Who was Martha Mitchell?
Martha Mitchell was the wife of John Mitchell, Attorney General to President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal of 1972. Martha was known for being well-connected within the community, and would often listen in on her husbands phone calls and go through his personal files to uncover hidden details about his work life. Once she'd discovered things, however, she wasn't known for keeping them to herself, and would frequently call journalists late at night after one or two whiskeys to spill inside information, which would then be leaked to the wider press.
The Southern socialite quickly became notorious for her style and passion for gossip. She would frequently appear on talk shows, where she would speak frankly about political happenings (which would go on to earn her the nickname, 'Mouth of the South'). After appearing on the cover of Time magazine, a 1970 Gallup poll found that 76% of Americans recognised her.
What was her involvement in Watergate?
In 1972, Martha became a whistle blower on the Watergate scandal, which would see her endure an excruciating public backlash. After uncovering details of the burglary at Watergate (including the phone taps and intel on private documents), Martha became increasingly concerned that her husband was involved in some capacity.
After phoning a journalist whom she trusted to break the story, Mitchell claims that an agent entered her room and cut off the call before kidnapping her. Per the Slow Burn podcast, Mitchell later told the press that she had been locked in her hotel room against her will, got into at least one physical altercation with the agent and was also forcibly injected with a tranquilizer.
In the fallout, Martha was publicly discredited and accused of being a liar and a drunk. Journalist Laura Smith has written about the 'gendered' criticism the socialite endured, describing it as a “sexist smear campaign” as the media labelled her an unreliable witness.
It wasn't until 1975, when a reliable witness corroborated her story, that people finally began to take Martha seriously. Now, a psychological term has actually been attributed to her, dubbed the The 'Martha Mitchell Effect', which is used to describe an instance where a medical practitioner mistakenly identifies a patient’s true claims as delusions.
The gendered criticism Martha experienced will arguably outlive her legacy, with many quick to dismiss her and her story as nothing more than idle gossip. Stan's latest show, Gaslit (dropping on Stan April 24) is hoping to right some of those wrongs and give her story the air time it deserves, all these decades later.