Netflix’s brief documentary, The Martha Mitchell Effect, examines the impact Martha Mitchell, a cabinet wife, had on US politics in the early 1970s. The Martha Mitchell Effect is an intriguing account of another cover-up during a presidency that is perhaps best known for its cover-ups, but it feels a little too brief without going into great detail about the Watergate scandal. Instead, it focuses on the woman’s candid and outspoken nature and the impact it has had on both her life and those around her.
Who was Martha Mitchell?
John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s election campaign manager, made a significant contribution to his victory in the 1968 presidential race. John left his previous position as a lawyer after Nixon was elected president of the United States in 1969 to serve as President Nixon’s attorney general. John Mitchell’s wife, Martha, had also played a significant role in the Nixon campaign and was now working in the White House. She quickly gained notoriety for her candid and revealing remarks about social and political issues after appearing in public as a cabinet wife doing social or charitable work. At first, Martha only expressed her Republican viewpoints. She once told the media that those calling for a violent revolution in the US (against the Vietnam War) ought to be expelled from the nation. Despite this, Martha’s reputation as a loudmouth made President Nixon and his close friends in the White House nervous. She also got into the habit of having a drink in the evening, calling journalists and politicians, and talking about political rumours. As a result, she quickly became the centre of media attention. As she is seen amusingly posing with a phone in a public setting, Martha doesn’t appear to mind either. Her exceptional ability to stand out as a woman in a political environment entirely dominated by men was also admirable. When Martha was once asked how she felt about the Vietnam War, she responded, “It stinks,” which gave Nixon cause to dislike and, in some ways, fear Martha. Since Martha served in the Nixon administration, which was still engaged in a war in Southeast Asia, her forthrightness and honesty were utterly inappropriate. Additionally, she acknowledged occasionally calling the President and making jokes with him, saying that he was unable to tell when she was joking and when she was serious. The fact that the wife of a cabinet member could have so great impact on the country’s president—a man who openly detested noisy women—was undoubtedly unique.
What Then Turned Nixon And His Entire Administration Against Martha?
But when John Mitchell was named head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, sometimes known as CREEP in jest, a fundraising group for Nixon’s reelection campaign, trouble began to boil. Nixon was wary of Martha, but it was now clear from the President’s mention of her in the secret audiotapes of talks that he taped in his White House office that Martha was inevitably connected with it as well. As Martha later revealed to media, her first significant pet peeve was that she and her husband were coerced into travelling to California for a fundraiser despite not wanting to. Five men were detained under duress on June 17th night during this trip for breaking into the DNC headquarters in Washington’s Watergate building and putting listening devices in the offices. As one of the culprits, James McCord, also served as a consultant to the committee, this break-in was immediately connected to the Republican Party and specifically to President Nixon’s reelection committee. After learning of this arrest, John Mitchell promptly departed for Washington from California, leaving Martha behind and directing that she be kept in the dark about the situation. Martha learned of the Watergate break-in, as well as McCord’s involvement in it (who had previously served as her daughter’s security guard), and she was rather incensed over the whole thing because she was unaware of such a plan. As her husband’s bodyguards entered the room and detained her, breaking up the phone call in the process, she had phoned certain lawmakers and members of the press and was on the phone with a journalist. In order to calm Martha down and keep her under control, a doctor on call at the hotel was given the order to inject her with sedatives and tranquillizers. Martha made every effort to inform the public of how she was being held a prisoner in California after realising that she had been purposely taken from Washington before to the break-in so that she could not speak out against it.
The Nixon campaign determined that it would be better to remove John Mitchell from his position as campaign director, claiming that his wife was ill, as a result of Martha now openly criticising the White House administration and discussing their dirty practises. As soon as information concerning Martha Mitchell’s alleged mental and physical illnesses began to surface, it was inferred that all of her allegations regarding the Watergate incident were false and illegitimate. Soon after, John left the White House, claiming that he had to tend to his sick wife. Even the Democratic Party’s supporters and the opposition thought Martha’s claims that she was being held hostage were too fantastical, therefore mock campaigns appealing for her release were generally launched. Overall, very few people believed Martha when she claimed that she had been held captive and that the Nixon administration had a direct hand in the Watergate crisis. Nixon’s reelection in 1972 temporarily put an end to the situation, but McCord’s admission to the court and Senate committee in 1973 that there was much more to say about the episode set off the true implosion. He asserted that John Mitchell was well aware of the strategy, understood it, and had given his assent. Yet, John’s wife was concerned that all of these revelations would lead to defamation against him now that he was a regular citizen living his life away from the White House or President Nixon. Insisting that John was completely innocent in the situation, Martha now began speaking openly to journalists and prestigious press outlets, claiming that her husband was only being set up for the incident by the President and his associates.
Those who were close to Martha Mitchell at the time claimed that she thought John was being falsely implicated in the incident and that she was unaware of the Watergate break-in. Now that she knew Richard Nixon had won the election illegally, she requested he step down. She also tried to persuade John to turn away from the President since he would be incarcerated alongside Nixon. But what actually happened was that John left his wife and revealed to his friends that she was a sick and troubled person. Instead of letting his wife defend him, the man decided to stand by and defend the President. All of the White House’s recorded audiotapes, however, had to be given to the investigation committee due to the rising political tension against the Nixon administration. This revealed that Nixon, John, and the entire team were not only aware of the Watergate incident from before, but that John Mitchell had also contributed to creating the story that was used to convince the media that Martha was ill and that he should resign to take care of her. John Mitchell was given a thirty-year prison term for conspiracy, obstructing justice, and perjury as a result of the investigation’s findings. John probably thought Nixon would pardon him and the other criminals involved, but under pressure to resign as president in 1974, Nixon left the scene under pressure to avoid being impeached.
What Happened To Martha Afterwards?
The press and the nation owed Martha Mitchell an apology after the full Watergate Affair, which involved Richard Nixon and his administration directly, became public knowledge. What the woman had been claiming for so long turned out to be accurate, and the tale was widely covered by the media. Many radio, TV, and newspaper interviews were held all over the world. When confronted about the situation, her estranged husband John Mitchell said that going to jail was preferable to living with Martha for the rest of his life. Perhaps accepting criminal charges is more flattering to a man’s ego than acknowledging that a woman was right to have her suspicions. Unfortunately, Martha’s financial situation deteriorated in 1975 when she was forced to work in clothing stores while defending an alimony claim in court. She also had a fatal malignant blood illness, and she severed off touch with the majority of her pals. She did appear to want John to visit her, but he declined.
When Martha Mitchell succumbed to the illness in May 1976, a sizable crowd of her admirers arrived to attend her burial. John Mitchell, who was still Martha’s legal husband, was also present. Many more admirers sent floral arrangements, and one anonymous donor contributed a sizable bunch of flowers arranged to spell out the phrase Martha was Right. This turned out to be the most appropriate comment for Martha and the predicament she was in. The Martha Mitchell Effect, which refers to a circumstance where a person’s ideas and suspicions are originally characterised as delusional but subsequently prove to be genuine, was first used by Harvard psychologist Brendan Maher in 1988.
Netflix is now broadcasting the 2022 documentary short The Martha Mitchell Effect.