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Former Nixon aide John Dean speaks at Brandeis

Published: November 2, 2007
Section: News

John W. Dean III, former White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon who was involved in the Watergate scandal that led to Nixons resignation, gave the inaugural lecture for the Elaine and Gerald Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism Tuesday night to a standing room only crowd at the Faculty Club.

Deans speech, entitled Holding Power Accountable: The Government, the News Media, and Democracy, focused on his experiences in and knowledge of the Watergate years, the modern birth of investigative reporting of the presidency during the era, and the current dearth of media inquiry into the abuses of the Bush administration.

Dean, who characterized himself as not carry[ing] water for either [political] party, discussed the change in journalistic scrutiny of presidents following Nixon.

Before Watergate, presidents were given the benefit of the doubt. After the scandal, presidents were assumed to be doing something wrong until they proved themselves innocent. [There was a] total 180 degree shift. He cited the constant hounding of the Carter and Clinton administrations by the press as prime examples of the shift in mentality that developed in the post-Watergate atmosphere.

Dean also contrasted the state of investigative journalism during Watergate and the three decades subsequent to the affair with the current lack of penetrating news stories.

In Deans view, there has never been anything quite like that period [of Watergate] when one never knew what colossal headline would be next.

Today, however, the budgets of news boardrooms are shrinking, denying the reporters the resources they need to pursue new pieces of significance to the public good.

Additionally, the mainstream media are not covering lots of the things they should be.

Also, Dean described the litany of Watergate abuses as trifling in comparison to current misconduct by the Bush administration.

Referring to current Bush administration scandals, Dean stated that nobody died, nobody was tortured, millions of Americansdidnt have their overseas [conversations wiretapped], during Watergate.

In introducing Dean, the Founding Director of the Institute Florence Graves discussed Deans relevancy as a central figure in one of journalisms finest moments and bemoaned the shortage of investigative journalism today. She also praised

Deans prophetic testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. Dean was the first member of the administration to implicate President Nixon in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in.

Dean later pled guilty to obstruction of justice and served a four month sentence.

Along with Graves, other notable university officials were in attendance to mark the naming of the Institute in honor of the Schusters who donated $5 million earlier this year to the center.

Provost Marty Krauss was present as was University President Jehuda Reinharz who described the occasion as a very important moment in the history of Brandeis. The naming of Institute for Investigative Journalism has been in the making for a number of years.

He continued, stating that the Institute has raised the consciousness of the campus and the world beyond by bringing in professional journalists to teach and mentor students.

Reinharz also emphasized the Institutes uniqueness as part of a university dedicated solely to the pursuit of truth as opposed to other journalistic outlets where the quest for advertising revenuecomes into conflict with editorial independence.

Reaction to Deans talk was largely favorable. Will Friedman 09, who is a research assistant at the Schuster Institute in the Politics and Social Justice Project, commented that Dean was an excellent speaker to bring to campus given his career as a Washington insider offering insights spanning three decades, particularly in regard to the executive branch.

Professor Anita Hill of the Heller School added that Dean enriched us with this wisdom by placing the Watergate story [in] a contemporary context and making it relevant.

David Azer 11 echoed these sentiments saying the speech was great as Dean stuck to the topic [and gave] straight answers to the questions.

In contrast, Steven Sasmor 10 stated that although Dean was interesting, he was also frustrating at times [as] he went off the topic of investigative journalism to plug his books.

In an interview with Dean after the event, the speaker commented that the Schuster Institute has an important role in filling the void of investigative journalism today and suggested that the best solution to the problem of a decline in investigative journalism is an increase in grant moneygiven to newspapers.

According to its website (, the Schuster Institute is the nations first investigative reporting center based at a university serving to help fill the void in high-quality public interest and investigative journalism.

The Institute opened in 2004 and was renamed last year in honor of its benefactors $5 million donation to the center.

The Institute is composed of the Justice Brandeis Innocence Project, the Gender and Justice Project, and the Political and Social Justice Project.

Editors Note: Emily Frost contributed in this report.