45 years of Watergate: Why the journalism of the Washington Post-NYT holds lessons for today’s media

What could have been passed off as an innocuous burglary became one of the biggest stories in journalism globally.

On June 17, 1972, burglars owing allegiance to the Republican Party broke into the office of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington DC and tried to steal secrets that could embarrass their rivals in the Democratic Party. What could have been passed off as an innocuous burglary became one of the biggest stories in journalism globally, and reshaped the way reporters could hold establishments accountable. The story started in 1972 and nearly two years of courageous reporting led to the resignation of the then United States President Richard Nixon on August 8, 1974.

That was 45 years ago. Ideally, the episode should have set higher standards for journalism globally. It did not.

Brothers in arms

On May 19 this year, the New York Times tweeted a column by James Stewart praising The Washington Post for its stellar work in exposing links between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians. Stewart was referring to the Post’s latest break on how Trump may have revealed highly classified intelligence that had come to the Central Intelligence Agency through the Israelis during a chat at the White House. The story was astounding and Stewart went on to describe how important the reporting by the Post was.

The story was tweeted by the official handle of The New York Times, followed immediately by a second tweet asking their followers to follow The Washington Post’s Twitter handle. The Washington Post replied within minutes, posting a GIF image of the two main characters from the TV series The X-Files. It was an acknowledgement that they were partners in a national narrative to use journalism to expose the truth.

To those not familiar with the two newspapers, their relationship goes back decades, embodying a healthy competitive spirit that has defined journalism in many ways. This is beautifully captured by Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their book on the Watergate scandal, All The President’s Men.

The Watergate investigation was a very difficult one. As the two reporters stumbled from one scrap of information to the other, their editors often expressed frustration. A scene from the now famous 1976 film based on the book has Jason Robards, portraying the then Post editor Ben Bradlee, burst out saying: “When the f#*k is someone going on record on this story?” Those are the dilemmas an editor faces in the newsroom every day.

At another point in the investigation, the two reporters are hunched over the fax machine, waiting for The New York Times to send across a facsimile of its front page. The papers had started a tradition of exchanging front pages before they went into print. For the two Post reporters, it was a low point in their investigation with sources drying up, and they were keen to see if The New York Times had broken new ground. As expected, it had broken a big story that would push the investigation forward. And not only was The New York Times expressing support for The Washington Post, it was actively helping push the investigation. While the reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, hunted as a pair, so did the two newspapers.

But this was not the first instance, or the last one, of the two newspapers thus partnering up. In 1971, when The New York Times scooped the secret Pentagon Papers, exposing the United States government’s lies about the Vietnam war, The Washington Post immediately gave chase, getting their own copy of the papers. The Nixon administration immediately moved court to shut down the publication. It was left to these two newspapers to go to court and push it to the Supreme Court, which ruled with a majority of 6-3 that freedom of the press was supreme and outweighed all other concerns, including national security.

Journalism in the Trump era

Once again, after the election of President Donald Trump, who assumed office in January, we see the two newspapers combine their journalistic skills to push the expose, doggedly following every lead. They have received active support from their colleagues in other media organisations, be it CNN or the Los Angeles Times or the online media. Largely together, the media has acted as a bulwark against Trump, pushing back on his claims and fact-checking everything to reveal the truth.

This is not easy in a post-truth or alternative-facts world. Facts have stopped mattering, as belief has taken over. Tweets by Trump labelling inconvenient reports as “fake news” has sought to delegitimise the one institution that has refused to toe his line – the media. So, a familiar campaign has started where Trump and his online followers target the media by quietly shutting out facts and uncomfortable questions that could undermine his presidency. But the papers and the media have not given up, and continue to use the first amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees them their freedom to report.

What has encouraged this counter-narrative is the willingness of media houses to continue to fund reporting. Journalism can be expensive business: salaries have to be paid and technology upgraded to survive the competition. For media owners, the return on investment can get frustrating as balance sheets refuse to justify the costs.

But that has not been the case here. Despite major cutbacks and layoffs, major media houses have continued to fund investigations and journalists so that they can go about doing their reportage. This, in turn, as both The New York Times and The Washington Post are realising, has helped them find new audiences and new revenue streams to support their work.

Journalism in the Modi era

There is a fallacy that the media in India has become more subservient than it was earlier. Clearly, this is not the case. The role of the media in India, just after the Watergate scandal was winding down, is well documented and shameful. Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani’s famous quote – “Some crawled when asked to bend” – will be forever immortalised as a damning indictment of the media in India during the Emergency, a 21-month-long period in the 1970s when civil liberties were curbed and the press censored.

At no time has India witnessed a partnership like that between The New York Times and The Washington Post, hunting as a pair, except perhaps in the investigation into the Bofors scandal – which implicated the Rajiv Gandhi government in allegations of receiving kickbacks from Swedish defence firm Bofors AB for the supply of Howitzer guns – when The Indian Express and The Hindu chased the story with help from The Statesman. But it was not really a partnership.

As pressures have increased and bottom lines have shrunk, media houses have cut down on reporting: the key ingredient that differentiated the media from other publications. Today, opinions rule the market. This is not because the Indian audience has evolved significantly to grow on an exclusive diet of opinions. This is because opinions are cheap. Everyone has them and they can be churned out quickly. Panel discussions on television news channels are the electronic version of opinion in print.

A TV panel shouts, provokes and fights, with a screaming anchor thrown in the mix, while reportage and facts are shelved. This is convenient and cheap. A guest on a panel discussion costs Rs 4,000 or less, and the topic is the outrage of the day. This means the channel has no need to spend money on supporting reporters who can get stories. The visuals come from a single agency, further cutting costs, while the outrage of the day not only makes for a good bottom line but also decent viewership, all translating into revenue.

So, we are now witness to a phenomenon where TV channels focus on the Opposition rather than the government. Take the delay in extraditing Vijay Mallya, whose now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines owes banks several thousand crores in unpaid loans, from the United Kingdom. Instead of talking about the inordinate delay by the Central Bureau of Investigation in filing the necessary papers in the British court, a TV channel instead asks if India should break off diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. The fact that the courts are independent of the British government is cast aside. The fact that the Central Bureau of Investigation, which reports to a ministry headed by the prime minister, has delayed submitting its papers is ignored as well. Facts can be inconvenient and impede efforts to manufacture consent.

The same abuse of those in the media who question the establishment in the United States has been prevalent in India since 2014, when the BJP government took over. This is not to say the insidious relationship between media owners and the establishment did not exist earlier. It existed, and was brought out in great detail by the Radia tapes in 2008-2009, which saw hundreds of conversations between lobbyist Nira Radia and senior editors trying to fix everything from newspaper coverage to ministerial berths.

Those compromises weakened Indian journalists to such an extent that they have had to either hold on to their contracts or report the story. Clearly, the former pays the bills while the latter only earns new enemies.

In the 45th year of the Watergate scandal and the investigative journalism that defined it, these are important thoughts to ponder. The fate of a democracy depends on it.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.