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On Watergate’s 40th anniversary, Dallas political scientists rank the most notorious scandals


The following ran in the June 16, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. Political Scientist Matthew Wilson provided expertise for this story.

June 21, 2012


Forty years ago today, a crew of five men connected to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign were arrested in a bungled attempt to bug the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington.

The scene of the crime: Watergate, an office-hotel complex whose name became the catchall phrase for describing the seedy inner workings of the White House and multiple investigations that toppled Nixon two years later.

In a joint essay for The Washington Post this month, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — the reporters made famous for their Watergate coverage — said Nixon lorded over a “massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents.”

“To a remarkable extent,” they wrote, Nixon had turned the White House “into a criminal enterprise.”

To commemorate Watergate’s 40th anniversary, The Dallas Morning News asked three local political scientists to compile the most notorious Washington scandals, often driven by money, sex, politics and graft.

Among the picks by Matthew Wilson of Southern Methodist University, Victoria Farrar-Myers of the University of Texas at Arlington and Richard Dougherty of the University of Dallas:

Watergate (1972-74)

What happened: A politically charged break-in and a subsequent cover-up by the Nixon administration — revealed in part on secret Oval Office tapes. Investigations showed that the president and his allies had used illegal contributions, political “dirty tricks,” wiretaps and other criminal endeavors to stifle and embarrass political enemies.

The fallout: Staring down impeachment by Congress and removal from office, Nixon, a Republican, became the first president to resign. Forty-eight people pleaded guilty or were convicted of Watergate-related crimes — a fate Nixon avoided after being pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford. Congress tightened donor rules in response to the Nixon campaign’s slush fund. And, the suffix “-gate” has been applied to many a political scandal since.

“This brought down a sitting president, but more importantly has shaped the political landscape of how citizens feel about their government as well as how political actors and the media conduct themselves.” — Farrar-Myers

Clinton-Lewinsky (1998)

What happened: Democratic President Bill Clinton — who had survived previous infidelity allegations — had an affair with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky. Questioned under oath, Clinton denied the accusations. He later admitted lying, and faced perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the House.

The fallout: The House impeached Clinton, but the Senate did not remove him from office. He finished his term, leaving with generally high approval ratings. Lewinsky went on to design a line of handbags and study at the London School of Economics. Clinton’s dalliances became fodder for comedians and Republicans, including George W. Bush, who pledged to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House in a campaign in which he beat Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore.

“As the first scandal of the Internet age, the Lewinsky affair took America’s scandal fixation to a whole new level.” — Wilson...