With the impeachment hearings going on in the background, it’s hard to write today about other topics on my mind, like Medicare-for-all or whether the laugh track is a spawn of Satan. Comparisons have been made for days back to the 1973 Watergate hearings, although I don’t know if that will turn out to be the right comparison. Historical accounts depict those hearings as riveting coverage that all of America tuned into, day in and day out, when the reality was a little different. I remember because I was there.
One of the reports last night showed a picture from the first day of the hearings, with the green Senate table, splashing across the view like a movie green screen. This is misleading. In 1973, less than half the households in America had color TVs, and even though we had one, that was not the TV being watched in the middle of the day. It would be doctoring the past to describe the hearings with that kind of illustration, though several journalists have done so in recent weeks. The first time I saw that vision, all I could think of was, “Well, the hearings weren’t conducted in color.”
The Senate Select Committee on Watergate convened these public hearings in May 1973, and they continued until September. When it’s noted they were on during the summer, that means All Summer Long. It’s hard for me to imagine today’s Congress or public having the kind of stamina or interest to generate hearings for that long.
There had been precedent: the Army-McCarthy Hearings of 1954. Those televised hearings were on the subject of whether the fanatical anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy had misused his status in helping promote an aide. McCarthy had made a name for himself by accusing the government of being infiltrated by communists, and he was a rising star in the Republican party, which had control of the Senate. For several years, McCarthy had been pointing fingers at the Army for harboring enemies of the state, and the Army in early 1954 started pointing back. The Senate decided to investigate the counterclaims and chose to publicize the hearings. The brand new TV networks were happy to have something interesting to show.Continue reading “History Is Only in the Rear View Mirror”