The Jan. 6 House Select Committee held its first public hearing Thursday with uncertain political effect. Next Friday, eight days later, is the 50th anniversary of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. The latter led to a summer of hearings in 1973. The following year, President Nixon resigned rather than face some impeachment and impeachment. America, says Michael Barone, was never the same again.
Mr. Barone, arguably the foremost journalistic historian of contemporary American politics, does not regard the timing of the anniversary as a happy coincidence. Of this week’s hearings, he says, “I don’t think they’re going to change public opinion. The Watergate hearings, on the other hand, had a defining impact, dropping Nixon’s approval rating from 68% in January 1973 to 31% in August. Beginning in May, they attracted a national audience, with live daytime coverage on all three television networks. But looking back five decades, Mr Barone believes Watergate was a historic turning point and had a detrimental influence on politics and journalism that still plagues us today.