By Gen Terblanche11 September 2023
Hail to the thief in White House Plumbers and 6 more tales of political fails
South Africa had Guptagate and Farmgate, Ariana Grande gave Donutgate a lick, gamer bros created Gamergate, Chris Rock and Will Smith got the Oscar for Slapgate. And it all leads back to one place: The Watergate Hotel, on 17 June 1972, where arrests led to the downfall of the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. The scandal rocked politics so hard that it opened the gate-gate for literally hundreds of scandals to come.
The arrest of five men who broke into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office-apartment-hotel complex proved to be the thread that unravelled a tangled ball of cheating, lying and double dealing disgrace. The exposure shamed then-US President Richard M Nixon into resigning his office instead of doubling down with even greater lies. Imagine.
This satirical September we take a deep dive into Watergate in the political comedy-drama series White House Plumbers, along with six more series about dirty politics that get our vote as most scandalous.
White House Plumbers is based on Egil and Matthew Krogh’s 2007 book, Integrity, which centres on the dynamic between two of the lead Watergate bungling burglars: disgraced former CIA staffer E Howard Hunter (Woody Harrelson, True Detective S1) and ex-FBI agent and vain, wanna-be spy G Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux, The Leftovers).
Series director and executive producer David Mandel (co-creator of Veep), helped focus the story not on the newsmen who made the headlines, or “Tricky Dicky” Richard Nixon himself, but on the super-spies who had the arrogance to return to the scene of the crime three times to help “their” president to cling to power. It’s one of those shows in which the most bizarre details are closest to the truth.
They called her crazy, but she was just mad! In political thriller series Gaslit, when horrified politician’s wife Martha “The Mouth From the South” Mitchell (Julia Roberts) becomes a key whistleblower in Washington DC during the Watergate Scandal years of the early 1970s, her husband John Mitchell (Sean Penn) – then-President Richard Nixon’s Attorney General – has her drugged, kidnapped and held prisoner in an effort to silence her.
Gaslit explores how Martha, a famous and fabulous Washington socialite, got her hands on the conspiracy gossip, why she called her favourite reporter, and how the men around her used stereotypes about empty-headed women not grasping big boy politics to throw her to the sharks. Martha tried to do the right thing, then watched as her family, marriage and reputation got torn apart by the guilty.
More Watergate? Here you go. HBO documentary special The Newspaperman: The LIfe and Times of Ben Bradlee spotlights the man once known as the most dangerous editor in the USA, particularly in his role in taking down President Richard Nixon, as executive editor of The Washington Post.
The documentary shows what Ben Bradlee was up against as the political machine went all out to discredit his publication and his reporters – backed up by real audio recordings of President Nixon discussing how he wanted to take revenge on The Post. The Newspaperman further spices up the story with Ben’s readings from the audiobook of his autobiography, A Good LIfe, family home movies that showed him rubbing shoulders socially with the Kennedys, and interviews with the famous reporters who worked with him through his career.
Also watch: News, politics and presidential lies come under scrutiny in the biographical drama Shock and Awe, which details the struggles of journalists who worked to expose the lie behind the discovery of weapons of mass destruction that drove the US invasion of Iraq.
Just you try to talk about insane arrogance and incompetence in Washington DC’s halls of power without including US Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won six Emmy Awards for her performance), we dare you! Endlessly quotable political satire series Veep is the last word about a town that never stops talking. And yes, it’s a comedy, truly, even though it has been a little overshadowed by today’s real-life political shenanigans.
The series really comes out to play when it shines a light on how politicians latch onto tragedies to boost their profiles. To Selina, a new school shooting isn’t a tragedy, it’s a nuisance, an inconvenience, and a bit of a puzzle – how do you say “thoughts and prayers” so that it sounds fresh and sincere? Would “mindfulness and meditations” work? Selina’s deputy director of communications Dan Egan (Reid Scott) is so busy that he barely had time to be the backstabbing little weasel that nature intended him to be.
Also watch: For another political satire on incompetence, watch HBO comedy series The Brink. A Secretary of State’s (Tim Robbins) only hope for preventing nuclear war in Pakistan is slacker Foreign Service officer Alex Talbot (Jack Black). Frustration ensues!
Politics meets the press again, this time from the perspective of the press, in idealistic political drama series The Newsroom. Series creator Aaron Sorkin turned Washington politics inside out in his fast-talking smash-hit drama series The West Wing. Now he gives us the editor as “president” in the form of witty elder statesman political analyst Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), news anchor of the ACN TV news channel. Will has a long memory for politics and its players, and he’s pushing a new group of up-and-coming reporters to go to the ends of the earth to track down the truth and tell the real story, in a world of controversy-courting, hate-for-ratings fake news and the big business of the 24-hour news cycle.
Also watch: For a look at how politics, crazy laws, news, and the truth impact everyday lives, The Good Fight centres on a group of lawyers who’re trying to make sense of Trump-era chaos with drama and wit.
How did an Australian family come to dominate politics and news in the US? If you loved Succession, this dramatically paced docu-series about the Murdoch family and how they changed news media is a must-watch. Episode by episode, the series’ experts, from journalists to political consultants, trace how Rupert Murdoch’s grasp of how tabloid readers thought and what they responded to, turned into a chokehold.
And after he seized control of Fox News, he drove ratings through the roof by getting viewers hooked on hate and fear. As well as showing the Murdochs’ power to pick a political candidate and make them a king, the documentary also explores the roles of the Murdoch children under Rupert’s reign – as they turn out to actually be the kind of people that Succession’s Roys want to be.
Also watch: Dark comedy drama series Succession S1-4 imagines the inner turmoil, backstabbing and power plays within the Roy family (influenced, in part, by the Murdochs), owners of global entertainment and news conglomerate Waystar Royco. The series is a dark mirror of media, politics, greed and stupidity from 2016, but fun instead of dreadful.
What’s all this fake news business and how is it big business in politics? Special documentary After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News digs into the impact and origins of modern political conspiracy theories. As it exposes the agendas and tactics of those who spread lies, and how they drive the addictions of those who believe them, it also humanises the real, dangerous consequences of stories like Pizzagate – the conservative party smear tactic that sent Edgar Maddison Welch on a desperate mission to free child sex trafficking victims he believed were being held in the basement of a pizza restaurant by evil democratic politicians. Hollywood wouldn’t dare to dream up this kind of stuff.
Also watch: Drama series Show Me a Hero centres on the clash between public opinion and political purpose, when a mayor (Oscar Isaac) is forced to carry out a housing project that draws furious racist pushback.
Watch White House Plumbers S1 now.
More HBO greatness
White House Plumbers S1
With an all-star cast, this is the true story of Nixon’s own political staff and Watergate masterminds accidentally toppling his presidency.
Perry Mason S2
It’s the 1930s and LA is booming. It’s here that down-and-out defence attorney Perry Mason takes on the cases of the decade.
The Fastest Woman on Earth (2022)
A fascinating and tragic documentary about Jessi Combs, a professional racer and TV personality who set out to break new records in racing.
A Black Lady Sketch Show S1-4
Celebrities including Wanda Sykes and Vanessa Williams join the regular cast of four black female comedians in a series of hilarious sketches.