In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Watergate trials, let’s dip our toes in that murky pool, shall we? We’ll start with the person Nixon blamed for Watergate: the Mouth of the South, Martha Mitchell.
What’s that? You don’t know who Mitchell was? Not surprising. She’s been elided right out of the Watergate stories. In fact, most of the participants have been gradually pushed to the background while Woodward and Bernstein still occupy center stage. That’s a whole other topic, though.
Anyway, Martha Mitchell. So you’re a Southern gal on your second marriage, this time to John Mitchell, the Attorney General for President Richard Nixon. You’re living in Washington, D.C., during that town’s most repressive era, when ladies were hostesses and representatives of their husbands and not much more. Your marriage crumbles and you separate. Maybe you start drinking a little too much to make it through the night. Then the Watergate break-in makes the news, and you know for a fact that your husband was involved. What’s a lonely, tipsy chatterer to do but ring up some members of the press and spill?
But you’re a woman, right? And you’ve been known to bend the elbow once or twice. So it’s pretty easy for your estranged husband to just quietly tell people that you’re, well, a drunk. Ladies don’t get drunk, right? Which means you’re not a lady. Which means you can’t be trusted. So not only are you discredited, but your entire family disowns you (except for your son Jay). You plead with people to believe that you were sedated and kept locked in a California motel room to keep you quiet, but everyone assumes you’re just addled by all your boozing.
This is what will happen afterward: The psychological term the Martha Mitchell Effect will be coined to describe a person whose relating of reality is dismissed as delusion. You will be diagnosed with a rare bone disease and die in 1976. And at your funeral (attended by your children and John Mitchell) will be a floral tribute that reads “Martha was right” in white chrysanthemums.