Richard Reeves

The All White, All Male Faces of Watergate

SAG HARBOR, N.Y. -- Watching Watergate 30 years later was an eerie experience for someone who was there at the time. I couldn't tell whether it made me feel old or feel young again.

Old, I guess. There were photos of a New York Times reporter in his early 30s using my name. The program -- "Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History" -- focused on the scandal as a television event, which it was. Someone said people were missing planes because they could not stop watching the Senate Select Committee investigating some of the crimes and cover-ups of the presidency of Richard Nixon, particularly the burglary of the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office complex on June 17, 1972. Ben Bradlee, then the editor of The Washington Post, remembered walking from office to office, building to building, and into the street and taxis -- and never missing a word of the testimony coming from thousands of televisions and radios.

The story that came out of the film, done by a talented Washington producer, Sherry Jones, was another version of what Nixon knew and when he knew it. Jeb Stuart Magruder, who went to prison for his activities as deputy director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President -- "CREEP," we called it then -- told Jones, on camera, that he heard the president order the first of two Watergate burglaries, the one on May 27, 1972, when bugs were placed on the telephones of DNC chairman Larry O'Brien. Magruder's new testimony, which made some news, though it confirms what I believed after spending six years listening to Nixon tapes and reading Nixon documents, is somewhat tainted by the fact that Magruder has given at least three other versions over the years.

But watching "Watergate Plus 30," it was not the interviews with the felons and heroes of those days, compelling as they were, that impressed me most. What struck me was the faces of the White House staffers, the senators and congressmen, the journalists, beginning with Bradlee, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Post, and even the spectators in hearing rooms and courthouses.

All the faces were white. And about 98 percent of the white faces were male. This was a different country in 1973, and it looked very different in those halls of power. (I must admit here that it was my wife who pointed this out to me.)

The hearings began with the appropriate old Southern drawl of Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina. The few women glimpsed were wives, particularly Patricia Nixon and Maureen Dean, wife of John Dean, Nixon's young counsel, who copped a plea and ratted on the boss. The only "person of color" named and shown was Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the son of Japanese immigrants.

Watching Watergate last Wednesday night, the last people I saw before the show were on PBS's "The News Hour." Gwen Ifill was interviewing Condoleezza Rice. The reporter and the national security adviser are both black women. There are a thousand activists who can preach that American power is not "diverse" enough, but it is astonishingly more diverse than it was back then -- and you can see that by turning on television.

Only 33 women have served in the U.S. Senate, the first in 1922, but 14 of them are there now, beginning with both senators from the largest state, California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. There are 62 women, 39 blacks, 25 Hispanics and seven Asian-Americans in the House of Representatives. A black man, Richard Parsons, runs AOL-Time Warner. There are dozens of women running the nation's largest corporations, from Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard to Oprah Winfrey of the Harpo Entertainment Group. The presidents of Princeton, Brown and Duke are women.

These things were inconceivable when Richard Nixon self-destructed 30 years ago. If women were at the top in politics or commerce, it was usually because they replaced their fathers or husbands in tightly controlled situations. The most famous then was Katharine Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Co., who succeeded her husband, who had succeeded her father. Mrs. Graham, as we know, was a pretty formidable leader, but her father had ignored her to choose his son-in-law. The real pioneer in those days was the very self-made Barbara Walters, who still is.

At the end of Sherry Jones' show -- she is a woman -- most of the on-camera white male heads, including me, concluded, more or less, that not so much has changed since Watergate: Campaign financing is still a scandal, the White House is still operating in secrecy and spin, etc.

But we were wrong. The government may be similar, but the nation is different, much different.

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