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Brill’s fraternity brother told the newspaper that Brill was paid James Bond-style. Once, he was told to meet a woman with a red dress, a white carnation and a newspaper to be paid. Another time, he was told to go to a bookstore, where he would be handed a book with payment inside. Both Brill and Gorton denied this account.
Woodward and Bernstein’s story vaporized Gorton’s golden resume.
Five days later, the Washington Post published an editorial that, as Gorton puts it, “said I was corrupting America’s youth.”
The Department of the Interior fired him a month and a half later because of the “adverse publicity” surrounding his campaign role. The headline of the front-page Washington Post story the next day: “U.S. Fires GOP Spy’s Paymaster.”
George H.W. Bush, at the time Republican National Committee chairman, held a press conference banishing Gorton from party headquarters and the party itself, Gorton says.
At the time, the events of the 1972 election didn’t even seem real. “We all joked that the attorney general would be good company if we went to jail,” Gorton says now. “Well, the fucking attorney general went to jail.”
He was never fined or charged for his activities on the Nixon campaign. But it wasn’t just his career that was in shambles. His girlfriend dumped him. His friends disappeared. He grew ashamed of himself. “I thought of myself as a shady character,” he says. It began a downward spiral that didn’t end for years.
“It was,” he says, “a very dark period of my life.”
Heading Back to San Diego | Dishonored in Washington, Gorton limped out to the opposite corner of the country.
He worked odd jobs, interning under an 18-year-old boss at HomeFederal Savings and Loan. Gorton hawked a recording of the Winnie the Pooh song sung by Mike Curb, who would eventually become the state lieutenant governor, to radio stations.
And he slunk around town, burdened by his conscience.
“The first thing I thought of when I woke up was Watergate,” he says. “The last thing I thought of when I went to sleep was Watergate.”
He scratched his way back into politics, joining Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign as press secretary for his friend Jack Ford, the candidate’s son. A strapping young bachelor, Ford was like a rock star on the campaign trail, drawing fawning fans and appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone shirtless and barefoot.
The younger Ford and Gorton returned to San Diego after the election and bought a group of small North County community newspapers that included the Del Mar News-Press. To help them run the paper, they recruited Gorton’s girlfriend, a woman named Susan Golding.
Gorton had a romantic idea of the life of a newspaper owner, one that was quickly shattered by the workaday struggles he faced. “I thought a publisher got to strut and act important,” Gorton says. “But it’s about fixing the typesetter, spending a bunch of money and begging people to do things.”
At the newspaper, the guy who felt maligned by the media from his bout with Watergate now found himself on the other side of the printing press, with a newfound vengeance for ethical journalism.
“We thought we were The New York Times of Del Mar,” he says.
He rejoiced over the little scoops the paper sniffed out, like the time the paper photographed a camp of illegal immigrants living in Del Mar. His enthusiasm mirrored the excitement the cub reporters there had for covering the happenings in North County.
Even as his life brightened, Gorton remained angry inside. He’d inherited his father’s temper. He used anger to manage people, yelling out orders to a room of campaign staffers, only to have to go back to apologize later.
California in the 1970s bred a movement known as est Training, a self-awareness seminar popularized by stars like John Denver and Yoko Ono that taught taking responsibility for one’s life and experiences. Gorton and Golding attended a San Diego installment of the seminar. Skeptical, Gorton went to expose it as a touchy-feely rip-off.
“I figured I’d stand up right at the right time and let them have it,” he says. “But they let me have it first.”
In the sessions, trainees were directed to find a moment in their lives, a transformative moment, and go back to it, to smell it, to feel it again, to see it from another perspective. Sometimes those memories carried waves of emotion or nausea. Est Training gained notoriety from news reports and hearsay about trainees crying and vomiting during the sessions.
He chose to relive Watergate. But instead, his estranged father appeared to him. Gorton went to a phone and called his father and told him he loved him.
The experience lifted him higher in his rise from the ashes of Watergate.
Golding soon began her own political ascent. She eyed a vacant City Council seat and Gorton helped her get appointed to fill it — placing her one step closer to her eventual role as mayor of San Diego.
Noriega’s Call | As the 1980s came, a new era was opening around the world, and old economic and political cultures were collapsing. In places like Latin America and Eastern Europe, military dictators and Communist leaders were being replaced by the uneasy foundations of democracy.