The Public Interest

The Press and The Media

Michael Cornfield

Spring 1980

THE incredible sequence of events that culminated in President Nixon’s resignation invited, among other things, a thorough reconsideration of the power of the press. It appeared that the President had become incapacitated by a mediated explosion of public disapproval for his actions, that he was compelled to relinquish his post because an impalpable sentiment of distrust spread throughout the nation that challenged his right to continue in office. Yet strangely enough, the challenge bore little relation to public policy.  The Opposition to Nixon drew its strength from a series of crime reports. While the crimes touched serious partisan and international issues, the connection was tortuous, tenuous, and in the end indecisive.  Indeed, the crimes themselves mattered less than the way they had been misrepresented by the White House and then exposed by members of the press. However, it was not the press-that is, those persons who spend their lives covering polities and its practitioners-but “Watergate,” as it became finally a symbolic message, that triggered the constitutional crisis and the Nixon resignation. 

Download a PDF of the full article.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.