History in Journalism and Journalism in History: Anthony Lewis and the Watergate Crisis

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John Wiley & Sons, Inc.




Let me plunge right into a Lewis column to convey his marvelous craft in weaving the past into a contemporary moment. This one is from July 8, 1974. The column is about the oral argument before the Supreme Court in the Executive Privilege case, which was about to enter the constitutional canon as United States v. Nixon. Lewis writes as both eyewitness and commentator. He begins with constitutional history invoking Marbury v. Madison:

"It seemed at times like a constitutional casebook come to life. Marbury v. Madison was not only cited but, for a moment, debated. What exactly had Chief Justice Marshall done in 1803 when he held that the Supreme Court was the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution? Had [P]resident Jefferson won or lost ...?"

Lewis then tells us who came to watch and listen: "College students had lined up overnight to be there for what they were sure would be a remembered moment. There were also H.R. Haldeman and five members of the House Judiciary Committee that is conducting the impeachment inquiry." This composition gives us a telescopic view of America: representatives of the people, the White House, and the Congress all present in the courtroom. One hears the trumpet heralding a historic moment.

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