Last night on the PBS News Hour, Robert McNeil and Jim Lehrer remembered their marathon live reporting of the Watergate hearings that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The hearings opened on May 17, 1973. In a special segment on the News Hour, McNeil and Lehrer recalled how their work as Public Broadcating System anchors of the coverage led to the evolution of PBS as a news organization and the creation of The News Hour. Many in the Congress and, certainly, in the Nixon administration thought that public broadcasting had no business reporting the news. It is likely that any American who watched the Watergate epic unfold on television retains indelible impressions of the senators who conducted the hearings and witnesses like John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Alexander Butterfield and a parade of others.
Journalists who covered Watergate, as I did for UPI Television News, will never forget the weeks of alternating boredom, excitement and shock as the scandal unfolded. All of that came rushing back last evening as my wife said, “There you are.” Indeed, there was my 40-years-younger self, out of focus but recognizable, getting up to stretch after Senator Sam Ervin called the proceeding to a close on the final day. Nixon would not give up the presidency for more than another year of investigation, the release of the “smoking gun” tape, revelation upon revelation of wrongdoing in the White House, great reporting by The Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein, and impeachment. But the hearings by the Senate Watergate Committee set the stage for his departure from office.
Here are McNeil and Lehrer with Jeffrey Brown in the PBS News Hour Watergate segment from last evening. It’s a good refresher course.