Scandals often rock systems and societies unheralded. Most of the time, they come like a bolt from the blues. And their effects can be far reaching: the mighty might fall-check Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Or the mighty might be ruffled: see Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The impacts can actually be multidimensional. Journalism as a trade plays key role in the matrix, as have been seen in the past, in contemporary times, and even as it is likely to be in the future. Zamiyat Abubakar, of the AUN’s Communication, and Multi-Media Design department e-rays scandals, the place of the media practitioner, concluding with a projection into an ideal future. Excerpts
There have been a number of scandals that rocked the Nigerian and global scenes over the years. Scandals include all alarming, appalling or outrageous news, usually about a public figure. They usually concern immoral behaviors that bring shame to those involved when brought to public knowledge.
Scandals are defined by human interest; a large number of people have to be interested in the personality involved or subject matter for it to be considered a scandal. These scandals cut across all aspects of life; business, politics, entertainment, with some garnering more media attention than others. The scandals that happen in the world of politics and government tend to attract more media attention than others, as they usually affect the interests of the masses. Some of the more prominent scandals in the political sector on the national scene are; the death of Nigeria’s first lady, Stella Obasanjo due to plastic surgery, the assassination of Dele Giwa purportedly by the Babangida military administration, the unknown location and eventual death of President Yaradua in his time, and countless others. There have also been some international scandals that shook the globe at different times for different reasons. The Watergate scandal is one of such and it had a significant impact on the USA and the world.
The Watergate scandal was one of the most prominent and internationally publicized scandals of the 20th century. This was not surprising considering the fact that it took place in the United States of America (USA), a major world power. The Watergate scandal refers to the events that culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon on the 9th of August, 1974, from the presidency of the U.S. The Watergate scandal started in 1972 due to a burglary at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the Watergate complex by a group of five men. The break-in and the money found on the suspects were eventually linked to President Nixon and some federal agencies. The Nixon administration attempted to cover up the burglary and a series of crimes and abuses of power which they committed. After much contention, the United States Supreme Court eventually ordered Nixon to hand over tape recordings of implicating conversations that took place in his office. President Nixon was eventually forced to resign but was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford in the month following his resignation. About 70 other people were tried in court as a result of the scandal with 48 found guilty and sent to jail.
The media played a crucial role in the exposure of the government’s involvement in the Watergate scandal and uncovering all the other illegal activities committed by the Nixon administration. Two key journalists, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who reported for the Washington Post, used investigative reporting to uncover information that revealed how much the White House, Justice Department, FBI, and CIA were involved in attempts to cover up the break-in. These two men are seen as heroes in the history of journalism in America and are credited for bringing the Watergate scandal to the attention of the public. Bernstein and Woodward had one major informant in the FBI, then known with the code name of “Deep throat”. After more than 30 years, “deep throat” was revealed to be William Felt, the then FBI deputy director. It was later discovered that Felt also gave information to the Washington Daily Post, Time magazine, and other publications before he resigned from the FBI in 1973. William Felt met severally with Bob Woodward giving him crucial information about the scandal and warning him to be wary of the FBI.
In the process of the investigations, it was discovered that President Nixon had used his power to oppress and harass media organizations which he perceived as hostile to his administration. A study showed that applications to schools of journalism in America peaked in 1974, at the climax of the Watergate scandal.
The practice of journalism as well as people’s perceptions of journalists has been influenced by the publication of scandals in the media. With political scandals like the aforementioned example of the Watergate scandal, journalists act as watchdogs to the government and bring their transgressions to the attention of the populace. Journalists have the license and legal backing to go where ordinary people cannot in search of information.
Exposing scandals does not however always give journalists a good name. There have been times when people did not believe what they read in newspapers because they believe that journalists are interested in sensation and not accuracy. Due to the sometimes antagonistic standpoint that journalists take with governments, it could be dangerous to practice journalism in some countries. The exposure of scandals that incriminate or embarrass governments can lead to the harassment, assault, and even incarceration of journalists, especially in a military regime.
Scandals also bring about public distrust for the media because people believe journalists will report anything to sell papers. In their defense, some journalists do go to inappropriate lengths, infringing upon people’s privacy just to get a juicy story to report. This is especially true of scandals in the entertainment world, revealed by celebrity journalists or paparazzi. Some people also think that journalists actively seek to embarrass the government simply to develop controversy.
Scandals serve to bring to light things that were previously hidden, and provide the public with truths about personalities and issues. They also serve to entertain the public as people love a good scandalous story. Journalists should however be careful not to invade people’s privacy simply because they are looking for a scandal to report. There are boundaries which a journalist should respect and it is inappropriate to go digging around someone’s private life when the motive is not public interest. Reporting only scandals that are worth reporting will go a long way in restoring public trust in the media and increase people’s respect for the journalism profession.