What’s a government scandal without a gate?

It’s one of the legacies of President Richard M. Nixon. A two-bit burglary, as he once called it, at a big Washington hotel has left the American language with a suffix that seems to get attached to scandals. Not all of them. We haven’t seen a reference to John Edwards’ Hikergate or Bill Clinton’s cigargate.

But Contragate was a Reagan administration scandal that involved the sale of arms to Iran, which was under an arms embargo, in hopes Iran would free some hostages and also let our intelligence agencies funnel money to the Nicaraguan rebels, or Contras. It was also called Irangate and Iran-Contragate.

When hundreds of stolen emails from the Climate Research Center were published on line a few years ago, the incident was called Climategate. When actress Natalie Portman accepted an Academy Award and thanked her fiancé for her obviously pregnant state, some people found her remarks offensive and the little tempest was referred to as Portman’s “motherhood-gate scandal.”

When some state attorneys general launched an investigation into the number of “robo-perjuries” by some big banks, it was called foreclosuregate. When the Inspector General of the AmeriCorps was fired, those who wanted an investigation of the firing called it IG-Gate, also known as Walpingate because the IG’s name was Walpin.

Remember when Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested for ‘disorderly conduct and wound up having a beer in the Rose Garden. It became known as Gatesgate in some circles.

In the last few days there have been some references to, God help us, Weinergate, named for the New York Congressman who showed inordinate pride in his briefs and decided a woman he says he never personally met should for some inexplicable reason share his pride.

We’ve had our opportunities here in Missouri but by and large we have not gone swinging on any gates. We don’t recall anybody seriously referring to the Blunt administration’s emailgate, or Rod Jetton’s Green Balloongate, or Bob Holden’s overspending as inauguralgate. Or the St. Louis Police Department’s Towinggate. We in Missouri have shown admirable restraint.

But for my fellow scribes at the national level:


Not that any of them are listening or are reading something from a fellow scribe out here in fly-over country, but can we please just refer to the Weiner scandal (which should provoke far more snickers than Weinergate), or the AmeriCorps IG firing scandal? In fact, maybe it’s time to evaluate what it takes to rise to the level of “scandal,” as opposed to just plain old stupidity.

Sticking “gate” onto so many incidents like a pregnant actress, a congressman making a fool of himself in the social media, and the arrest of a Harvard professor is an insult to the scandal that started all of this silliness to begin with. The Watergate scandal dwarfs all the others and equating some of these other incidents to that one is sloppy thinking that deserves a 15-yard penalty for overdramatizing an event.

Unfortunately, the original gate happened so long ago that many who have been in the reporting biz for a very long time don’t know what Watergate means. In their ignorance, they find it acceptable to glue “gate” onto other words. Of course there also are plenty of reporters and editors who are old enough to know better.

The Watergate scandal began with a break-in of the office of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. It was not a scandal about water. The hotel was given its name, we are told, because of some terraced steps west of the Lincoln Memorial leading to the Potomac River. Many years ago when water taxis linked Virginia with the District of Columbia, the plan called for dignitaries to disembark from the taxis at those steps or at the water gate to Washington. They were never used for that purpose, however.

The hotel sits on land that once was the Chesapeake and Ohio canal. Canals use locks or water gates to regulate water levels and commerce.

Whatever the origin of the name of the hotel, it became the Watergate Hotel and that’s where the scandal that wound up costing a president his job began. And that ‘s where all of this “gate” stuff got its start.

If the Democrats had had their offices in the Ramada Renaissance Hotel instead of the Watergate, we would have been spared decades of linguistic laziness by those who think political scandals deserve gates.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email