Forty three years after Watergate opened the media floodgates on attaching a “gate” suffix to any story — major or trivial — that hinted of scandal, the practice is still going strong. Case in point: Deflategate, courtesy of quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The controversy that now has its own Wikipedia page began Jan. 18, 2015, at the AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. Allegations that the footballs Brady used during the lopsided game were underinflated led to a four-month investigation and a 243-word report that found it more probable than not that Brady knew about the deflated footballs.
The result: A four-game suspension for Brady in the 2015 season, a $1 million fine and the loss of two draft picks for the Patriots, and enough front-page sacking of the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to last an entire season.
Watergate, the historic scandal that started it all, was an epic tale of crime and cover-up at the highest levels of the U.S. government. It pitted The Washington Post against President Richard Nixon, leader of the free world. It began with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex in 1972. The Post’s stories ultimately brought in the rest of the news media. Congress and the courts also investigated. The resulting exposure of White House wrongdoing led Nixon to resign in 1974 and earned the Post a Pulitzer Prize for public service.
The Newseum’s News History Gallery highlights the “gate” syndrome in an exhibit on the watchdog press. Some examples:
“This isn’t ISIS,” Brady said in the early days of the controversy, dismissing the allegations as frivolous.
Deflategate certainly isn’t deadly like ISIS or on a level of deception as Watergate. But like it or not, it is now an official national scandal with a lasting place in journalism lore.