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The media coverage of Watergate gave us much of today’s concussive, ballistic jargon of scandal. There were “bombshells.” There were “smoking guns.” Ever since, we have measured controversies as if on a decibel meter, judging them by their “fireworks” and “explosive” drama.

如今在谈及丑闻时使用的许多骇人的、极具冲击力的术语,有不少来自当年对水门事件的报道。比如“bombshell”(爆炸性事件)和“smoking gun”(铁证)。从那以后,我们就像测噪音分贝那样衡量争议,评判那些“火爆”和“劲爆”的惊人事件。

But the most striking thing for a viewer in 2019, watching the gavel-to-gavel public-TV coverage of the first Senate hearings that began on May 17, 1973, is the quiet.


There are no flashy opening graphics, just a stately timpani over the text of a Senate resolution. There are no yammering newsroom panels, no countdown clocks, no hashtags. There’s just testimony in a hushed hearing room and two soft-spoken anchors at humdrum desks, trying to figure out what the president knew, when he knew it and whether democracy still worked.


You can stream all of public TV’s 1973 coverage — 51 days of it, up to six hours a night — at the American Archive for Public Broadcasting. (Helpfully, the site links to key highlights, like John Dean’s description of “a cancer growing on the presidency.”)

你可以在美国公共广播档案馆(American Archive for Public Broadcasting)观看所有1973年的公共电视节目——51天,每晚6小时。(网站还贴心地加了一些重要事件的链接,比如约翰·迪恩[John Dean]称“总统之位上长了一个肿瘤”。)

It’s a spoiler-proof rabbit hole, captivating even with the knowledge of how the finale ended. And with our own impeachment serial airing its pilot Wednesday, it’s a kind of time travel, a way to experience how different in tone and tenor our media and politics were nearly five decades ago.


For 15 weeks in 1973, the National Public Affairs Center for Television aired full, unedited tape of the hearings in prime time. In the words of Jim Lehrer, anchoring with Robert MacNeil, public TV ran the experiment “because we think it is important that you get a chance to see the whole thing and make your own judgments. Some nights we may be in competition with the late, late movie.”

1973年,国家公共事务中心电视台(National Public Affairs Center For Television)在黄金时段连续15周播放了未经编辑的完整听证会录像。用吉姆·莱勒(Jim Lehrer)与罗伯特·麦克尼尔(Robert MacNeil)主持节目时的话说,公共电视台进行这项实验,“是因为我们认为,让你有机会看到整件事,并做出自己的判断,是很重要的。有些晚上,我们的节目也许可以跟深夜电影一较高下。”

The movie would wait. Night after night, an audience followed twists and watched political celebrities and antiheroes be born. They took it in slowly, rather than bailing on it like a disappointing Netflix show because nothing earth-shattering happened in the first five hours. They showered PBS with donations, cards and letters. Wrote one viewer, “I arrive red-eyed and sleepy to work now and don’t care.”


As wrenching as Watergate was, the hearings themselves now appear almost genteel. Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr., the Democrat heading the committee, reads his opening statement in a sauntering drawl. At one point he mangles the word “incredulity” in such an elaborate way that, if it happened today, would be the immediate subject of viral memes, discussions about “optics” and maybe a presidential tweet about how “Stumblin’ Sam can’t even read his script straight! WITCH HUNT!!!”

相比水门事件带来的痛苦折磨,听证会本身堪称优雅斯文。委员会的民主党领袖、参议员小山姆·J·欧文(Sam J. Ervin Jr.)用拖腔慢吞吞地读着开场白。他一度用极为刻意的腔调读着“怀疑”这个词,这种事如果发生在今天,就会立即成为病毒式传播的米姆、有关“视力”的讨论,可能还有一条总统推文写道,“磕巴山姆连自己的剧本都读不对!政治迫害!!!”

As anchors, MacNeil and Lehrer are measured but blunt. They focus not on “perceptions” or “how this will play with Nixon’s base” but on the actual developments and charges: in MacNeil’s words, “the wide range of illegal, unethical or improper activities, established or still merely alleged, surrounding the re-election of President Nixon last year.”


Their idea of being honest brokers, in other words, does not mean applying a “both sides” equivalence to any controversy. It means being clear that there is an issue here — using dirty tricks to try to win an election — that goes beyond the interests of “sides,” or should.


The way Lehrer describes one day’s subject — “How Nixon campaign fund-raisers put the arm on American business last year, and also how and why corporation executives did what they were told, even if it meant violating the law” — is striking in its clarity. It’s not snarky or grandstanding. But it’s plain English, no hedging or sweetener. Anyone covering the coming hearings should watch and learn.


It is, in a way, the voice of a more homogeneous era. (In more ways than one. The 1973 proceedings were strikingly white and male on all sides of the camera; Senator Ervin had been a defender of segregation.) There was no Fox News, CNN or even C-SPAN; no YouTube, no TiVo, no Facebook. People accepted a shared baseline of information from the same (relatively) trusted sources.


Those sources felt responsibility and authority to announce when the warning lights were blinking on our institutional dashboards. And a wide cross-section of people were willing to listen.


Today, people will get their impeachment news from Rachel Maddow and Tucker Carlson, from late-night shows and podcasts, from social-media feeds already shaped to their personal ideological contours like a memory-foam mattress.

今天,人们得到弹劾新闻将是从雷切尔·玛多(Rachel Maddow)和塔克·卡尔森(Tucker Carlson)那里,从深夜秀和播客中,从社交媒体上已经成形的、像记忆棉床垫一样符合他们个人意识形态的消息来源。

All this has changed the language of politics. “Comity” has become a nostalgic weasel word, but you can’t help but be struck by it in the 1973 proceedings. I don’t mean it in the garden-party sense of Republicans and Democrats playing nice, but rather in the implicit sense that they feel an obligation to speak to the entire country, not their own loyalist camps.


The Republican senator Howard Baker, for instance, emphasized that the only way his party could be “mortally wounded” by Watergate would be “for the public to think that we Republicans don’t have the courage, the stamina and the determination to clean our own house.”

比如,共和党参议员霍华德·贝克(Howard Baker)强调,他的政党在水门事件中受到“致命打击”的唯一可能,就是“让公众看到我们共和党人没有清理自家门户的勇气、毅力和决心”。

Imagine any Republican saying the same thing today! Sean Hannity and MAGA Twitter would excommunicate them by sundown. (Don’t take my word for it; ask Justin Amash.)

想象一下今天任何一个共和党人说同样一番话!肖恩·汉尼提(Sean Hannity)和Twitter上的MAGA党人会在日落之前把它逐出人们视野。(用不着信我的,可以去问贾斯汀·阿玛什[Justin Amash]。)

The Watergate debate had its own partisans, of course, and persuadable Americans still exist today. But the closer analogue for today’s hearings — even though the charges were very different — might be the 1998-99 Bill Clinton impeachment, where the political and media arguments ultimately became less about what happened than whether to care.

水门事件的辩论当然有党派政治的成分,而今天的美国也有可以说服的人。但与今天的听证会更为相似的——尽管指控截然不同——可能是1998年至1999年的比尔·克林顿(Bill Clinton)弹劾案,其间政治和媒体的争论最终更多不在于发生了什么,而是要不要在意。

This past week, the public-TV veteran Bill Moyers and his collaborator Michael Winship urged PBS to air the impeachment hearings in prime time again. The network, citing today’s plethora of options, will instead stream the hearings and replay them at night on its digital channel World.

上周,公共电视台资深人士比尔·莫耶斯(Bill Moyers)和他的搭档迈克尔·温希普(Michael Winship)敦促美国公共广播公司(PBS)再次在黄金时段播出弹劾听证会。而电视网反而以现如今选择过剩为由,改为流媒体转播,并于晚间在数字频道世界台重播。

Would a prime-time replay be useful to anyone today? Sure: people who don’t have access to cable or internet, or those who prefer their nightly news unedited — at vast, multi-hour stretches — rather than sliced, diced and premasticated on cable.


In a way, though, arguing for a Watergate-style replay of the hearings, while commendable, is also a way of wishing that it could be 1973 again: that we could have that shared focus and trust.


That’s not to say that this year’s hearings will have no effect or change no minds. But they won’t be a collective experience. They’ll be a multimedia production, cacophonous, instantly spun and taken in by separate audiences as if they were watching entirely different programs.


This was not the case back in November 1973, when Jim Lehrer signed off the last megacast by addressing viewers as if they were the loyal fan base of a long-running water-cooler serial. The committee, he said, might be back after Thanksgiving for one more batch of testimony. “That’s the current plan, at least,” he said. “But as all regular Watergate watchers know, everything is subject to change.” That’s as true of the media as it is of politics.


James Poniewozik是首席电视评论家。他负责撰写有关电视的评论和文章,及其反映的不断变化的文化和政治。此前,他曾在《时代》杂志任职16年,担任专栏作家和评论家。欢迎在Twitter上关注他 @poniewozik。


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