Slow Burn: a podcast series about Watergate

April 20, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, journalism, podcasting.

If you lived through the Watergate crisis (1972-1974), you probably remember a lot about what happened and about the major characters, such as John Dean, Richard Nixon, John Ehrlichman, etc. And you probably remember how it felt to have a new development in the story just about every day. It was an interesting, often thrilling, and uncertain time. (I was living in Washington, D.C., at that time and felt like I had a front-row seat.)

Sam Ervin, chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee

If you didn’t live through it, you may be wondering what it was all about. How did a president of the United States, who had been elected overwhelmingly in 1972, come to resign in disgrace just two years later?

In either case, you might want to listen to Slate magazine’s eight-episode podcast series Slow Burn by Leon Neyfakh:

Why are we revisiting Watergate now? The connections between the Nixon era and today are obvious enough. But to me, the similarity that’s most striking is not between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon (although they’re both paranoid, vengeful, and preoccupied with “loyalty”), or their alleged crimes (although they both involved cheating to win an election), or the legal issues in the two cases (although they both center on obstruction of justice).

Rather, it’s that people who lived through Watergate had no idea what was going to happen from one day to the next, or how it was all going to end. I recognize that feeling. The Trump administration has made many of us feel like the country is in an unfamiliar, precarious situation. Some days it seems like our democratic institutions won’t survive, or that permanent damage has already been done. Pretty much every day, we are buffeted by news stories that sound like they’ve been ripped out of highly stressful and very unrealistic novels.

The point of Slow Burn is to look back on the most recent time Americans went through this en masse, and to put ourselves in their shoes.

The first episode of Slow Burn is about Martha Mitchell. If you know the story of Watergate, that might seem an odd character to begin with, but Neyfakh makes a compelling case. Listen to it, and you will get hooked.


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