The Watergate break-in: 50 years ago

Just after 12 midnight EDT on June 17, 1972 — exactly 50 years ago — the notorious break-in at the Democratic party's headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. took place.

That weekend, I was in New York City, covering the New York primary that would take place three days later on June 20, 1972.  That last primary of the 1972 presidential election season would essentially confirm Sen. George McGovern's nomination for president on the Democratic Party ticket to oppose President Richard Nixon in the fall election.  I had press credentials and was traveling in New York with McGovern on his campaign's press bus and plane.  As the candidate who championed peace in Vietnam (which Richard Nixon had promised when he ran and was elected in 1968 but did not deliver on), McGovern was supported by many young voters that year, which was the first election that dropped the minimum voting age to eighteen.

In 2009, I wrote about encountering George McGovern 30 years later at American Thinker here.

On Sunday June 18, 1972, The New York Times reported on the break-in on page A30, "5 Charged With Burglary at Democratic Quarters."

June 18 was a Sunday, and the "newspaper of record's" 480-page edition that day treated the Watergate break-in story as insignificant.  On Monday, June 19, Sen. McGovern had his first formal press conference since the Watergate news broke at his NYC headquarters, the Biltmore Hotel (which would later in 1980 become Donald Trump's first Manhattan real estate deal, the Grand Hyatt).

I was sitting in the fourth row of the press conference.  The first six or seven questioners did not ask McGovern about the break-in.  So I stood up and was recognized by the senator, and I asked him about it.  The extensive sound bite of his well informed and articulate reply ran on all three network newscasts that evening (Monday June 19, 1972).  It was the first comment by McGovern — the presumptive Democrat nominee to challenge President Nixon — on the Watergate break-in, which he tried to make a major issue in the fall election campaign without much success.

In 2019, a new four-part CNN documentary about Nixon, Tricky Dick, included a film clip of McGovern's June 19, 1972 reply to my question.

This month, June 2022, CNN ran a new Watergate documentary, Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal.

I watched it closely with great interest.  By the end of it, I was thoroughly disgusted.  Four hours long, the program was executive produced by John Dean — Nixon's White House counsel who was convicted of a felony and ordered to serve one to four years in federal prison for his prominent role in the Watergate cover-up. Because he decided to turn state's evidence in an attempt to save his own skin and cooperated with prosecutors in cases against his co-conspirators, Dean served only four months in a special "safe house" primarily used for witnesses against the Mafia at Fort Holabird, Maryland. In January 1974, Judge John Sirica released Dean for his "time served." Dean's license to practice law in Virginia was also revoked after a disciplinary hearing.

This latest, typically one-sided CNN production starring John Dean was essentially the equivalent of the kangaroo court January 6 House Committee as it tried to associate the fifty-year-old Watergate scandal with former president Donald Trump.

Not only that, but the documentary insisted that what Trump had done as president (crimes implied but never specified) was much more dangerous to our "democracy" than anything that Richard Nixon did after the Watergate break-in.  All of the talking heads on the CNN production were Trump-haters, including Michael Cohen, Trump's former attorney, who spent time in prison for multiple convictions, and former federal prosecutor and professional Trump detractor Preet Bharara, whom President Trump fired shortly after he took office.

On June 29, 1972, two weeks after the Watergate break-in, I attended a prime-time press conference in the East Room of the White House with President Nixon.  It was broadcast live on all three networks at 9 P.M. EDT.  None of the 21 questions asked by the leading pooh-bahs of the nation's news media was about the Watergate break-in twelve days earlier.

President Richard Nixon at his June 29, 1972 White House press conference.
Photo © by Peter Barry Chowka.

The last time I checked, my copyrighted iconic photograph of President Nixon making a fist on June 29, 1972 has been ripped off and appears on over 300 different web pages, almost all of them without any credit to me.  In fact, it is currently listed as the photograph for the fourth most popular "Richard Nixon meme" at this website that tracks such things.

And so it goes.

Sen. George McGovern makes a typical healing hand gesture while campaigning in Syracuse, N.Y. in late October 1972 with an inscription by McGovern to the photographer.
Photo © by Peter Barry Chowka.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications.  He also appears in the media, including recently as a contributor to OANNBBC World NewsThe Glazov Gang, and Fox News.  Peter's website is  His YouTube channel is here.  For updates on his work, follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

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