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Trump’s TV Trial

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In 1983, the married sociologists Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang published “The Battle for Public Opinion,” a book that sought to explain how Americans, in less than two years, went from overwhelmingly re-electing Richard Nixon to largely supporting his impeachment.

The Watergate scandal, after all, wasn’t a complete surprise. There was evidence of a White House connection to the break-in before the 1972 election; a George McGovern campaign ad featured a montage of damning Watergate headlines while a narrator intoned: “This is about hidden funds. This is about deception. This is about the White House.” But somehow, the story didn’t stick. “The problem it signified was outside the range of and remote from most people’s immediate concerns,” the Langs wrote. The details were confusing, “their import difficult to fathom.”

The television broadcast of two series of congressional hearings helped change that. First there was the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, widely known as the Ervin committee, starting in May 1973. These hearings didn’t result in a profound swing against Nixon, but they transfixed the public and caused people to take the administration’s misdeeds more seriously. By the time they were over, “Watergate” had transformed from shorthand for a bungled burglary into a metonym for a much wider range of administration corruption.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Then came the........

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