Oscar nominated 'The Martha Mitchell Effect' highlights role in Watergate scandal

BySandy Kenyon OTRC logo
Thursday, March 2, 2023
New doc restores Martha Mitchell's place at center of Watergate
The new documentary on Netflix seeks to restore Martha Mitchell's place at the center of the Watergate narrative. Sandy Kenyon has the story.

NEW YORK -- A documentary nominated for an Oscar this year seeks to tell a story that's largely been lost to history.

Half a century ago, Martha Mitchell was among the most well known women in America. She was the celebrity wife of John Mitchell, the Attorney General when Richard Nixon was President of The United States.

The Watergate scandal forced both men to resign, and as "The Martha Mitchell Effect" shows, she played a big role in that.

If we think about the scandal that drove President Nixon from office, we think of "All The President's Men," the book and hit movie about the case which is told from the perspective of two male reporters.

The new documentary seeks to restore Martha Mitchell's place at the center of the narrative.

Some saw her as crazy. Mitchell was called The Mouth Of The South for a reason. She was among the first to tell the truths about Nixon that ultimately led to his resignation.

Her honesty was all the more remarkable when you consider her husband served as Nixon's Attorney General. Her habit of having a few alcoholic drinks and then dialing reporters to dish did not endear her to the Nixon White House, where officials went to great lengths to try and silence her.

As shown in the film, she was even held against her will and tranquilized for several days as the Watergate scandal grew.

Nixon himself had no doubt about her significance. After he was forced to leave office, he sat down for a series of interviews with talk show host David Frost and told him, "I'm convinced that if it hadn't been for Martha, there'd have been no Watergate."

Yet, her name has been lost to history. A co-producer of "The Martha Mitchell Effect," Beth Levison, says she knows why.

"I think that we've really emphasized the role of men in contemporary politics, and we have discredited many women, and she was discredited, and so it was easy to cut her out of history," Levison said.

The title of the Netflix documentary, which is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Short Subject category, comes from a term coined by a psychologist according to the movie's co-director, Debra McClutchy.

"The Martha Mitchell Effect is when someone is diagnosed as lying or delusional when in fact they are telling the truth," McClutchy said.

The all-female team behind the short lasting about a half hour hopes Oscar recognition will lead to more such stories being told.

"What I learned is that stories are hidden," says McClutchy. "And they're hidden pretty effectively, and that we need to be looking for these hidden stories and resurrect them."

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