Text by Haynes Johnson and Harry Katz from the book Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist. Images courtesy of the Herblock Foundation
Before the Watergate scandals, Herblock pointed out excessive use of government power to wiretap or otherwise investigate the activities of citizens an administration felt were at odds with its policies. In 1970, the Civil Service Commission admitted to having a Security Investigation Index with over 10 million entries, and the armed forces revealed surveillance of Americans involved in anti-Vietnam war activities.
Two days after the Washington Post staff writer Alfred Lewis reported that five men were being held in a plot to bug the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., Herblock offered pointed caricatures of Nixon and his two attorneys general––Richard Kleindienst and John Mitchell (then head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President).
On May 22, 1973, President Richard Nixon admitted that he had concealed aspects of the Watergate case. He said he did so to protect nation security “operations.” Nixon affirmed his innocence, saying he should stay in office. Herblock saw Nixon seeking cover amidst evidence of wiretapping, break-in, political sabotage, laundered FBI funds from Mexico, and other illegal activities.
The Nixon White House raised stonewalling to an art, building and reinforcing what former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee has recently termed a contemporary “culture of lying.”
By June 1973, the country had become transfixed by the investigation of Watergate via the televised hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. On June 25, former presidential counsel John Dean began his testimony, the first before the committee to directly accuse President Richard Nixon of involvement in the coverup.
After President Richard Nixon refused to turn over tapes alleged to contain conversations about Watergate to Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Nixon claimed that “executive privilege” allowed him to keep the tapes private. His position set the stage for court battles.
Herblock was a thorn in Richard Nixon’s side from the politician’s House election campaign in 1950 to his resignation of president of the United States in 1974. This image of “Justice” assaulted appears on October 23, 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal, just days after President Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating White House Activities.
Even more damning than President Richard Nixon’s profiting from public office were the disclosures of his corruption and attempts at corruption of the government itself, including the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon and even the Secret Service. A taping systems that had recorded most of President Nixon’s conversations provided the “smoking gun.” Nixon refused to release the tapes until the Supreme Court ordered him to do so.
J. Edgar Hoover was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1929; it soon became known as the FBI. The legendary lawman kept his post for nearly 50 years, capturing countless criminals, yet also creating controversy by abusing his power, compiling millions of secret dossiers on American citizens, and overstepping his authority to harass political dissenters and activists.
By July 14, 1974, President Richard Nixon stood almost alone. Many of his closest aides had been convicted of illegal activities and he was named an “un-indicted co-conspirator” by the Watergate grand jury. The House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment, and the Supreme Court required him to turn over all subpoenaed tapes. When even his closest friends agreed that the evidence against him was overwhelming, Nixon bowed to the inevitable, resigning on August 9.