Nixon’s bumbling operatives of the Special Investigations Unit
The White House Plumbers (2023) is a five-part HBO miniseries that captures the hijinks of President Richard Nixon’s Special Investigations Unit and their involvement in the infamous Watergate break-in. It’s an off-beat take on an incident that, alas, did happen — and one that has undeniable echoes of today.
Nixon established the SIU shortly after the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the media. Nixon’s quasi-legal SIU was tasked with stopping future leaks, hence the moniker, “The Plumbers.” They made a quick jump, however, from quasi-legal to straight-up criminals in order to give Nixon — then running for re-election — help he didn’t need (Nixon was way up in the polls, and went on to win by a landslide).
The White House Plumbers focuses on the two most well-known “Plumbers,” former FBI agent G Gordon Liddy and former CIA agent E Howard Hunt. The pair were the architects of the burglary of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and the more famous Watergate break-in. In light of their outright illegal operations — never mind how things turned out — their role as inept villains is undeniable.
The script puts a comedic spin on these two deep-state warriors, portraying them as bumbling right-wing loons. Now, of course it does — this is HBO. Still, there’s no denying that Hunt and Liddy got up to activities that seemed designed to just give them barroom bragging rights about their “clandestine work.” The irony, of course, is that these activities ultimately brought down the very man they were attempting to support — Richard Nixon (among the most perceptive foreign policy Presidents we’ve ever had).
Woody Harrelson portrays E Howard Hunt, and Justin Theroux takes the role of G. Gordon Liddy. Both are excellent, but Theroux surprisingly shines brightest.
The first episode starts a bit slow, but it picks up quickly. It is undeniably entertaining to watch this now-famous cast of characters start the ball rolling on what would become a national tragedy — there is the fascination of historic figures beginning to circle the drain. The series is certainly comedic but stays true to the real events, adding a note of irony. The whole SIU idea was so stupid and poorly conceived that it is de facto satire.
As we continue to examine what looks to be (at the least) the Watergate-type capers of the Bidens, this mini-series is quite timely. Of course, Republicans are portrayed in less-than-flattering terms (again, HBO…). But look — this did happen. So you’ll have to decide if you want to view this as a hit-piece on the right designed to counter what’s going on with the Bidens today, or just a compelling satire of a bizarre (and ultimately tragic) moment in our history.
Of course, if you’re waiting for a similar show about Biden, Inc… best get comfortable.
Each episode runs between 45 minutes and an hour. You can watch the first episode for free on the HBO website to see if it’s worth your time. You can watch the entire series on HBO or pay $19 to buy it on Amazon Prime Video.
If nothing else, the show is a healthy reminder of the old saw: “It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.” When it comes to that, Watergate was the granddaddy of them all.
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