Looking for bugs

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This week’s comedic offering is brought to you, as usual, by author and journalist Eugene Byrne and takes the form of one of the many Watergate jokes that circulated during the 1970s. In this particular one, the Nixons are on their honeymoon, spending the night at the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC

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The story

It’s 1975 and John and Mary have just got married. As part of their honeymoon they have decided to spend a night at the world-famous Watergate Hotel, in Washington DC.

When they first thought of staying here, they figured it would be interesting and fun – something to tell their friends about, and to remember for the rest of their lives together. The Watergate, after all, was the hotel where supporters of President Nixon had tried to break into the Democratic National Committee HQ to photograph confidential documents, and tap the phones.

But now they were actually here – and on their wedding night – Mary was a little nervous. “Do you think there might be any bugs or microphones planted here in the honeymoon suite?” she asked John.

“I’ll take a good look around,” said John.

He looked behind the curtains, behind the pictures hanging on the wall, and then under the carpet …

“Look what I found!” he said. In the floorboards was a metal disc about an inch and a half across, held in place by four screws.

John takes out his pocket-knife and loosens the screws. He then throws them, and the metal disc out of the window.

The following morning, as the couple are checking out, the hotel manager comes up to them, looking rather anxious.

“Was everything OK for you? How was your room? Was the room service adequate? How was your stay … ?”

“Why are you asking all these questions?” said John.

“Well I was a little worried that something might have gone wrong in other rooms as well. The people staying in the room right under yours complained last night that the chandelier fell on them.”

The truth

There was no shortage of Watergate jokes in the 1970s. The scandal which eventually brought down the Nixon presidency provided American comics and talk show hosts with material for years and years.

The scandal originated with the Republican Committee for the Re-Election of the President (it was never known by the acronym CREEP except by its opponents) which opted for a dirty tricks campaign which involved breaking into the HQ of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel to copy documents and bug their phones. In all there were actually four break-ins at Watergate, the first two attempts having failed, and the third didn’t get enough useful material. Five men were arrested on the fourth break-in in the early hours of June 17 1972 … Setting in motion a series of denials and cover-ups which eventually reached all the way to the White House.

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Considering the relatively small part it played in the drama, the prestigious Watergate Hotel did remarkably well out of it. Almost 40 years on, it’s still lending the -gate half of its name to media reports of every political scandal, big and small, throughout the English-speaking world.