is synonymous with a series of events that began with a botched
burglary and ended with the resignation of a U.S. President. The
term itself formally derives from the Watergate building in Washington,
D.C., where, on the night of 17 June 1972, five burglars were arrested
in the Democratic National Committee offices. Newspaper reports
from that point began revealing bits and pieces of details that
linked the Watergate burglars with President Richard Nixon's 1972
reelection campaign. The president and his chief assistants denied
involvement, but as evidence of White House complicity continued
to grow, the U.S. Congress was compelled to investigate what role
the Watergate matter might have played in subverting or attempting
to subvert the electoral process.
U.S. Senate, by a 77-to-0 vote, approved a resolution on 7 February
1973, to impanel the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign
Activities to investigate Watergate. Known as the Ervin Committee
for its Chairperson, Senator Sam Ervin, the Committee began public
hearings on 17 May 1973, that shortly came to be known as the "Watergate
cameras covered the Watergate hearings gavel-to-gavel, from day
one until 7 August. 319 hours of television were amassed, a record
covering a single event. All three commercial television networks
then in existence--NBC, CBS, and ABC--devoted an average of five
hours per day covering the Watergate hearings for their first five
networks devised a rotation plan that, beginning on the hearing's
sixth day, shifted coverage responsibility from one network to another
every third day. Any of the three networks remained free to cover
more of the hearings than required by their rotation agreement,
but only once did the networks choose to exercise their option.
All three networks elected to carry the nearly 30 hours of testimony
by key witness and former White House counsel John Dean.
non-commercial Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired the videotaped
version of each day's Watergate hearing testimony during the evening.
Many PBS station managers who were initially reluctant to carry
such programming found that as a result of the carriage, station
ratings as well as financial contributions increased.
As the Ervin Committee concluded its initial phase of Watergate
hearings on 7 August 1973, the hearing's television audience had
waned somewhat, but a majority of viewers continued to indicate
a preference that the next hearing phase, scheduled to begin on
24 September, also be televised. The networks, however, felt otherwise.
The Ervin Committee continued the Watergate hearings until February
1974 but with only scant television coverage.
viewers were attracted to the Watergate hearings in impressive numbers.
One survey found that 85% of all U.S. households had tuned in to
at least some portion of the hearings. Such interest was not universal,
however. In fact, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox had argued that
television's widespread coverage of Watergate testimony could endanger
the rights of witnesses to a fair trial and in doing so, could deprive
Americans of ever hearing the full story of Watergate. The Ervin
Committee refused Cox's request to curtail coverage, saying that
it was important that television be allowed to carry Watergate testimony
to the American public firsthand.
6 February 1974, a new phase of Watergate began when the U.S. House
of Representatives voted 410-to-4 to authorize the House Judiciary
Committee to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach
President Nixon. If so, the Committee was authorized to report necessary
articles of impeachment to the full House.
The Judiciary Committee spent late February to mid-July 1974 examining
documents and testimony accumulated during the Senate's Watergate
hearings. When this investigatory phase ended, the Judiciary Committee
scheduled public deliberations for 24-27, 29 and 30 July to debate
what, if any, impeachment recommendations it would make to the House.
Three articles of impeachment eventually were approved by the Committee,
recommending that the House begin formal impeachment proceedings
against President Richard Nixon.
decision to televise Judiciary Committee meetings was not immediate
nor did it meet with overwhelming approval. Only after several impassioned
pleas from the floor of the U.S. House that such an extraordinary
event should be televised to the fullest extent did the House approve
a resolution to allow telecast of the Judiciary Committee's impeachment
deliberations. The Committee itself had final say on the matter
and voted 31-to-7 to concur with the decision of their House colleagues.
One major requirement of the Judiciary Committee was that television
networks covering the committee not be allowed to break for a commercial
message during deliberations.
Judiciary Committee began its televised public debate on the evening
of 24 July. The commercial networks chose to rotate their coverage
in the same manner as utilized during the Senate Watergate hearings.
What's more, the commercial networks telecast only the evening portions
of Judiciary Committee deliberations, while PBS chose to telecast
the morning and afternoon sessions as well. As a result, television
viewers were provided nearly 13 hours of coverage for each of the
six days of Judiciary Committee public deliberations.
the full House and Senate voted to allow television coverage of
impeachment proceedings in their respective chambers, once assurances
were made that the presence of television cameras and lights would
not interfere with the president's due process rights. Final ground
rules were being laid and technical preparations for the coverage
were underway when President Nixon's resignation on 9 August 1974,
brought the impeachment episode to an end.
Ronald. Congressional Television: A Legislative History.
Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984.
James. The Power to Probe. New York: Random House, 1976.
Philip B. "The Watergate Inquiry, 1973." In, Schlesinger, Arthur
M., and Roger Bruns, editors. Congress Investigates: A Documented
History, 1792-1974. New York: Chelsea House Publishers,
House. House Committee on the Judiciary. Impeachment of Richard
M. Nixon, President of the United States, 93d Cong., 2d sess.,
1974, H. Rept. 93-1305.
Senate. Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities.
The Final Report, 93d Cong., 2d sess., 1974, S. Rept. 93-981.
Processes and Television; U.S.
Congress and Television