- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The media gave former President Richard Nixon little chance to rest in peace yesterday.
Obsessive recaps, op-eds, timelines, old film footage, live broadcasts outside the Watergate complex and endless speculation about the identity of "Deep Throat" was enough to give the nation a case of Watergate fatigue on the 30th anniversary of the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters.
Much of the coverage this week painted Mr. Nixon as a "criminal" and the harbinger of America's "greatest political scandal," though he was never impeached as President Clinton was in 1998 in the Monica Lewinsky matter.
"The coverage has been terribly unfair this week," said Bruce Herschensohn, a former Nixon adviser and now a fellow with the Nixon Library in California. "The bias against President Nixon has been outrageous. Ben Bradlee, David Frost and others were on CNN, giggling like children, happy to resurrect their hatred of Mr. Nixon."
Anything positive said about the former president focused on his "progressive" policies only, Mr. Herschensohn said, adding that Mr. Clinton garnered "kinder coverage" during the Lewinsky matter.
The New York Times noted yesterday that "Watergate lives on, as a standard against which to judge or misjudge scandals," later adding that it "created a distrust of government and politicians that may occasionally recede but will not go away."
The Times also quoted former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, a New York Democrat who sat on the 1974 House Judiciary Committee, as saying that President Clinton's activities with Miss Lewinsky, "however disagreeable, distasteful and unpleasant," fell far short of the Watergate break-in.
Ubiquitous former Nixon counsel John Dean said the American public had already made up its mind about the two presidents.
People didn't care about all the Lewinsky headlines, Mr. Dean wrote in an MSNBC editorial, and instead remembered that Mr. Clinton "was running the country extremely well." In Mr. Nixon, "the public recognized they had a dangerous and corrupt man sitting in the Oval Office."
During a CNN appearance Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who led the coverage back then, repeated that Mr. Nixon was "a criminal president" and "willing to undermine the Constitution of the United States in a basic fundamental way that we've never seen before or since."
Watergate warranted the now-standard overkill of a 24-hour media treatment, a mode that came to full flower during Mr. Clinton's scandal years. But the press also relishes each Watergate anniversary.
"It's fascinating that every five years, we get a media-wide self-affirmation that the press exposed the sins of the great father for the good of the country," said Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
"The images get simpler over time. Nixon gets portrayed as criminal, the jowly prevaricator. Clinton is shown as unethical the lovable loser," he said. "We may find, though, that history will not be so kind to Clinton down the road."
Meanwhile, American opinions have remained about the same about Watergate for 20 years. A new Gallup poll released yesterday found that 51 percent of the respondents said the affair was "very serious," while 42 percent dismissed it as "just politics." Twenty years ago, the same figures stood at 52 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Time marches on as well. A new ABC poll also found that 65 percent said they didn't know enough about Watergate to tell the basic facts to someone else up 12 points in the last five years.


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