A few nights ago as I watched the talking heads, one of the commentators openly wondered whether Richard Nixon would have survived his presidency if Fox News would have been around. I found the hypothetical very interesting. Back then of course, we had basically three major news outlets: NBC, CBS, and ABC. Today of course, we are deluged with a 24/7 news cycle consisting of multiple news outlets, social media, and other internet based reporting. It’s information overload. With so much information to digest on a nightly basis, it’s not a stretch at all to think that Nixon could very well have survived Watergate. Obviously we will never know. But with the current president of the United States under a cloud of suspicion and a subject of a major investigation, if he is found to have committed impeachable offenses, I wonder whether he would survive. Based on the current state of politics in America, I’m afraid he’d have a damn good chance.
A bit of perspective is called for here. As a young kid in the sixth grade, I remember the Watergate hearings. My teacher at the time, who was probably in his late twenties, was very much in tune with what was going on in the country. He made it a point more than a few times to wheel the old television into the classroom and turn on the hearings. Looking back, what I remember most was the bi-partisan nature of those hearings. Senator Sam Ervin of South Carolina, a Democrat, was the chairman of the Watergate committee. Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, a Republican, was the Ranking Member. Perhaps the most famous question from those hearings came from Baker: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” Please forgive my skepticism to think we may actually have a Republican senator today who would ask such a question. Perhaps one who is retiring?
Would there have been such bi-partisanship back then if Fox News were around? Look at how today’s Republican politicians have performed as the Mueller investigation rolls on. I’ve seen Mr. Mueller denigrated, insulted, accused, lambasted, and pretty much branded a partisan monster. And, he’s a lifelong Republican. Many in Congress, especially on the House side, merely echo what they hear on a nightly basis on Fox News. With rare exception(Shep Smith), most of the hosts have called for the Mueller investigation to be shut down. They’ve called it a witch hunt, just as the president does. They keep saying Mueller’s team consists of a bunch of Democrats who donated to Hillary Clinton. In other words, Fox News, in conjunction with the president of the United States and several House Republicans, have twisted and turned the investigation in such a way that many in the public have began to doubt its integrity. Imagine what Mr. Nixon could have done with such an outlet.
Imagine how they would have treated Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who had served in the Kennedy administration. God forbid, he was a Democrat. They’ve done a complete hit job on Mueller the lifelong Republican so Mr. Cox would have been taken to the woodshed for sure. How about Howard Baker, the Republican Senator from Tennessee? Surely he would have been labeled a traitor. And let’s not forget the Attorney General at that time, Elliot Richardson, and the Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. Both were ordered by Nixon to fire Cox. Both refused. I can’t even imagine the hell they would have paid for exhibiting such bravery.
So as a hypothetical, it’s not beyond reason to think Nixon could have survived back then if he had been able to use the right-wing media outlet Fox, as well as the social media outlet Twitter. Today, Trump has mastered both. He uses them as a whipping post against his enemies, as well as a way to capitalize on the naiveté of his base of supporters. Surely Nixon, an intellect, could have done the same. But the history of Nixon has already been written. The history of Trump is still in progress. He has his own television station. He has a national bulletin board to preach from. He has a complicit and cowardly Congress in his back pocket. God help us.