergate and assuage Colbert’s fears about the future of democracy by citing their roles in that process.

The first two segments were full of comparisons between Nixon and Donald Trump as well as lamenting that today’s Republicans did not stand up to Trump in the way they did under Nixon. Naturally, the trio ignored the precedent Democrats set during the Clinton impeachment, but Colbert was still concerned about the future of democracy. In the third segment, he asked Woodward, “We're in another moment of great peril, as you say in your book Peril. What is your feeling about the future of this experiment we call American democracy?”

Two days later, Aidan Moorehouse complained that Bernstein opined about Donald Trump's Capitol insurrection:

To say Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward have an ax to grind against Donald Trump would be the understatement of the century. If any more proof was needed, Bernstein made the outrageous claim on CNN’s Friday morning New Day that Donald Trump’s actions in the leadup to and during January 6 were worse than Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.


Just think about this comparison for a minute. Bernstein is seriously comparing Donald Trump’s — admittedly legally dubious — efforts to prevent the electoral college results from being certified and to be sent back to the states for recertification with the aim of remaining in office, to the unilateral secession of eleven states with the primary aim of preserving the institution of slavery.

Following Bernstein’s logic, what that would make Trump supporters? Are they also engaged in sedition by the very act of supporting the man politically?

If Moorehouse can't work up any outrage over Trump's attempted overthrow of a government and interference in the election than tepidly calling it "admittedly legally dubious" -- and his employer is attacking attempts to hold the insurrectionists and those who enabled them accountable as a political witch hunt -- then, yes, there is something a bit sedition-y about that. If the MRC is afraid to abandon Trump out of fear of losing political power, then that's a bit sedition-y as well.

Graham returned to whine about a Watergate special in a June 19 post:

On Friday’s CBS Mornings, Watergate: High Crimes in the White House. They tied it into the new anti-Trump hearings. Co-host Tony Dokoupil began: “As the January 6 hearings continue in Washington, the Watergate story continues to echo today offering potential lessons about the current political landscape.”

Yes, the lesson is that CBS News is still using the guise of “news” to promote Democrats and punish Republicans. They brought in Lesley Stahl, who started 50 years ago at CBS News, to connect the Watergate hearings to the January 6 hearings:


No one on the CBS set is going to suggest that no, the Senate Watergate Committee was assembled by letting the Republican minority choose its committee members, unlike the Pelosi-handpicked Republicans on the January 6 panel.

And Graham is certainly not going to remind people that the Republican minority did have the chance to appoint committee members but House minority leader Kevin McCarthy threw a fit and took his ball and went home rather than have to choose members who didn't support the insurrection. (Also, note that Graham dismissed the special as "ponderous" despite not having actually watched it.)

After the folks on CBS noted that Nixon was a moderate, Graham whined: "But CBS and the rest of the liberal media found the supposed mountain top of their profession by forcing moderate Nixon to resign. To this day, they don’t quite understand why half the country doesn’t find them to be objective or 'mainstream' in their journalistic pursuits." Graham didn't mention that Nixon was caught red-handed coordinating the Watergate cover-up -- or that a "moderate" Republican like Nixon would be hounded out of the Republican Party today... and that he and the MRC would lead that harassment campaign.

Nixon revisionism

The MRC's Watergate revisionism is being done in no small part to portray Richard Nixon as a victim. Mark Finkelstein served up a mocking version of this in a July 12 post in a discussion of Donald Trump's apparent crimes:

Those old enough to remember Watergate, or who have studied it, know just how hyperbolic the liberal media and the Democrats were in terms of the threat to democracy they claimed Nixon posed.


As you'll see, the liberal media are now prepared to let Nixon off with a parking ticket! Liberals today are happy to soft-pedal the seriousness of Nixon's misconduct—in order to emphasize the gravity of Trump's alleged culpability for January 6th.

Going hand in hand with that is Nixon revisionism. A July 16 post by Scott Whitlock recalled Nixon's petulant 1962 press conference after his loss in an election for California governor, the one on which he infamously whined that "you don't have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." Whitlock didn't mention that or his overall petulance, of course; the point was to proclaim that Nixon was allegedly right about media bias:

As conservatives gear up for a contentious midterm election, Republicans such as Ron DeSantis have been battling the bias and dishonesty of the press. As those on the right know, it’s not a new complaint. But it predates 2022, as well as Donald Trump, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Way back on election night in 1962, after Richard Nixon lost his bid to be governor of California, he called out the liberal slant of the press.

In the so-called “last press conference,” Nixon blasted the assembled reporters, highlighting his days as an anti-communist crusader: “For 16 years, ever since the Hiss case, you've had a lot of- a lot of fun...You've had an opportunity to attack me and I think I've given as good as I've taken.” He lectured the press: “If they're against a candidate, give him the shaft, but also recognize if they give him the shaft, put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidate says now and then.”

Showing just how long the liberal press has been a problem, Nixon argued:
I would hope that in the future, as a result of this campaign, that perhaps they would try at least simply to see that what both candidates say is reported, that if they have questions to ask of one candidate they ask the same questions of the other candidate.

Whitlock didn't mention that Nixon "acknowledged well into his remarks that the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 did not allow his campaign to get his message across during the final two weeks in his election bid" -- which would seem to undercut his media bias complaint.

When Nixon was unflatteringly depicted in a TV miniseries, Whitlock returned to complain in a July 30 post:

The vile new TV series Gaslight has mercifully ended. The show, centered around Richard Nixon and the Watergate burglary, went out in gross fashion. Even considering how Hollywood hates Republicans, the Starz series went way beyond, finding it necessary to feature Nixon farting, showering, and a shot of his bare behind.

Those images, such as a scene of Nixon tucking his t-shirt into his underwear, were contrasted with shots of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the overall grandeur of the White House.

In case you were too dense to understand the metaphor, the show’s creators decided to spell it our for you. Farting/naked Nixon was unworthy of such a high office. Get it?

First, Whitlock got the name of the series wrong -- it's called "Gaslit." Second, rather than engage in any actual defense of Nixon -- perhaps because he knows he can't -- Whitlock instead played whataboutism by detailing "a few of the things alleged sex predator John F. Kennedy is accused of doing in the White House." Which would make sense if JFK was mentioned in any form in the miniseries -- but he offered no evidence of that. Instead, more whining ensued:

In 2011, the History Channel willfully complied with the Kennedy family to remove a miniseries that portrayed the family negatively. It wasn’t until 2018 that Hollywood got around to making a movie about Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick.

So don’t expect a movie or TV series tearing down JFK as a bullying, disgusting sex monster who destroyed the majesty and dignity of the White House. The legend must be preserved.

Whitlock, by the way, did not explain exactly what was "vile" about the series -- no MRC writer reviewed it, let alone complained about it.

Loving Liddy

Aside from Nixon, perhaps the most notorious Watergate participant was G. Gordon Liddy -- whose actions during and since could have him credibly described as a domestic terrorist -- who went on to parlay that infamy into a post-scandal career as a right-wing radio host. He has been a favorite of the MRC over the years; as ConWebWatch has noted, Liddy was a featured "accepter" at the Media Research Center's 2008 Gala. As ConWebWatch has detailed, Liddy is the unrepentant Watergate felon who plotted to kill numerous people and plotted to bomb a liberal-leaning think tank. Liddy appeared in 2007 as well, in which he "accepted" an award for Katie Couric. An April 2005 CyberAlert reprinted a Washington Times article noting that Liddy was among the guests that "roared at the assembled clips and commentary" during the 2005 awards gala. Liddy also served as a judge for the MRC's year-end Notable Quotables awards in 1992, 1995 and 1997. The MRC further sought to whitewash Liddy's 1994 statement on his radio show that "if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests" by insisting in a November 1995 MediaWatch that "Liddy meant shooting in self-defense."

In a June 2012 MRC post, Jack Coleman complained that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in a radio interview, "gratuitously smeared Liddy as 'an admirer of Adolf Hitler.'" In fact, Liddy is on record as saying that when he listened to Hitler on the radio as a child, it "made me feel a strength inside I had never known before," he explains. "Hitler's sheer animal confidence and power of will [entranced me]. He sent an electric current through my body." He also said that even years later, "at assemblies where the national anthem is played, I must suppress the urge to snap out my right arm."

Coleman then got really pissy after RFK Jr. reminded people of why Liddy is a convicted felon, which as "an alleged plot involving G. Gordon Liddy to kill columnist and longtime Nixon nemesis Jack Anderson." Coleman then sneers, "And just out of curiosity, did that conspiracy against Anderson involve drowning him in a car?" Well, no. Liddy was looking to do it the old-fashioned way -- poison.

That urge to defend Liddy continued years later. In January 2021, Scott Whitlock lashed out at MSNBC because a promo used images of Liddy and Oliver North alongside pictures of Nazis at the Nuremburg Trials in criticizing people who were "just following orders": "What, exactly, to Liddy and North have to do with the actual Nazis? That these two were following orders connected to their respective scandals makes them like... Nuremberg trial Nazis? And what does any of this have to do with 2021 Republicans?" Whitlock forgot to mention Liddy's admiration of Hitler.

After Liddy's death a few months later, Tim Graham gushed and lamented in an April 2021 post:

G. Gordon Liddy became a beloved conservative talk radio host for 20 years after serving time in prison for organizing a break-in of Democrat headquarters at the Watergate in 1972. His show would air in the mornings here in Washington on WJFK, and he would entertain by interviewing conservatives (including us at the MRC) and reading news stories and opinion pieces from the Washington Times. I warmly remember how we talked for nearly an hour in 1996 about my book Pattern of Deception.

When he died on Tuesday, we could guess that Liddy's obituary headlines would be more negative than say, communist dictator Fidel Castro's in 2016. We were not wrong.

After that "warm" remembrance, it was off to the whataboutism races, comparing Liddy to one of the few people who could be considered a worse human being, starting with a complaint that one headline called Liddy an "unrepentant burglar":

"Unrepentant burglar." Now does anyone think a liberal newspaper will lead its Bill Clinton obituary with "Unrepentant sexual harasser"? Or will those words lead the Al Franken obituary headline? Franken had a talk radio show for a while. No chance.

On April 1, New York Times headline in the paper was "G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate Scandal’s Remorseless Ringleader, Dies at 90."

In 2016, the New York Times headline read, “A Revolutionary Who Defied the U.S. and Held Cuba In His Thrall.” Anthony DePalma of the Times began by calling Castro a “fiery apostle of revolution” who “defied the United States for nearly half a century.”

The Washington Post headline for Castro was slightly more balanced: “Revolutionary remade Cuba: Dictator who defied U.S. was loathed, beloved.” But Kevin Sullivan and J.Y. Smith oozed that Castro was “a romantic figure in olive-drab fatigues and combat boots, chomping monstrous cigars through a bushy black beard,” who “became a spiritual beacon for the world’s political far left.”

The Post headline for Liddy was more restrained: "G. Gordon Liddy, undercover operative convicted in Watergate scandal, dies at 90." But a photo montage was headlined "G. Gordon Liddy, infamous operative in the Watergate break-in, dies at 90."

On the front of Friday's Style section, Post feature writer Dan Zak called Liddy a "super-klutz." He cracked "As with so many self-professed paragons of strategy and masculinity, the man who advertised himself routinely as 'virile, vigorous and potent' was most famous for underperforming. He was brilliant at scheming but lousy at pulling off schemes... Liddy may have died Tuesday at 90, but he lives on in any number of characters afflicting our politics with their theatrical machismo or numbskulled shenanigans."

This is comical, since Zak is best-known for exhaustively glorifying the "numbskulled shenanigans" of three radical pacifists who theatrically broke into the Oak Ridge nuclear lab and threw blood at the walls.

One could say that Graham oozed over Liddy. It should be noted that at no point did Graham dispute the accuracy of any of those less-than-flattering characterizations of Liddy, including that of "unrepentant burglar" -- he's simply complaining they were said at all. Graham also forgot that being an unrepentant burglar is pretty much the defining image of Liddy that most Americans have -- at least, the ones who aren't still sucking up to him because a radio hit with him 25 years ago went well.

The MRC has to group Liddy with the likes of Castro and Hitler to make him look not as terrible by comparison. Graham's fuzzy memories about how he "warmly remembers" Liddy as a "beloved conservative talk radio host" rings not only hollow but tone-deaf and desperate as well.

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