Lost Lessons From Vietnam And Watergate

Richard M. Nixon waves from helicopter steps as he resigns from the U.S. presidency, August 9, 1974.
AP (file)
Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.

In the wake of first Vietnam and then Watergate, government credibility and faith in politicians fell so low that Jimmy Carter won the White House with a simple promise: I will never lie to you.

I remember thinking at the time, well, isn't that the least we should expect of our politicians?

But Americans had been told so many lies about so much, they had become suspicious of almost everything.

As I have watched events unfold in recent weeks in Washington – the Army's cover-ups of the military hospital scandal and the facts surrounding the death of former NFL star Pat Tillman; and then the spectacle of an Attorney General who can't seem to get his story straight on anything – I had to wonder, does anyone in a position of power these days remember what happened in those days after Vietnam and Watergate?

Well, I was there. They threw the Democrats out after Vietnam, and they threw the Republicans out after Watergate.

We learned then what too many seem to have forgotten now. Spin gets you only so far. Cover stories can be more dangerous than what people are trying to cover up. No media strategy can work unless it is grounded in truth, and "I don't remember" has never been much of an argument, either to my mother or to Congress.

If there is one thing that Americans won't tolerate, it is lying by those who hold positions of trust, which is why we call them positions of trust.

Why is it so difficult for the powerful to remember that?

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By Bob Schieffer