1972’s election outcome was decided early on in
the Democratic primary. The Democrats were trying to oust a sitting president
who although not very popular, was an effective president. What made their task
even harder was that the Democrats lost their front runner candidate, Edmond
Muskie, early because the media portrayed him as an emotionally unstable person
because he appeared to be “crying” while he was denouncing a news paper
editorial that attacked his wife. The incident left the Democrat party without a
candidate capable of unsetting the President.
Since the outcome of the election was not in doubt, the only thing that was memorable about the 1972 election was the Watergate scandal that started out small and eventually forced the President to resign for the first time in the history of the U.S.A. The Democratic Party was in disarray as they were in the 1968 election. They nominated McGovern who was known as a very left wing liberal and an ineffective campaigner. In addition, the candidate's first choice for a running mate was forced to resign because the media found out that he had received shock therapy. The candidate was forced to look for another Vice President nominee at the time he should have been focusing on getting his message across to the voters. The person he picked for the Vice President was President Kennedy’s brother in law, Sergeant Shriver, who had never run for elected office and his only experience in the government was being the first peace corp. director under the Kennedy administration.
The press constantly criticized the Democratic candidate for everything from his stand on the issues to his strategy. President Nixon's campaign was portrayed as an efficient and superior model of how to run a successful campaign. The press took the Nixon campaign portrayal of the McGovern policies as out of the main stream and ran with it without investigating it and finding out for themselves. The McGovern campaign was no match for the Nixon campaign organization and their constant distortion of his ideas to the media. The media took as a fact most of the distortion without trying to ascertain the fact. One of the reasons the media portrayed the McGovern campaign in a negative light is because the media knew that Nixon was going to win and they did not want to carry a favor with the President who was very vindictive against reporters who reported negative stories against the administration or the campaign.
The media hated Nixon until he became President. Nixon, for his part, also hated the media and blamed them for his loss of the presidential election of 1960 and the California Governor election of 1962. When he ran in 1968, he largely avoided the media. Once he became President, he mostly eliminated the reporters he did not like by not granting privileges to the White House and by not granting access to the administration officials. The action forced the media to be exceedingly fair to the Nixon administration until the Watergate scandal erupted. Many reporters did not want to report negative stories about the administration because they feared losing sources and access to the White House. The media also did not like the Democratic candidate and many newspapers endorsed President Nixon. That is one reason why many newspapers, except the Washington Post, did not bother to dig deep when the Watergate scandal broke out. Had the truth come out before the election, Nixon would most likely would have been defeated, sparing the country two years of turmoil in the executive branch and two years of the most corrupt and paranoid President in the history of the United States of America.
With the help of the media, Nixon won a second term in one of the biggest landslide election in the U.S. history. He won all the States except for Massachusetts. However, the euphoria did not last long. The administration was soon forced to answer question about the Watergate scandal, which was dismissed as third rate burglary until two reporters from Washington Post discovered the burglars connection with the Republican National Committee and the Nixon re-election committee CREEP. The administration tried to stop Woodward and Bernstein from investigating the scandal by threatening the Washington Post not to renew the company’s television station license unless they ceased reporting on the burglary. When the administration threatened the Washington Post for reporting the burglary, it picked the interest of other reporters and the burglary soon turned into scandal and forced the sitting President to resign under a threat of impeachment.
The lasting legacy of the Watergate scandal is that the media now thinks every mistake a President makes is another Watergate that needs to be investigated and reported as a scandal without any evidence. Not only do reporters portray small mistakes as a scandal, they also go out of their way to investigate and dig for “dirt” to see if the person is clean and worthy of being a President. The unintended cost of the media’s obsession with scandal and investigation is that it turns people off from seeking elected office because they do not want their privacy to be violated. It also makes it harder for the candidates to convey their messages to the voters because what the media reports give priority to the scandal, not for the candidate's ideas.