If the Watergate scandal had happened in 2014, people might not really care or even notice, former Nixon aide Roger Stone tells National Review Online.
On Sunday, Stone released a book called Nixon’s Secrets, in which he defends Nixon and calls the mainstream interpretation of Watergate a “grotesque . . . distortion of historical truth.”
Had the Watergate story broken this year, he says, Nixon might not even need defending at all — because the media cycle would have blown right past the whole thing.
“It’s a story — and now, next up, there’s people rioting in Missouri. Next up, Al Sharpton caused a race riot in Staten Island! Next up, actor Robin Williams dies!” he says.
“More people right now online are looking at Robin Williams than they are what’s going on in Iraq,” he tells NRO.
That’s probably true, and it’s not hard to see why. The story of U.S.-Iraq relations is complicated, it’s a long way away, and many people will find it easier to just watch something else.
Watergate was complicated, too, but there is a key difference, Stone says: People who thought that story was too complicated had to keep watching anyway — because there was nothing else to watch.
“Everyone, 100 percent of the people, were totally focused on what was going on,” Stone says. “There was no Twitter, no cable.”
It’s not that modern scandals don’t get picked up by modern media outlets, of course. President Obama’s — Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting conservative groups, Benghazi, Solyndra, illegal NSA spying, illegal CIA spying, you know, just to name a few — have been splashed across outlets from television to Twitter.
“The Justice Department was spying on reporters,” Stone says. “Could you imagine what would have happened if the Nixon administration was wiring and reading the mail from Walter Cronkite?”
So the question is: Given Obama’s laundry list of scandals, why are Americans content to leave him in the White House while Nixon had to resign?
Stone says it’s because a “giant expansion of executive power” has occurred along with the changing media landscape.
“Presidents have been abusing their executive power so long now that it’s no longer shocking to people,” he says. “Our civil liberties are slipping away and almost no one notices.”
“They should be shocked, they should be angry, but people aren’t. They were then, they’re not today, because the way we get information has changed.”
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.