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Less than 30 minutes
  • Journalism
  • Politics
  • 9-12
  • College/University

  1. Tell students that they will learn more about the role of the press in the historic Watergate scandal. Check for background knowledge by asking:
    • What do you know about the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon?
    • How does the press play a role in politics?
  2. The journalists who broke this story relied heavily on anonymous sources and had to weigh the risks and benefits of printing information from individuals who did not want to be named. These journalists also demonstrated the power of investigative reporting, protected by freedom of the press, to unearth government corruption, keep the public informed and bring about political change.
  3. Explain that as they watch the video, students will look at the ethical guidelines journalists attempt to follow when dealing with high-stakes stories. Hand out copies of the viewing guide worksheet. Have students read the questions before watching the video and then take notes as they watch
  4. Watch the video.
  5. Ask students to complete the comprehension questions (in class or for homework).

  • “Watergate” Video Lesson worksheet (download), one per student
  • Internet connection to watch “Watergate” video
  • “Watergate” handout (download, optional)

You may wish to assign one or more of these questions as short essays for homework.

  • John Mitchell stated: “Neither the president nor anyone in the White House, or anybody in authority in any of the committees working for the re-election of the president, have any responsibility for [the Watergate break-in].” Evidence showed this was a lie. How should journalists report statements that are not true? Is it a journalist’s job to call a lie a lie, or just to report what was said?
  • The Washington Post used anonymous sources for much of the information that appeared in its Watergate reporting. What is an anonymous/unnamed source? What are the pros and cons of using unnamed sources?
  • The press is sometimes referred to as a “watchdog” in our society. How is the press a watchdog? Whom is it watching, and why? Why is this role important in a democracy?
  • How should reporters evaluate whether or not to publish information that could harm an individual or jeopardize a person’s job? When is it ethical (right) to publish this information? When is it unethical (wrong)?
  • How did the White House fight back against the accusations the news media published? Were these tactics effective?
  • Imagine you are the editor of a large newspaper, and two young reporters come to you with a story they say could lead to the impeachment of the president. What questions would you ask these reporters? What evidence would you want to see? How would you decide whether or not to publish their story?
  • The live TV broadcasts of the Watergate hearings in 1973 were a big deal. How do you think these live broadcasts affected the course of events? What types of hearings are going on in government today? Would you prefer to watch these hearings live or read/watch a report about them after the fact? Why?

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