Media scandal: From Watergate to Rustygate

Watergate started it, spawning a lazy media practice where every minor dispute is elevated to something more serious simply by adding 'gate' to the main subject's name. Scotland Yard is now abuzz with Rustygate, where an officer was abused for a glowing tan. Maxine Frith awards a five-barred gate to the most ludicrous examples of newspaper nonsense


The story that started it all

The story that started it all

US politicians

It all began on 17 June 1972, when five men were caught in the act of breaking into a hotel and office complex in Washington DC. What at first seemed to be a minor incident became a defining chapter in American history - and triggered the creation of a suffix that is now a byword for scandal: Watergate.

The Watergate complex housed the campaign quarters of the Democratic National Committee and the five men had first broken into the offices three weeks earlier to fix bugging equipment. They had returned to the building to adjust the devices.

One of the five arrested was James W McCord Jnr, chief of security on the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) - the Republican Richard Nixon. The FBI were called in but their investigation was slow and shoddy, and two reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, began their own probe. Helped by a mystery "Deep Throat" source, Woodward and Bernstein exposed the deceit and corruption surrounding the burglary.

The scandal reached its height when Nixon refused to hand over tapes that were later found to have recorded the President instructing his chief of staff to call off the initial FBI investigation. Faced with the prospect of impeachment, Nixon resigned in 1974.

In 1987, Irangate hit headlines when it emerged that under President Ronald Reagan, the US was secretly selling arms to Iran in exchange for money being illegally channelled to fund right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua who were attempting to overthrow the democratic government. Central to the scandal was Reagan's national security aide, Lt-Col Oliver North. Scandals have not been confined to the Republicans, however: Bill Clinton had more "gates" than other presidents have had state banquets. In 2000, the Clintons were cleared of acting illegally over a 1980s land deal in Arkansas that became known as Whitewatergate. But the investigation by prosecutor Kenneth Starr triggered a political soap opera starring an intern called Monica Lewinsky, a stained dress and a cigar.

True to the tradition of Watergate, Zippergate also involved taped conversations (between Lewinsky and her friend Linda Tripp) and impeachment. Clinton escaped censure.

Arnold Schwarzenegger ran into trouble during the Californian gubernatorial election, when a string of women came forward to complain that he had groped them. Arniegate didn't stop the action hero fom being elected but he did undergo a course to cure him of his groping tendencies.

Perhaps the most ludicrous moment in "gate-mania" came in 1989, during a Congressional investigation of Oliver North. It was revealed that he had taken $16,000 in federal funding to erect a security gate outside his home - a scandal the Washington media gleefully called Gategate.

Five-barred gate award: Gategate

Janet's news flash became Nipplegate

Sport and showbiz

They may not bring down presidents or create a constitutional crisis, but the worlds of showbusiness and sport give journalists endless excuses to recycle the Watergate suffix.

Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at last year's Super Bowl was dubbed Nipplegate within minutes by the American media.

Conspiracy theories began to swirl after the singer claimed the flash of her nipple during the half-time concert was accidental. But if it was an accident, asked the US media, why was Jackson wearing a piece of jewellery on the offending nipple?

In 1999 it transpired that researchers on the Vanessa Feltz TV show had been using fake guests. Vanessagate led to the scrapping of Feltz's show, and she now bares her own soul on reality shows such as Celebrity Fit Club.

Svengate brought down the chief executive of the Football Association when it was revealed that both he and England manager Sven Goran Eriksson had been having an affair with secretary Faria Alam. Becksgate brought Watergate into the 21st century when David Beckham's affair with Rebecca Loos was recorded for posterity on text messages.

But Soupgate arguably beats them all. Arsenal footballers were accused of "going berserk" last October following a bitter clash with rivals Manchester United. The on-pitch tensions erupted in the players' tunnel, when Man Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson was pelted with soup and pizza by angry Arsenal footballers.

Five-barred gate award: Soupgate

The bastards - and other prime ministerial crises

UK politicians

Most scandalgates involve politicians being caught lying - but in John Major's case, his mistake was telling the truth. The date was 23 July 1993 and the embattled prime minister had just won a crucial vote of confidence in the House of Commons.

After doing a recorded interview with ITN's political editor Michael Brunson, Major took his microphone off and began a private conversation with Brunson, complaining about the problems he was having with three of his Eurosceptic cabinet members - Peter Lilley, Michael Portillo and John Redwood.

When Brunson suggested that Major should sack them, Major replied: "You and I can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble. Would you like three more of the bastards out there?"

Unknown to Major and Brunson, their conversation was being overheard. The BBC had provided pooled equipment for the interview, and not all the microphones had not been switched off.

Somehow, the tape found its way into the pages of The Observer, although the BBC denied that any of its employees was responsible for the leak.

Bastardgate revealed the extent of the divisions within the Major cabinet and gripped the nation, not least because of hearing the Prime Minister say the b-word.

Portillo went on to become embroiled in his own row, known as Burgergate when in 1996 he faced claims that he had failed to oppose a planning application for the local Conservative Association headquarters in his constituency to be turned into a McDonald's. He said he could not oppose it because he was a cabinet minister.

Tony Blair's "gate" was named after his wife rather than him. Cheriegate centred around the Blairs' purchase - at a heavy discount - of two flats in Bristol, with the help of the conman Peter Foster, at one time the partner of Mrs Blair's close friend, Carole Caplin.

The affair broke in 2002, when Downing Street issued a denial on behalf of Mrs Blair about Mr Foster's involvement, then had to retract it when it became clear that he had helped to negotiate a discount. Mrs Blair gave a tearful press conference at the time, and her friendship with Caplin has been low-profile ever since.

While scandalgates often involve corruption, deceit, or, at the very least, some kind of sexual shenanigans, some are simply embarrassing.

The downfall of Frank McAveety, a member of the Scottish Parliament and until last year, Culture Minister in the devolved region, centred on a plate of pie and potatoes.

Last June, Mr McAveety was due in Holyrood House for ministerial question time, but failed to appear on time. When he did arrive three questions in, he claimed he had been unavoidably detained at the Arts Council book awards. Unfortunately, several journalists had seen the minister only minutes before, tucking into a pie, roast potatoes and baked beans in the parliament's canteen.

Piegate as the affair was somewhat predictably dubbed, became headline news and Mr McAveety was later sacked. The latest "gate" to hit headlines involves political correctness rather than political figures. It is the tale of a junior Metropolitan Police detective who was reprimanded for heckling his new boss. A former chief constable of Lancashire, Paul Stephenson, was attending a function on the first day of his new job as a deputy commissioner with the Met when the detective, unaware of his identity, commented on his deep tan from a recent holiday. "Hey Rusty, where did you get your suntan from?" shouted the hapless underling.

Mr Stephenson was not amused and the detective has been issued with a written warning for inappropriate behaviour. The incident, christened Rustygate, has led to divisions within the Met between officers who think the reaction was over the top, and others who believe the Yard needs to restore firm discipline.

Five-barred gate award: Piegate

There were three gates in this marriage...

The Royal Family

For a scandal to be truly of the Watergate variety, purists believe it should involve taped conversations, mysterious sources and a soupçon of conspiracy. The Royal Family has done its best to live up to that tradition.

In 1992, the now notorious Squidgygate and Camillagate tapes were published, leading the Queen to describe the year as her "Annus Horribilis". First up in the gate race was the Princess of Wales when, in August 1992, The Sun published details of a telephone conversation between her and her then lover James Gilbey. When Diana declared: "I can't stand the confines of this marriage," and said of her in-laws: "Bloody hell, after all I've done for this fucking family," the country was electrified by the first evidence from the horse's mouth about the state of the Wales's marriage. Weeks later, Fergiegate erupted, when taped conversations of the Duke and Duchess York discussing the state of their marriage made their way into the papers.

The Duchess had already been embarrassed earlier that year, when pictures of her having her toes sucked by her financial adviser Johnny Bryan were published around the world.

But if Prince Charles had hoped that the scandal surrounding his wife and sister-in-law would deflect criticism from him, he was in for a crude shock. In November of the same year,

Camillagate erupted, detailing the heir to the throne's wish to become a tampon in order to get closer to his married lover. The phone call was recorded at 1am in 1989 when Charles was in bed at his Highgrove home.

In 2001, the latest addition to The Firm truly joined the club when she was gated. The Countess of Wessex - formerly Sophie Rhys-Jones - made a series of ill-advised comments about her in-laws to a Middle Eastern businessman she thought was interested in engaging her services as a PR guru. It turned out that the "fake sheikh" was the News of the World's chief investigator Mazher Mahmood.

Sophiegate prompted the countess to give up her PR job, deciding that the tedium of opening day centres was a better bet.

Five-barred gate award: Sophiegate

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