The Starz series Gaslit is just the latest in a boom of TV shows based on real-life scams and scandals. Unlike recent hits such as The Girl From Plainville or The Dropout, however, the crimes Gaslit centers around go all the way to the top. The infamous Watergate scandal, which resulted in the collapse of former U.S. president Richard Nixon’s administration and career, was examined in the series through the lens of characters largely left out of the historical narrative. If you’re looking to engross yourself further in this massive political scandal now that the finale has aired, we’ve got just the right recommendations for you.
If you decide to listen to only one podcast about the Watergate scandal, make it this one. Slow Burn’s first season, which provided the basis for Gaslit, centers around the chaotic and unprecedented scandal. Among the subjects of the podcast is Martha Mitchell, who serves as Gaslit’s focal point in Julia Roberts as “a woman who knew too much,” according to Slow Burn host Leon Neyfakh.
“Watergate Revisited with Garrett Graff” from The Lawfare Podcast
Watergate was a massive political event for many reasons, and these complicated, often contradicting reasons are why it continues to be examined. After all, isn’t it important to look to the past in order to not repeat history? In this episode of The Lawfare Podcast, host David Priess discusses the intricacies of Watergate with author Garrett Graff and how it is still affecting government policies today. You might be surprised just how much this scandal changed the U.S. government as we know it.
You can’t possibly have a Watergate recommendation list without including the works of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. The two former Washington Post journalists helped expose the entire scandal to begin with! All The President’s Men is an absolute must read for anyone looking to learn more about Watergate.
While All The President’s Men took a look at the entire Watergate scandal at the time, The Final Days has a more singular approach. The second book from Bernstein and Woodward explored the crumbling of the Richard Nixon presidency amid the ongoing scandal. It details how his involvement destroyed the reputations of himself and his staff, eventually resulting in Nixon’s resignation and the impeachment trials held against him.
Woodward was on his own for this book, but this story is no less interesting than the others he wove with Bernstein. The Secret Man centers around former FBI associate director Mark Felt, who was revealed in 2005 to be the enigmatic informant known only as Deep Throat. Throughout the book, Woodward describes his strained yet critical relationship with Felt, whose anonymously-published intel led to the downfall of Nixon’s presidency.
Of course, Felt was not the only informant involved in exposing Watergate. The stories of the other informants, led by former congressman Tip O’Neill, are documented in How the Good Guys Finally Won. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jimmy Breslin showcases the controversy from their side, from discovering the inklings of corruption to exposing them on a nationwide scale.
The newest history book to be written about Watergate, Graff’s has already been cited as one of the most comprehensive and diverse retellings of the scandal. This praise isn’t without merit — Watergate: A New History examines the infamous event through the eyes of journalists, informants, and politicians that saw its effects play out in real time. While it is easy to solely attribute Watergate to Nixon, Graff’s book looks deeper into the lives of those affected in one way or another by the scandal.
The 1970s gave rise to two events that left an indelible mark on culture: Watergate and the mainstream proliferation of nunsploitation. The Muriel Spark novel The Abbess of Crewe might not make any direct references to Watergate, but it was written as a parodical allegory to the scandal, with the nuns paralleling some of its most controversial figures in their quest to climb the ranks of their church.
All the President’s Men (1976)
It should come as no surprise that the definitive Watergate book resulted in perhaps the definitive Watergate movie. Having been awarded the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1977, the film follows Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Woodward (Robert Redford) as they cover the first seven months of the Watergate scandal. In these early months, they discover a lot more than they bargained for, opening up the potential for a nation-defining scandal. Even if the scope was trimmed down in this dramatization, Alan J. Pakula’s third entry in his unofficial “paranoia trilogy” serves not only as arguably the best movie about Watergate, but also one of the best political thrillers ever made.
Nasty Habits (1977)
If you thought that reading the aforementioned The Abbess of Crewe was absurd, wait until you see it play out in this adaptation. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg of Let It Be fame, Sister Alexandra (Glenda Jackson) becomes determined to win an upcoming election to decide her convent’s Abbess of Crewe. Running against her rival, Sister Felicity (Susan Penhaligon), she finds herself stopping at nothing to ensure she wins in a landslide. This drama culminates in Alexandra hiring two students (Harry Ditson and Christopher Muncke) to steal suspected letters from Felicity to her secret lover.
Secret Honor (1984)
Robert Altman’s adaptation of this one-man show by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone could be considered a companion piece to the below adaptation of The Final Days. However, while The Final Days dramatizes the fallout of Watergate throughout Nixon’s White House, Secret Honor has a laser focus on the man himself. Locked inside his New Jersey home’s study, a frantic Nixon (Philip Baker Hall) tries to figure out a way to absolve himself of any blame for the Watergate scandal. He records his desperate ramblings on a tape recorder as he continuously drinks whiskey and contemplates using the gun locked away in his study for something drastic.
The Final Days (1989)
Of course, All The President’s Men is not the only Woodward and Bernstein book to have been adapted into a movie. Airing on ABC in 1989, this movie showcases the slow descent of the Nixon administration’s credibility as the Watergate scandal worsens. While primarily focusing on Nixon (Lane Smith), it is also a strong ensemble piece, one that aims to emphasize that Nixon was not the only high-ranking official that was involved in the scandal.
While most other films on this list are adaptations of biographical nonfiction, Andrew Fleming’s 1999 film Dick takes a more artistic approach to the Watergate scandal. Best friends Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams) find themselves in the predicament of a lifetime when they accidentally expose the infamous break-in at the Watergate Hotel. In an attempt to keep them quiet, Nixon (Dan Hedaya) employs the teenage girls as his dog walkers, resulting in them becoming the infamous Deep Throat. More comedic than accurate, Dick is a fun reimagining that deserves a spot in the Criterion Collection.
While not directly about the crimes surrounding Watergate, this film centers on Nixon’s role in the scandal. Based on the Peter Morgan play of the same name, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon dramatizes the intense series of interviews conducted by journalist David Frost (Michael Sheen) between him and the disgraced president. With Frost seeking the truth about his scandals, Nixon (Frank Langella) is desperate to control the narratives swirling around him. With a sharp script and compelling performances, Frost/Nixon secured five Academy Award nominations.