Plugged-In Nation (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 12:00 am   3 min read

Julie Nixon Eisenhower with Martha Mitchell at a 1969 White House event. (White House Archives)

I was an apolitical Dogtown girl of 13 when Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States in 1974, and Watergate had been part of the popular vocabulary for two years — practically forever, you know. By the time I arrived in Pine Bluff to start my first reporting job in 1982, it seemed almost quaint that the highway leading into town had been named the Martha Mitchell Expressway.

Martha’s childhood home was a couple of blocks from the Commercial, and I knew that she had been the gossipy wife of John Mitchell, Nixon’s attorney general and campaign manager. But she was dead — at 57, the age I’ll be on my next birthday — and I was never very curious about that ancient history.

When I got to the Arkansas Gazette, I had the privilege of working with a legendary reporter named John Woodruff. One reason he was legendary was the middle-of-the-night phone call he received from Martha Mitchell. But that had happened in 1970, even before the burglary that set off the Watergate scandal.

My sister once told me that time stretches and folds, so that events seem further apart or closer together than they really were. Watergate somehow seems nearer and more relevant to me in 2018 than it did in the 1970s and ‘80s, and not just because I devoured Slate.com’s excellent podcast called “Slow Burn.” Leon Neyfakh, the journalist who conceived and hosted “Slow Burn,” is in his early 30s, and his wide-eyed wonder made the story of a desperate, dishonest president surrounded by desperate, dishonest sycophants as fresh as today’s Twitter feed.

And to my amazement, Neyfakh’s starting point was an episode called “Martha.” The woman whose public warnings about illegal activities were dismissed as the ravings of an alcoholic nutcase becomes the heroine. Neyfakh even cites “the Martha Mitchell effect,” the name credited to psychologist Brendan Maher for a phenomenon in which accurate perceptions of real events are dismissed as delusions and attributed to mental illness. (A related phenomenon is “gaslighting.” Deliberately making someone, typically a woman, doubt her own perceptions and sanity is a time-tested technique for covering up sexual harassment.)

“Slow Burn” has completed its exploration of Watergate, so you slowpokes can now binge on the complete series rather than waiting for the next weekly installment. And later this year, Neyfakh will be back with another tale of presidential misbehavior: the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That one will undoubtedly drip with Arkansas connections. I expect its quaintness will come from the role played by the infant internet — and possibly from the concern the Republican Party used to express about a president’s truthfulness and sexual morality. Those were the days, huh?


Since my belated discovery of the joys of podcasts last year, I have been amazed by the variety of topics available. Several programs that I first became acquainted with on NPR have made seamless transitions to the podcastosphere, like “On the Media” and “Planet Money.”

I’ve never been a big fan of Glynn Washington’s “Snap Judgment,” which I’ve heard on KUAR-FM, the NPR affiliate at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, but his limited podcast series called “Heaven’s Gate” blew me away. The UFO cult’s mass suicide was big news for several days in 1997, but the group’s founding and history were completely new to me. Washington’s own upbringing in Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God gives him unexpected insight into the cult mindset.

If cults interest you, the long-running “BackStory” podcast has an episode on the Branch Davidians ahead of this spring’s 25th anniversary of the FBI siege that ended so badly at Waco, Texas. “BackStory” has a lot of good episodes in which historians bring context to topics as varied as the flu epidemic and political sloganeering.

“Freakonomics,” another podcast pioneer, is thought-provoking if uneven in quality. Right now I’m chewing on an episode called “Is America Ready for a ‘No-Lose Lottery’?” about the idea of savings accounts in which pooled interest is periodically awarded to one saver. Texas recently amended its state constitution to allow such prize-linked savings accounts.

“Stay Tuned With Preet,” hosted by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the New York district that includes Manhattan, is my favorite current events podcast. Timothy Ferriss’ “Tribe of Mentors” podcast, a spinoff of his book on business leadership, has also given me things to think about.

If there are other podcasts you think I might enjoy, drop me a line.


Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

 

 

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