The title of the documentary The Martha Mitchell Effect (Netflix, Friday) can be interpreted in two ways.
t refers to the damage that the open wife of Attorney General Richard Nixon John Mitchell inflicted on the administration of Tricky Dickie in her comments to the press.
It is also a term coined for a psychiatrist who mistakenly or intentionally writes off a patient’s seemingly unusual claims as deceptions, even though they are in fact completely true.
Marta – a vivid socialist whose story was dramatized in the miniseries by Julia Roberts Gaslit – was a gift to Washington political journalists and gossip columnists.
Under the derogatory nicknames “Marta Usta” and “Usta sa juga”, she used to call journalists late at night – often Helen Thomas from UPI, her favorite – and shed beans about what was going on inside the White House.
Martina’s huge personality, laughter, brilliant fashion choices and willingness to speak, fearlessly and without filters, made her a kind of celebrity whistleblower, highly sought after in TV shows and various programs.
Nixon, always paranoid and vindictive, considered her an irritant, but was willing to tolerate her – at least until she began to reveal that the Presidential Re-election Committee (CRP, or CREEP) was involved in “dirty tricks”.
Ironically, Martha, a staunch Republican, spoke in the belief that her husband, one of Nixon’s closest friends, was not connected to all of this, when in fact he was up to his neck in it. The Mitchells were in California in a fundraising campaign when news of the Watergate burglary surfaced.
Mitchell returned to Washington, leaving Martha behind. He ordered his security agent, Steve King, to stop her from finding out about the burglary at Watergate or contacting reporters.
Marta managed to get a copy Los Angeles Times and learned that CREEP’s director of security was John W. McCord, who was also her daughter’s bodyguard and driver, was one of the burglars in Watergate.
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Martha claimed that King actually kidnapped her and kept her trapped in a hotel room, who tore the phone cord from the wall when she tried to talk to Helen Thomas. She tried to escape from the balcony several times, but five of Nixon’s bullies forcibly restrained (and beat) her and they had to sew up her stitches.
When the doctor was finally called, he had to inject her with a tranquilizer to knock her out.
Nixon and his mob made sure no one believed her. They immediately started spreading mud and planting lies. Martha was mentally ill. Martha was a attention-seeking fantasy. Martha was a typically hysterical woman. Martha was a drunk.
It was a vicious, misogynistic campaign of denigration and ridicule, an example of gaslighting on an epic scale, years before anyone ever used the term.
Basically, the press was rolling with her. Martin’s discoveries reached the newspapers, but they were buried in the fluttering pages about the way of life. They were also covered on television, but were usually delivered with a smile by predominantly male presenters.
The scales eventually fell from her eyes in regard to her corrupt husband; the couple divorced in 1973, never to be seen again. When Mitchell was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1975 for his role in the Watergate burglary and cover-up (he ended up serving only 19 months in a comfortable open prison), he stabbed his wife in front of a television camera: “It could have been much worse. They could have condemned me to spend the rest of my life with Martha. “
That same year, Martha, who was abandoned by friends and all but one member of her family, her son, was finally confirmed when McCord admitted that she was telling the truth about being held against her will at a California hotel.
However, it all came a little too late; she died of multiple myeloma the following year.
The Martha Mitchell effect clearly spreads the story entirely through archival recordings and mostly audio contributions, among others, Bob Woodward and the late Helen Thomas. He is great, but only for 40 minutes, too short to give justice to a brave woman.