When Tricky Dick Met His Match

Secrets of the Dead: Dick Cavett’s Watergate

On August 8, 1974, Richard M. Nixon resigned his presidency in the wake of a 26 month-long investigation into the June 1972 Watergate burglary. Forty years later, it is difficult to imagine a major political scandal taking more than 2 years to unfold.  News didn’t go viral….there was no “viral.”  The story developed slowly by virtue of the reporting of Carl Bernstein and Richard Woodward, two young reporters for the Washington Post.   With the exception of the nightly network news, no one on television devoted more time to Watergate than talk show host Dick Cavett.  DICK CAVETT’S WATERGATE, which airs tonight on most PBS stations, features interviews past and present with many of  the major Watergate figures.  Mr. Cavett, who does not personally use Facebook or Twitter, spoke with CYNSIDERS about covering an event that became, and remains, a watershed moment in American history.

CYNSIDERS (CYN):  So, Watergate…..those were the good old days of political scandals and media, when our news sources were daily newspapers, radio and network news.

DICK CAVETT (DC): I know, right?  It was hard to go to sleep at night thinking that something might be happening. As Gore Vidal said to me, if I didn’t get my Watergate fix my hands would start to tremble.

CYN: In the program, there’s a lot of discussion that television was late to pick up the story. But you started covering Watergate very early on. The burglary was on June 17, 1972 and you had Ted Kennedy on two days after the story broke in the New York Times.

DC: And I’m not exactly sure how that happened…whether Kennedy was scheduled to be on, if we called him or perhaps he called us.  Regardless, it was a wonderful coincidence.

CYN: Did you have any inkling that it might be as profound a story as it turned out to be?

DC: No one knew how serious it would turn out to be. I think a small number of people knew there was the possibility.  But the idea that you might have a criminal in the White House was too much for people to believe.

CYN: Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that so few people were really paying attention to the story in those early days.

DC: I do remember thinking after a week or two, “This thing is really rolling.” Vidal said Nixon was the most honest president we ever had in that the truth was always the opposite of what he said.  And there’s Nixon, claiming that he thought it would blow over. You think someone in the White House might have said to him, “Mr. President, your bungling burglars left a lot of clues behind.”

CYN: It was astonishing to see you broadcasting from the room on Capitol Hill where they were holding the Watergate hearings. Would that be possible today?

DC: I don’t know what made it possible then.  I do remember that before the broadcast I spent a day at the hearings as an observer. All my heroes were up there on that committee. When I met finally them, they wanted to know how I stayed so slim.

CYN: How do you think the story would play out now, with our 24/7 news cycle?

DC: Well, it would receive a blizzard of attention and theorizing and I wonder if that would shorten the story’s lifespan. Would it stay the center of attention for as long as it did?  The news business now is so much about shock and shame.

CYN: If Watergate happened today do you think social media help or hurt the search for truth?

DC: With Twitter and Facebook it’s possible that pictures could have been taken and posted of the burglary, the scope of the coverup might have been discovered earlier, and the story could have moved a lot quicker.  All of which might have made it possible for Nixon to stay ahead of the story and to get away with it all.

CYN: You interviewed so many of the Republicans associated with the scandal….do you have a favorite?

DC: It would have to be G. Gordon Liddy.  He was very theatrical and had a sense of humor. He was a true comic rogue.

Dick Cavett was the host of THE DICK CAVETT SHOW, a late night program opposite THE TONIGHT SH OW, which won three Emmys and aired on ABC from 1968 to 1975 and on PBS from 1977 to 1982. He also hosted talk shows on the USA, HBO, and CNBC cable networks. The Dick Cavett Show aired for six seasons on CNBC. He has hosted many other shows, including Faces of Japan, for PBS, as well as two HBO specials on magic and three HBO series: Time Was, Yesteryear, and Remember When. He appears frequently on Imus in the Morning, HuffPost Live and other interview programs.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to their colleagues followers and the public at large. In their own words, they address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Unique to cynopsis, Cynsiders lives on the cynopsis.com homepage and is promoted across the daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected]

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