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Recommendation: Slate’s podcast series about Watergate, Slow Burn

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2018

There are many cultural and political lenses through which to view the Trump Presidency — reality TV, Mike Judge’s alarmingly prescient Idiocracy, the OJ Simpson case, Germany in the 1930s — but perhaps the most relevant is through the lens of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. A lot of what I know about Watergate came through cultural osmosis (Johnny Carson and SNL were still doing Watergate jokes in the 80s when I started watching) and movies like All the President’s Men, and I suspect that’s true of many Americans who are too young to have lived through it. We may know the broad strokes, but that’s about it.

Enter Slow Burn, a podcast by Slate about some of the lesser known stories surrounding Watergate and what it felt like to experience it as the scandal unfolded. Here’s series host Leon Neyfakh describing what the show is about:

Why are we revisiting Watergate now? The connections between the Nixon era and today are obvious enough. But to me, the similarity that’s most striking is not between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon (although they’re both paranoid, vengeful, and preoccupied with “loyalty”), or their alleged crimes (although they both involved cheating to win an election), or the legal issues in the two cases (although they both center on obstruction of justice).

Rather, it’s that people who lived through Watergate had no idea what was going to happen from one day to the next, or how it was all going to end. I recognize that feeling. The Trump administration has made many of us feel like the country is in an unfamiliar, precarious situation. Some days it seems like our democratic institutions won’t survive, or that permanent damage has already been done. Pretty much every day, we are buffeted by news stories that sound like they’ve been ripped out of highly stressful and very unrealistic novels.

The point of Slow Burn is to look back on the most recent time Americans went through this en masse, and to put ourselves in their shoes.

Historical events like these make great podcast subjects; I’ve also listened to LBJ’s War recently. Reading articles or books about these topics is one thing, but actually listening to the investigators, journalists, lawyers, and Congressmen talk about about their roles in and perceptions of Watergate, both in contemporary interviews and recordings from that period, adds a lively and engaging aspect to these stories. I mean, just hearing Nixon on those secret tapes and then in press conferences saying that he had done nothing wrong…it’s completely gripping. I’ve been thinking up excuses to go for drives this past week just so I can get my Slow Burn fix.