Reporting without fear or favour

In the movie All The President's Men, Dustin Hoffman (left) acted as Carl Bernstein while Robert Redford portrayed Bob Woodward. The film depicts how the dogged reporting of the two Washington Post reporters uncovered the Watergate scandal and eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.

On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate Building in Washington, DC. It was quickly dismissed as a "third-rate burglary".

But the events that unfolded after the incident would force then United States President Richard Nixon to resign two years later, earning him the ignominy of being the only US president to do so while in office.

The political scandal would also change how generations talk about controversy. The suffix "gate" is now very much a part of the public vocabulary when referring to scandals.

Many of the revelations linking the five robbers to the White House emerged through the dogged reporting of two Washington Post reporters - Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward - under the stewardship of their fearless editor Ben Bradlee.

The Post also uncovered numerous attempts by the White House to cover up any connections to the burglars. Key documents linking Nixon to the break-in were destroyed and the administration illegally tapped the phones of journalists it thought were critical of him.

In March 1974, seven top Nixon aides were charged and convicted of trying to block the investigation.

Throughout the entire saga, Nixon strenuously denied any prior knowledge of the break-in or any attempts to cover it up.

But when secret tapes - recorded by Nixon himself - were uncovered, his game was up. Richard Milhous Nixon resigned on Aug 8, 1974, as Congress moved to impeach him.

Then Vice-President Gerald Ford replaced Nixon in the White House and later granted his predecessor a presidential pardon for any crimes conducted while in office.

While the cover-up was what brought down Nixon, the reason for the initial break-in into Watergate remains very much up for debate.

It is likely the burglars were looking for evidence of wrongdoing by Democratic Party leaders, though it was never clear what specifically they were looking for or who they were targeting.

Jeremy Au Yong

This article was first published on Oct 26, 2014.
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