from Comey to Watergate

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz predicts that Donald Trump will get away with his unprecedented firing of FBI Director James Comey. The current crisis differs from Watergate for a number of reasons, but especially because of the press.

In 1973, dogged reporting by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post kept the Watergate story alive, after most news outlets had dropped it. Once their reporting gained traction, the rest of the press picked up the scandal and kept up the pressure on the Nixon White House. Today, Trump can count on the fervent support of propaganda operations that Nixon could only have prayed for, including the unabashedly polemical Fox News and Breitbart News, as well as the countless bloggers (and, for that matter, Russian-controlled cyberbots) pumping out pro-Trump propaganda.

As I write this, one Fox commentator after another is parroting the White House’s absurd claim that Trump fired Comey because of the terrible things the FBI director did to Clinton during the campaign. One almost expects the network’s biggest star, Sean Hannity, to start leading on-air anti-Comey chants of “Lock Him Up!”

Sean Wilentz, “A Long Way from Comey to Watergate“, Project Syndicate, 11 May 2017.

Sean Wilentz (born 1951) specializes in US history. His latest book is The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (Norton, 2016).

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