Art and Politics: The 50th Anniversary of Watergate

Posted by on May 13, 2022 in Top Stories, United States

In the early 1970s, the United States government experienced the Watergate scandal. The investigation led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Now, the National Portrait Gallery has produced an art exhibit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of this moment in American history. Here, btw takes a closer look at Watergate: Portraiture and Intrigue 

What Was Watergate? 

vector art portrait of Richard Nixon
Illustration of President Richard Nixon

Early in the morning of June 17, 1972, burglars were arrested while breaking into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) office. These offices were in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. At the time, Republican Richard Nixon was campaigning for re-election. Police investigation discovered that the burglars were connected to Nixon’s campaign. They stole important documents and wiretapped the DNC office’s phones. In August 1972, Nixon stated that he wasn’t connected to the events of the burglary. The American people believed him, and he was re-elected in November.  

However, two journalists from The Washington Post–Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein–suspected that Nixon was involved. Their investigation revealed that President Nixon had tried to cover up the incident. He paid the burglars to stay silent about his involvement. The president also instructed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to block the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) investigation. In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up, and several Constitutional violations. Nixon resigned his presidency on August 9, 1974, before the Senate impeachment trial. Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as president, and later pardoned Nixon for all his crimes. However, several of Nixon’s aides were sent to federal prison. 

What is Included in the Exhibit? 

The National Portrait Gallery’s Watergate exhibit features more than twenty artifacts from the era, including twelve Time magazine covers about the scandal. The exhibit also features portraits of the major players involved. Some of the portraits include President Nixon, White House lawyer John Dean, and Margaret Mitchell, who was the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell. also incorporates political cartoons, comic strips, and other media responses. The exhibit explores the Watergate era through the lens of the scandal’s artists, critics, and journalists. 

Why is this Exhibit Useful? 

The National Portrait Gallery says that its intention is to explore critical questions about U.S. government and the public. The exhibit can raise questions about the limits of presidential power. The exhibit is on view now through September 5, 2022. 

Dig Deeper Use your social studies program or Internet resources to familiarize yourself with some other key terms surrounding the Watergate scandal. What was the Saturday Night Massacre? What is All the President’s Men