MARTHA MITCHELL. About the leakers…..President Nixon ordered his attorney-general, John Mitchell to find and silence the leakers, which he was never able to do. The problem was that there were just too many leakers. It wasn’t just ‘Deep Throat’ who was leaking White House secrets. An even bigger leaker was Martha Mitchell, the wife of the attorney-general. Martha Mitchell was an alcoholic, and when she got drunk, she would call reporters in the middle of the night and tell them embarrassing White House secrets. She did this quite frequently. Reporters looked forward to getting phone calls from Martha Mitchell because she always gave them headline stories. White House reporters called Martha Mitchell ‘the mouth of the South.’ She was from Georgia. John Mitchell knew his wife was making these phone calls, but he was unable to stop her. Martha Mitchell’s midnight phone calls had a huge impact on the Watergate investigation. After he resigned as president, Richard Nixon told David Frost in a TV interview that “without Martha Mitchell, there would have been no Watergate.”
Most Americans are too young to remember Watergate, but I remember it well. Watergate dominated the news for 2 years. As Richard Nixon became more and more entangled in legal troubles, he fell back on 3 defense arguments, which he repeated constantly. These arguments were:
1. I am the victim of a witch hunt. (Nixon actually did use the term ‘witch hunt’ to describe the Watergate investigation.)
2. The liberal press is trying to destroy me, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times.
3. I am not a crook. The real criminals are the leakers. I have ordered my attorney general to find and prosecute the leakers.
Does this sound vaguely familiar?
The Martha Mitchell Effect. There is now a widely-used psychiatric term based on Martha Mitchell. The Martha Mitchell Effect refers to a situation in which a psychiatrist mistakenly concludes that an alcoholic patient is delusional because the patient is making bizarre or extraordinary claims, claims that turn out to be true. John Mitchell had psychiatrists examine his wife, hoping to discredit and silence her. The psychiatrists he hired concluded that Martha Mitchell was delusional because her Watergate conspiracy stories sounded unbelievable; however, it turned out that she was telling the truth! John Mitchell was ultimately disbarred and went to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Much of the evidence against him came from his wife’s drunken midnight phone calls to reporters. (Yes, that really happened!)