Gate Gate  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   September 1997

Gate Gate   

Ever since a certain Nixon-era break-in, "gate" has been part of the nickname of virtually every "scandal," no matter how trivial. Join us on a nostalgic journey through

By Suzan Revah
Suzan Revah is a former AJR associate editor.     


Twenty-five years after Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein changed investigative journalism forever by bringing down a president with their coverage of the Watergate scandal, their legacy remains in the knee-jerk attachment of the "gate" suffix.

These days a girl scout can't scam a box of cookies without triggering a flurry of Cookiegate coverage. Scandals, semi-scandals and pseudo-scandals that hardly register on the Richter scale of corruption – it doesn't matter, they all get the "gate."

This is due in part to the journalist's love of catchy shorthand. One contributor to the gate spate is New York Times columnist William Safire, who has a quick trigger when it comes to gatizing and who officially recognized the "-gate" construction in his New Political Dictionary.

So is the coining of a new "gate" in every day's headlines just harmless journalistic fun? One key Watergate figure says no. Gratuitously attaching the "gate" suffix to the slightest whiff of misconduct, warns Sam Dash, chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee back in the day, has the effect of diminishing the seriousness of Watergate – the scandal of all scandals.

"When people hear this proliferation of 'gates,' they feel the press is telling them this is the same as Watergate, and whatever Watergate has stood for has lost its meaning," says Dash, now a consultant to Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr as well as a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

öhat follows is a selected roster of 25 years of gates, complete with subjective commentary and absolutely arbitrary ratings, aimed at putting the "gate" phenomenon in perspective. But don't bet that it will slam the gate shut once and for all.

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