SV students discuss Watergate coverup

February 7, 2018 Cranberry Local News

Students in Jim Lucot’s AP Government and Politics class at Seneca Valley Senior High School talked with author Barry Sussman via Skype on Monday. Sussman was the city news editor at the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal.

JACKSON TWP — AP Government and Politics students at Seneca Valley Senior High School had a chance to chat with a renowned author and former Washington Post editor.

Barry Sussman visited the students in Jim Lucot’s class Monday morning through a video chat on Skype to talk with students about Watergate, politics and journalism.

Sussman was city news editor at the Washington Post during the Watergate break-in and led the newspaper’s subsequent coverage of the scandal. He wrote the book “The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate” that is now considered to be a Watergate classic, Lucot said.

The book is a required reading for Lucot’s class.

Sussman said at the time they had no idea their coverage would lead to trouble for President Richard Nixon.

“We had a good story,” he said. “We wanted to follow through from beginning to end.”

Sussman said he wanted his visit to be more of a conversation than a lecture, so students were free to come up and ask questions of the author and editor.

Henry von Rintelen, a senior, asked Sussman if there was a similar mistrust of the media during the Watergate scandal as there is now.

Sussman mentioned how then-Vice President Spiro Agnew called the press “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

He said the criticism was not as bad as being called “fake news,” but the press was seen as the opposition for the Nixon administration.

Henry said it was fun being able to talk to Sussman directly and interact with him.

“It was a great opportunity,” he said. “It was nice to get his perspective.”

Sussman said the secret informant Deep Throat, revealed later to be FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, was never important in their coverage of the Watergate scandal, although that opinion is not shared by many others.

Sussman said Deep Throat was there to confirm information, but Deep Throat didn’t provide leads and sometimes gave them incorrect information or purposely steered them away from stories.

“What you’re dealing with there is a myth,” he said of Deep Throat’s critical involvement in the reporting process.

Sussman said the reporters working on the Watergate story worked hard and had many sources, not just Deep Throat.

When asked about the best journalists today, Sussman said he didn’t want to name anyone individually. But he did say there are some great news organizations, like the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Sussman said the Washington Post went downhill after its prize-winning coverage of the Watergate scandal, but is going through a “golden age” now since Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the newspaper and began investing in it.

Anna Althouse, a senior, asked Sussman how journalism in general has changed from the Watergate scandal to now.

“In life, things seem to get better and worse at the same time,” he said. “That’s happening with journalism, too.”

Sussman said during Watergate, there were few voices in the media covering big national issues like Watergate. Now there are many voices, but “we don’t hear from them enough,” he said.

However, nonprofit news organizations and freelancers are unaffiliated with any news organization and are doing good work, he said.