Former Nixon lawyer reflects on Watergate
Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 19:10
The media and law professions are two areas where the Watergate scandal has had a lasting impact four decades later, said John Dean, President Richard Nixon's former lawyer.
Dean, who is now an author and media commentator, marked the upcoming anniversary of the scandal's beginning with remarks in Tilson Music Hall, as part of the University Speakers Series. In June 1972, five men burglarized and installed surveillance bugs in the office of the Democratic National Committee, which was located in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.
Nixon's administration attempted to cover up their involvement in the scandal, which ultimately ended with Nixon's resignation in 1974. Dean was deeply involved in the cover-up and pleaded guilty to a felony obstruction of justice charge in exchange for serving as a witness for the prosecution.
Dean said Watergate changed the media's perception of political scandals. With the exception of "The Washington Post," he said, where reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unraveled the cover-up, the rest of the media missed covering the story.
As a result, presidential administrations since Nixon have come under far more scrutiny by the press, Dean said.
"Understand one thing about scandals: they are ‘mediated,'" he said. "They are created by the media."
Standards for the law profession changed as a result of the scandal, Dean said. No longer was the arrogance and incompetence he said was common of Nixon-era lawyers acceptable.
During his Senate testimony against Nixon, Dean said he placed asterisks next to names on a list of administration officials involved in the scandal.
"How did so many lawyers get involved?" he said.
Dean spoke to a nearly full auditorium, consisting of community members and students born long after Watergate left the headlines. Dean himself had put the scandal behind him until 20 years ago, when former CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace informed him of a book which alleged Dean had ordered the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
The motive, the author alleged, was that Dean's wife had been ensnared in a prostitution ring and Dean wanted to expose the Democrats' actions.
Time magazine had planned to run a story making similar claims.
Even though Dean dismissed the accusations as bogus and the stories were killed, the book was published. Dean sued, beginning a nine-year legal battle that drew him back into the history of the scandal.
Dean is currently writing his 12th book, which includes transcripts and context of previously unheard White House audiotapes connected to Watergate.
Many students attended the speech to receive extra credit or write papers about Dean's speech. But the lawyer's remarks provided special context for sophomore aviation major Caleb Popp, who's currently enrolled in a "Nixon and Watergate" class.
Popp said he thought Dean's speech was partially a moral lesson against getting tangled in scandals and a reflective look at a political milestone.
"It's a little bit of both," Popp said.