Watergate conspiracy theories in episode six of Slow Burn

How Watergate Turned America Into a Nation of Conspiracy Theorists

How Watergate Turned America Into a Nation of Conspiracy Theorists

History in real time.
Jan. 9 2018 6:00 AM

Rabbit Holes

Watergate turned America into a nation of conspiracy theorists.

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Why were so many Americans ready to believe conspiracy theories after Watergate? How did those beliefs help trigger Nixon‘s downfall? And given what we know about Watergate—what separates a conspiracy theory from just a theory?

In the sixth episode of Slow Burn, Leon Neyfakh looks at the bouquet of wild theories that sprung up after Watergate and the people who promulgated them—from FM-radio cranks to U.S. senators.


Slate Plus members get a bonus episode of Slow Burn every week. This week, Leon talks to David Dorsen, assistant chief counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee, about Judge John Joseph Sirica, the federal judge who presided over several trials stemming from the Watergate investigation. Leon and co-host Jeffrey Bloomer also explore some additional outlandish conspiracy theories that arose from the scandal.

If you are logged into your Slate Plus account, you can find this week's bonus episode in the player below this paragraph, or find it in your members-only podcast feed. Not yet a member? Click here to join.

Did you live through Watergate? Call our voicemail at 646-665-7382, and tell us what you remember about the scandal. We may use your voicemail on an upcoming episode of the show.

Notes on Episode 6



Blumenthal, Sid and Yazijian, Harvey. Government by Gunplay: Assassination Conspiracy Theories From Dallas to Today. The New American Library/Signet, 1976.


Doyle, James. Not Above the Law. Morrow, 1977.

Greenberg, David. Nixon’s Shadow. Norton, 2003.


Kutler, Stanley. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon. W. W. Norton, 1992.

Lang, Gladys Engel and Lang, Kurt. The Battle For Public Opinion: The President, the Press, and the Polls During Watergate. Columbia University Press, 1983.

Lukas, J. Anthony. Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years. Viking Press, 1976.


Perlstein, Rick. The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, Simon & Schuster, 2014.

News articles

Anderson, Jack and Binstein, Michael. “Nixon’s Paradoxical Nature,” Washington Post, April 28, 1994.

Brussell, Mae. “Why Was Martha Mitchell Kidnapped?” The Realist, No. 95, Dec. 1972.

Buck, Thomas. “Sabotage in jet crash: Skolnick,” Chicago Tribune, June 14. 1973.

Caruana, Stephanie. “About Women: Mae Brussell,” Playgirl Magazine, August 1974.

Copeland, Miles. “The Unmentionable Uses of the C.I.A,” National Review, Sept. 14, 1973.

Groves, Martha. “Documentary-maker rediscovers Judaism, family, self,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 29, 2015.

“Crash Mrs. Hunt Died In Blamed On Pilot Error,” UPI, published Sept. 28, 1973 in the St. Petersburg Times.

Crewdson, John M. “C.I.A. Is Criticized Over Watergate,” New York Times, July 3, 1974

Eisner, Judith. “Carmel Closeup: Mae Brussell,” Carmel Pine Cone, Sept. 21, 1972.

Epstein, Edward J., Berendt, John. “Did There Come a Point in Time When There Were 43 Different Theories of How Watergate Happened?” Esquire, Nov. 1973.

Graham, Victoria. “Who Killed JFK? Doubt, Questions Linger.” Associated Press, published Dec. 8, 1975 in the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette.

Greenberg, David. “Watergate Fueled Conspiracy Theories, Too,” Politico Magazine, June 17, 2007.

Holland, Max. “‘Grassy Knoll’ Sid: Hillary’s Personal Conspiracy Theorist,” Washington Decoded, June 11, 2015.

Krassner, Paul. “The Mind of Mae Brussell,” OUI, May 1978.

Krassner, Paul. “The Ballad of Mae Brussell,”High Times, Sept. 1991

Leung, Rebecca. “Watergate: Aviator Connection?“ CBS News, Feb. 24, 2005

MacLeish, Rod. “When conspiracy theories turn into bald facts,” Washington Post. Republished Aug. 8, 1975 in the Bennington Banner.

Meyer, Lawrence. “Baker Probes Possible Ties Between CIA and Watergate,” Washington Post, March 25, 1974.

Nobile, Philip. “An Answer to the Watergate Riddle?” Interview with Sherman Skolnick. The Daily Press, New Dominion, Newport News, Dec. 8, 1974.

Scott, Peter Dale. “From Dallas to Watergate: The Longest Cover-Up,” Ramparts, November 1973.

Sheridan, Terence. “Hell on Wheels: On Sherman Skolnick’s Trail,” Rolling Stone, Sept. 13, 1973.

Valentine, Tom. “Crash of Plane Carrying 12 Watergate People Suspicious.” The Spotlight, Feb. 14, 1994.

Van Horne, Harriet. “Conspiracy theory rises again,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 27, 1974.

Wellman, Tom. “Watergate’s boosting Skolnick,” Des Plaines Herald, July 2, 1973.


Beal, Matt. Brussell Sprout blog. http://brussellsprout.blogspot.com/

Canale, Tim. The Mae Brussell Website. http://www.maebrussell.com

Corbett, James. “The Corbett Report,” Episode 212: Remember Mae Brussell.

Osanic, Lee. The Mae Brussell Reference Site. http://www.prouty.org/brussell/

The Realist Archive Project. http://www.ep.tc/realist/

Reed, John. Aircraft Accident Report on United 553. National Safety Transportation Board, Aug. 29, 1973.

Worldwatchers Archive: A Tribute to Mae Brussell. http://www.worldwatchers.info

Episode 3 makes use of archival footage from the following sources:

NBC Nightly News, 12/8/1972 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

NBC Nightly News, 4/25/1973 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 3/5/78 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

Dialogue Conspiracy, undated but likely 7/9/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 1/25/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 2/1/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 5/31/76 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

NBC Nightly News, 09/12/1973 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 11/26/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

NBC News Special Report, 11/22/1963 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 11/26/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 3/29/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 11/5/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

WBAI, Aspects of Watergate, 1973 (courtesy of Pacifica Radio Archives)

Face the Nation, 3/24/1974 (courtesy of CBS News and Wazee Digital)

Dialogue Conspiracy, 10/29/73 (courtesy www.maebrussell.com)

White House tapes, 7/1/71 (courtesy of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum)

NBC Nightly News, 05/18/1973 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

NBC Nightly News, 05/21/1973 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

NBC Nightly News, 8/21/1973 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

NBC Nightly News, 7/19/1973 (courtesy of the NBC news archive)

Slow Burn’s theme song is “Back to the Old House” by Niklas Ahlström. Other music in Episode 6 includes “Please Listen Carefully” by Jahzzar.

Podcast produced by Andrew Parsons.