Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past

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It began with a burglary, the objectives of which are to this day unclear, and it led to the unprecedented resignation of a president in disgrace. For years the story dominated the airwaves and the headlines. Yet today a third of all high school students do not know that Watergate occurred after 1950, and many cannot name the president who resigned. How do Americans remember Watergate? Should we remember it? To what extent does our current "memory" of Watergate jibe with the historical record? Most important, who--the media? political elites? the courts?--are responsible for the particular version of those tumultous[sic] events we remember today? What Americans remember (and what they have forgotten) about the most traumatic domestic event in our recent history offers startling insights into the nature of collective memory. Michael Schudson, one of this country's most perceptive observers of the media, uses interviews, press accounts of recent political controversies, and poll data to explore how America's collective memory of Watergate has changed over the years, and what this reveals about how we can learn from the past. Schudson argues that Watergate was both a Constitutional crisis triggered by presidential wrongdoing and a scandal in which investigators pursued multiple, and sometimes veiled, objectives. He explores the continuing unsettled relationship between these two faces of Watergate. Liberals who deny that scandals are socially constructed miss part of the story, as do conservatives who deny or minimize the Constitutional crisis. The book gives special attention to several key domains where the memory of Watergate has been contested and transmitted: as a myth inside journalism, as a debate over reform legislation in Congress, as a set of lessons in school textbooks, as a new language for the public at large. Schudson's findings are often surprising. He argues that Richard Nixon has not been rehabilitated in the public mind and that there is good rea
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Multiple, conflicting versions of the Watergate scandal coexist in the public's collective memory, according to University of California sociologist Schudson. To leftists, the scandal was managed by establishment forces to preserve the national security state. The moderate-liberal version holds that ``the system almost failed'' and views Watergate as a crisis over presidential abuses of power, while conservatives identify a recklessly autonomous press as a threat to the social order. Published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters, this intensive, evenhanded academic study challenges ``the myth of Watergate journalism,'' which holds that the press alone brought down Nixon. Using surveys, interviews and news clips, Schudson clarifies the meaning of Watergate as a social process of discovery and outrage, a constitutional crisis and a contribution to the public's political education. (June)
Library Journal
On the 20th anniversary of the Democratic headquarters break-in, has the Watergate perpetual publishing machine cranked out another play-it-again-Sam Ervin reprise? No! This engrossing overview shows how Watergate has evolved into part of our collective memory. Watergate, a cultural flashpoint rivaling the traumas of the John F. Kennedy assassination and the Challenger disaster, carries a legacy that includes an elevation of the journalism profession and the rise of Jimmy Carter based on a promise of clean government and his fall when he couldn't deliver. Ironically, the lessons of Watergate were cleverly and subliminally manipulated so that the players of Ronald Reagan's Iran- contra fiasco would not be prosecuted. This and an unassertive Congress allowed Reagan, whom Schudson sees as more deserving of impeachment than Nixon, to complete his second term while Nixon continued his struggle for rehabilitation. A provocative, controversial panorama of institutional Watergate, enthusiastically recommended for large public and academic collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/92.-- Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp . Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465090839
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/17/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Lexile: 1490L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. I Versions of Watergate
1 Thinking with Watergate: Constitutional Crisis or Scandal? 9
2 Revising Watergate: Routine or Aberration? 34
3 Collective Memory and Watergate 51
Pt. II Watergate in American Memory
4 Memory Mobilized: Making Careers Out of Watergate 69
5 Memory Contested: Reform and the Lessons of the Past 88
6 Memory Mythologized: Watergate and the Media 103
7 Memory Contained: Conventionalizing Watergate 127
8 Memory Engrained: Post-Watergate Political Expectations 148
9 Memory Ignited: The Metaphor of Watergate in Ira-Contra 165
10 Memory Besieged: Richard Nixon's Campaign for Reputation 185
Pt. III Remembering, Forgetting, and Reconstructing the Past
11 The Resistance of the Past 205
Notes 223
Index 269
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