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Watergate Inspires Scandal Terms around the World

Watergate Inspires Scandal Terms around the World

Saturday, 18 June, 2022 - 07:45
Donald Trump and Richard Nixon. (AP/Reuters)

Around 50 years ago, a failed robbery took place at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.

Since then, the building has been linked to many scandals, including one that was revealed by the Washington Post and led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, and the spread of the term "gate" in the US and international newspapers.

The year after that, the United Brands company was exposed for paying bribes to the president of Honduras to cut export taxes on fruit: Bananagate.

The term kept spreading with time.

In the 1990s, during the two terms of Bill Clinton, Republicans raised several controversial cases, like Troopergate and Travelgate, in which employees assigned to organize journalists" flights in the White House were fired.

Away from politics, Janet Jackson's supposedly inadvertent baring of a breast in the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show became Nipplegate. The term was also linked to one of the biggest scandals in the world of American football, with Deflategate, the action of playing with underinflated balls to ensure easier throws. This scandal messed up the journey of famous footballer Tom Brady.

The term "Gate" caught on globally as well. France was the first to use it in 1973, in "Winegate", a scandal that shook the wine industry in Bordeaux; and in "Angolagate", an illegal arm deal with Luanda's government involving prominent French politicians in 1944.

In 2017, the electoral campaign of former French prime minister François Fillon was hit by the "Pénélopegate" the fake jobs case linked to his wife, Pénélope.

In Italy, the "Rubygate" scandal exposed inappropriate evenings organized by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. At the time, the term "gate" replaced "opoli" formerly used with Calciopoli to refer to a scandal in the Italian professional football circles.

In 1992, the British newspaper, The Sun exposed the "Squidgygate" involving juicy details from phone conversations between Britain"s Princess Diana and her close friend James Gilbey.

Early this month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely escaped a trust vote due to the cover-up scandal of his secret booze-fueled Downing Street bashes during the Covid-19 lockdown: Partygate.

However, the term failed to persist in some cases. An illegal arm deal to Iran to fund the opposition against the communist government in Nicaragua during the term of US President Ronald Reagan, was referred to as Irangate and Contragate, but it went down in history as the "Iran-Contra Affair."

Following his affair with young intern Monica Lewinsky, Clinton barely avoided Nixon's fate, and the "Monicagate" as a term of political shame did not take deep root.

By that point, says former senior New York Times editor Merrill Perlman, US media had developed an aversion to using "gate" every time scandal erupted, adding that "Language is fickle."

Yet it has persisted. Former president Donald Trump faced Russiagate, referring to the suspected Russian interference in the US presidential elections in 2016; then, there was Ukrainegate, in which Trump was accused of blackmailing Kyiv in search for secret information that could embarrass Joe Biden in the 2022 elections. Perlman said the expanded use has watered down the term from its original roots in the US politics, noting that "it's already lost a lot of its political heft."

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