I just listened to the first of the Slate podcasts about Watergate, which was on Martha Mitchell. And some social epistemologists really need to write this up. Martha Mitchell was married to John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General. She was known as a tremendously entertaining gossip. When the Watergate burglary happened, Martha quickly became suspicious because she knew one of the burglars. She called her friend Helen Thomas (legendary reporter) to tell her of these suspicions. Security guard Steve King wrestled the phone from her and ripped it from the wall. She was then sedated. Word was put out that she had a drinking problem, and she was dismissed as “The Mouth of the South”. All of this made it into the newspapers, but she was successfully discredited and dismissed– and it was on the women pages.
Of course, Martha was right. So right that psychologists named the Martha Mitchell Effect after her– that’s when someone is dismissed as crazy but is actually right.
Now just think for a moment about the standard Watergate story we know– heroic male reporters and their male sources. And think of how close we came to that story being one that starts with Helen Thomas and Martha Mitchell.
Maybe social epistemologists have already discussed this. If not, they should!