Trump’s advantage over Nixon
Of course, Watergate unfolded in a much simpler time in the media industry.
There were three major news networks and PBS; a major paper or three in every city; and a political dynamic in which leaders duked it out by day and dined together at night. They did so on a solid foundation of agreed-upon facts and a sense of right and wrong that was shared if not always followed.
The Trump-Russia scandal is breaking during a time of informational chaos, when rival versions of reality are fighting for narrative supremacy.
The causes are legion: The advent of right-wing talk radio and Fox News; the influence of social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit; and the mainstreaming of conspiracy sites like InfoWars, which had almost five million visitors in the last month. By allowing partisans to live in their separate informational and misinformational bubbles, and, in some cases, to allow real news to be rendered as false — and false news to be rendered as true — they have all contributed to the calcification of the national divide.
Mainstream journalism, a shiny and ascendant conveyor of truth during Watergate, is in a battered state after decades of economic erosion, its own mistakes and the efforts of partisan wrecking crews to discredit its work, the most recent one led by the president himself.
All of it gives the Trump White House something Nixon never had: a loyal media armada ready to attack inconvenient truths and the credibility of potentially damning witnesses and news reports while trumpeting the presidential counternarrative, at times with counterfactual versions of events.
Review papers from the Nixon White House and you can see just how much Nixon and his team pined for a media environment resembling the one today.
“Nixon was always complaining that he had no defenders,” John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel, and current CNN contributor, told me Friday.
As a memo from one adviser read in 1970: “The lens through which our message gets through is a distorted lens,” therefore “we ought to give consideration to ways and means if necessary to acquire either a government or other network through which we can tell our story.”