‘Slow Burn’ ties Watergate scandal to Trump-era politics

If we were living through the next Watergate, would we know? This is the question Leon Neyfakh, host of “Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate,” poses to his listeners. In these eight episodes, Neyfakh captures what it was like to live through the greatest political scandal of the 20th century. What were people thinking and feeling during these two years?

The Watergate scandal was a break-in by five men at the Democratic party headquarters on the evening of June 17, 1972. Their goal was to bug the telephones of President Richard Nixon’s political opponents in order to gain information as leverage against their political enemies. The scandal took two years to break. Over these two years, Nixon denied any involvement or knowledge of the crime at Watergate.

This podcast is frighteningly apropos considering our current political climate. Not only because these are stories of corruption and collusion, but also because these stories concern political figures who worked for Nixon and now work for President Donald Trump.

The first episode, “Martha,” relays the story of Martha Mitchell, wife of Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell, a woman who The New York Times called, “the most talked about, talkative woman in Washington” in 1970. After news of Watergate broke, Mitchell was held captive in a hotel room for days. Nixon feared that if Mitchell learned who had been arrested that night, she would suspect Nixon and his party were involved and tell the press. Nixon said, “We have to turn off Martha.”

A man by the name of Steve King was assigned to keep Mitchell captive in the hotel room, away from the newspaper and telephone. King was on the committee to re-elect Nixon and was recently appointed ambassador of Czech Republic by none other than Donald Trump.

Eventually Mitchell found a newspaper, read of Watergate, and immediately suspected Nixon to be the culprit. One night after pretending to fall asleep, Mitchell snuck past King and secretly  called her friend and reporter Helen Thomas to discuss her suspicions. When King awoke to Mitchell whispering on the phone, he ripped it from the wall. Mitchell was then held down and forcibly tranquilized by several men. She later told the press that she was held as a, “political prisoner.”

Although Mitchell’s suspicions were correct, Nixon and his party did everything they could to discredit her. They painted her as a drunken wreck in the media and deemed her crazy; they gaslighted her. The media paid little heed to Mitchell’s whistleblowing and eventually Nixon believed he was in the clear.

This story of Mitchell reminds us of silenced heros, those brave enough to whistleblow even when no one is listening or believes them. Mitchell’s story has not been passed down in our collective conscious and that is why it’s so important to share. Neyfakh tells her story as well as other less-remembered, but important figures who fought against the corruption of the Nixon era.

“Slow Burn” was developed with our current political climate in mind. It examines the parallels between the Nixon and Trump eras, which are many: attacks on the press, the state of hysteria in the White House and the mocking of people courageous enough to speak out against the president.

Once Nixon resigned he stated, “If it hadn’t been for Martha, there would have been no Watergate.”