The Watergate scandal is perfect fodder for both journalists and Hollywood studios.
Deception! Intrigue! A White House in crisis mode!
It’s no wonder Hollywood created memorable films tied to the scandal over the years, notably “All the President’s Men,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Nixon,” and even “Forrest Gump.” How could the industry resist?
Except Hollywood can’t quit Watergate, even if audiences may be tiring of the subject. Last year, we saw a star-studded recreation of the GOP crisis, and we’ll soon see another high-profile series based on Nixon’s downfall.
It’s hardly a secret why Hollywood keeps cranking out Watergate-related stories. The industry adores taking shots at Republicans, be it President Donald J. Trump or a leader whose Beltway skills were no match for his political paranoia.
Watergate is too ripe a scandal to leave in the past.
Plus, the era reminds us of a time when journalists doggedly pursued the truth and held the powerful to account. That only happens, alas, when a Republican is in the Oval Office in the 21st Century.
And let’s not forget how Hollywood liberals lionize reporters any chance they get.
Watergate refers both to the D.C. hotel where Nixon’s minions broke into the Democrat National Committee’s headquarters and the machinations behind it and the cover up.
The last few years have seen major films tied to President Richard M. Nixon’s undoing. Liam Neeson portrayed the man known as Deep Throat, in the 2017 drama “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.”
The film hit theaters in the heat of awards season, but got summarily ignored by voters across the Hollywood landscape. Neither critics nor crowds gave the film much respect.
That same year, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep teamed up for “The Post.” The film took a loving look at both The Washington Post and its reporters’ efforts to publish the Pentagon Papers. President Nixon anchors the film’s waning moments as The Post investigated a curious burglary at the Watergate hotel.
Documentarians also have had a field day with Watergate.
The 2022 film “The Martha Mitchell Effect” (40 minutes) recalled the wife of the U.S. attorney general who tried to warn the public about nefarious actions within the Nixon White House. Some within Nixon’s inner circle tried to dismiss the charges by alleging Martha Mitchell suffered from mental health woes, but the facts eventually proved her right.
Last year, CBS and Paramount+ teamed to bring us “Watergate: High Crimes in the White House.” The documentary, released 50 years after the initial burglary, looked at how a seemingly minor crime ballooned into a crisis that ended Nixon’s presidency.
CNN pounced on the anniversary, too, producing a docuseries called “Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal,” narrated by former Nixon White House counsel John Dean.
Not all Watergate-themed projects draw a crowd, though. “Mark Felt” earned an embarrassing $768,946 at U.S. theaters, and the Starz series “Gaslit” got all but ignored by the pop culture zeitgeist.
That 2022 series boasted two Oscar winners – Sean Penn and Julia Roberts – plus stories that allegedly got less attention during the 1970s. The limited series included Martha Mitchell (Roberts) and her attempts to blow the whistle on White House malfeasance.
Starz uncorks another Watergate-themed movie this spring. “18 ½,” named after the gap in time found in the Watergate tapes, is a companion piece, of sorts, to the channel’s “Gaslit.” Dubbed a thriller/comedy, “18 ½” follows a woman who turns on President Nixon and leaks the infamous tape to a reporter. The film stars Willa Fitzgerald, John Magaro, Vondie Curtis Hall, Richard Kind, Sullivan Jones and the voice of cult movie fave Bruce Campbell as Nixon.
This year, Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux team for HBO’s “White House Plumbers,” Partly based on the book “Integrity” by Egil “Bud” Krogh and Matthew Krogh, “Plumbers” explore how Nixon’s saboteur dream team — Harrelson as E. Howard Hunt and Theroux as G. Gordon Liddy — ended up doing more damage to the cause than good.
The project, co-produced by liberal scribe Frank Rich, focuses both on the humorous aspects of the crisis as well as the nuts and bolts details of the initial burglary.
Why the drip-drip-drip of Hollywood projects based on Watergate? The industry understands the soft power that storytelling offers, and it relentlessly applies it across the creative board. It’s why we see a similar onslaught of stories based on the 1950s blacklist era.
That historical chapter showed the GOP’s cartoonish overreach, plus it paints Hollywood figures like screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in heroic fashion.
Hollywood isn’t done with the Blacklist era, either.
This year, we’ll see “McCarthy,” a feature-length biography of the hard-charging senator played by Michael Shannon.
Plus, these films and TV shows allow the artists to not only explore the past but use history as a modern-day cudgel against their ideological foes. The film’s director, Václav Marhoul, made “McCarthy” to draw parallels between the senator and modern politicians.
“These people are very dangerous. And I realized this when I watched the news in January and saw Donald Trump and his call for the Capitol attack. But it’s not just about Trump. Over the past decade in Europe and all over the world, there are so many Joe McCarthys. For instance in Brazil it’s Bolsonaro, in England, it’s Johnson. It’s about populism,” Marhoul said.
Journalists, who openly root for one party over another, will prod these stars to make statements like this without the benefit of balance or fact checks.
Nixon becomes Trump, or Ron DeSantis, or Ted Cruz. Whatever works for the artist in question, and that message gets spread far and wide.
That means we haven’t seen the last of Watergate on screens large and small.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.