‘The Martha Mitchell Effect’ Shows a Lesser-Known Side of the Watergate Scandal

Ulises Duenas


When the Nixon administration was imploding over the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, there was one person caught in the crossfire of it all. Martha Mitchell was the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell who worked under Richard Nixon. In her time, she was notorious for being the life of the political parties she and her husband attended, but her loud personality rubbed a lot of Republicans the wrong way. In Netflix’s documentary The Martha Mitchell Effect, we see how she was betrayed and gaslighted by those closest to her. She was one of the first people in politics who was suspicious of Nixon's cabinet, and her public remarks on the matter made her a target.


During Nixon’s reelection bid in 1972, Martha Mitchell made multiple statements to the press about the underhanded tactics used by his reelection committee. She made waves because women in politics were discouraged from being outspoken, especially in front of the press. When the Watergate story broke, she wasn’t shy about criticizing Nixon and those close to him. The documentary does a good job of showing the viewer the kind of person Mitchell was. She was an animated character in the dry, boring world of humdrum politics.

Once Nixon and her husband’s involvement in the Watergate scandal was reported, Martha was immediately full of burning questions. Her husband responded by gaslighting her and using his security detail to keep her away from the outside world by isolating her in a hotel room. As the story develops, you feel a lot of sympathy for her. She was betrayed by her husband and the people she was trying to keep in power as they went to great lengths to convince the American people that she was crazy. Years later, this would lead to the coining of  the term “Martha Mitchell effect” – often used when someone’s opinions and statements make others think they’re crazy, but they are eventually proven right.



The use of historical footage and interviews ranging from Mitchell’s appearances on the show Laugh In to the secret recordings Nixon had made in the Oval Office helps the film’s pacing a lot. Despite its 40-minute run time, the filmmakers convey a ton of information. And despite my sound knowledge of Watergate, I learned a lot about Mitchell’s involvement and how big a role she played in the way politicians at the time were viewed by the public.

Those who have an interest in the Watergate scandal, or the history of American politics in general, will likely enjoy this film. I went in knowing nothing about Martha Mitchell and by the end, I had a new perspective on something I’d already learned a lot about. 



Author Bio:

Ulises Duenas is a senior writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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