Martha Beall Mitchell and The Watergate Scandal…
For those with no more than a passing interest in the Nixon/Watergate scandal of the 1970s will surely miss out on layer upon layer of intrigue, deception and the horrific abuse of power on many levels. The outing of Nixon unravelled many sordid details, exposed untouchables and forever changed the lives of those involved and the sense of distrust by the American voters for their public officials.
Martha Beall Mitchell was a case in point of how the waves of a scandal spread outwards, how powerful men can be so easily undone by women of seemingly greater insignificance. Martha Mitchell was the wife of John Mitchell, the US Attorney General under the Nixon administration from 1969 to 1972. John Mitchell was found guilty of controlling secret slush funds to pay for intelligence gathering on Nixon’s political rivals as part of an ongoing dirty tricks campaign which included wire tapping and ultimately, burglary which became the Watergate Scandal in 1972.
From 1969 to 1971 her stock in the Republican Party had risen considerably through her work on the campaign trail, fundraising activities and staunch support of Nixon during Vietnam but by the time of Watergate, Martha Mitchell had become somewhat of a thorn in the Nixon/Mitchell relationship to the extent that years later Nixon would become very critical of her and her actions which he believed proved a fatal distraction for his Attorney General and the uncovering of the inter-party espionage. As the story unfolded a drink-soaked Mitchell would become infamous for calling journalists late at night implicating her husband whilst he was strenuously denying it and lambasting the current state of the country under the administration her husband ranked so highly under.
Mitchell presented a larger than life image, it isn’t difficult to imagine the life a woman married to a senior politician during the 60s and 70s would have led, for many the trappings were not sufficient reward for errant husbands and a lack of career options. Mitchell in sobriety, one imagines, played the perfect role and observed the political protocols of the time but a combination of personal and political pressures drove her to alcoholism and a relatively early death from myeloma in 1976.
The Mitchells divorced in 1973 when she would claim to have been locked in a hotel room and sedated to prevent her from making further revelatory phone calls to the press. It was the Nixon administration who told the press that she was alcohol dependant and such was the discredit returned by Nixon’s aides as well as her own comments and allegations that all but her son cut ties with her in disgust.
‘The Mouth of the South’ as she was called left the world with a legacy worth a moment’s consideration. Her allegations were dismissed by the Nixon administration as symptomatic of her ‘mental issues’, a discredited figure whose mental state could not be counted on for legitimate accuracy. ‘The Martha Mitchell Effect’ is the medical term now given to a case when a psychiatrist or psychologist mistakes a patients understanding of real events as disillusional and misdiagnosed as mentally unstable.
Was Mitchell worthy of pity? To some extent one would be inclined to say yes, but ultimately perhaps, she was crushed by the wheels of the machinery she helped to build. A lesson many of us might wish to consider?