The world of entertainment has examined the Watergate scandal from almost every angle. Oliver Stone's Nixon gave us a glimpse into the life of Richard Nixon, the only president of the United States who ever resigned. Liam Neeson stepped into the sneaky shoes of the whistleblower who called himself Deep Throat in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House. And of course All the President's Men focused on the intrepid reporters who broke the scandal wide open.
HBO Max's series White House Plumbers is finally giving the bad guys a turn. The dark comedy stars Woody Harrelson as ex-CIA officer E. Howard Hunt and Justin Theroux as FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy. These two men were the puppeteers who organized the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Washington, D.C., Watergate office building.
Just how accurate is White House Plumbers? Let's break down this new angle of the infamous break-in.
How accurate is 'White House Plumbers'? Pretty darn accurate.
The series itself is based on the 2007 book Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House. This memoir was written by Egil "Bud" Krogh and co-authored by his son Matthew Krogh. Bud Krogh was a lawyer who worked for the Nixon administration. He was involved in the Watergate scandal, and would go on to serve four and a half months of a six-year sentence for approving the actual burglary.
The series sticks to the facts of the scandal, but gives its characters a theatrical pizazz that is best described as campy. We gotta have some histrionics to make the history go down. The book and the show chronicle the seven weeks leading up to and including the Watergate scandal, making sure to include important details.
For example, Liddy and Hunt were both in a room in the Watergate Hotel and were able to communicate with the burglars. They did this via microphones hidden in chapstick tubes that Hunt stashed in a safe at his office in the White House. Another very true story that feels like something Hollywood dreamt up is how the burglars were actually caught.
According to The Washingtonian, Alfred C. Baldwin III (played by Zak Orth in the series) had one job to do: be the lookout. He was in a room at the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge across the street. He was tasked with warning the burglars, but obviously failed to do so because he was watching a low-budget horror movie called Attack of the Puppet People. This is pretty ironic given the fact that all of these men were essentially Nixon's puppets.
Somehow the Kennedy Assassination is also involved in all of this.
At some point in the series, Justin Theroux's Liddy says to Woody Harrelson's Hunt, "Who really killed JFK?" This garnered a frustrated "Oh Christ" from Hunt. In reality, it was suggested that Hunt was actually involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. An article in the Sunday News Journal from 1978 claims that Hunt was in Dallas the day Kennedy was killed. This was printed only six years after Watergate, so people were still suspicious of Hunt.
The piece cites a secret CIA memorandum that reportedly revealed that not only was Hunt in Dallas, but that top officials at the agency had plotted to cover this up. The memo, which was reportedly initialed by former CIA director Richard M. Helms and former counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton, also details how they provided Hunt with a cover story that would put him somewhere else that day. Where was that? He was apparently shopping.
Joe Trento and Jacquie powers of the Sunday News Journal spoke with Hunt who was living in Miami at the time. He denied all of it. He told them he was in Washington, D.C., that day and has "plenty of witnesses" who can back him up. "I took off at noon that day and had a Chinese dinner in downtown Washington with my wife," he said.