When Charles Ferguson began planning his four-hour documentary on the Watergate scandal, which drove President Nixon from office, he envisioned a "historical detective story." But as the Trump administration progressed, he saw parallels between the events of the Nixon era and the present political moment, the New York Times reports. The film's website calls it a full retelling of the events of the early 1970s. "But crucially, the film also situates Watergate in the context of all the issues it raised—many of which, of course, now resonate powerfully with current events," the site says. That was the problem, Ferguson says a History Channel executive told him. The exec, Eli Lehrer, "was concerned about the impact of Watergate upon ratings in 'red states,'" Ferguson charges in a lawsuit filed Friday, "as well as the negative reaction it would provoke among Trump supporters and the Trump administration."
The suit says the network tried to keep its broadcast of the film from being successful. A&E, which owns the History Channel, disputed Ferguson's claims. Part of his objection is that Watergate aired just once, despite having received mostly positive reviews before its broadcast, including one in the Los Angeles Times. The network says that decision wasn't part of a coverup; the film's ratings didn't live up to expectations. Nielsen ratings show that Watergate drew a fraction of the viewers attracted by the History Channel's Grant documentary, for example. Ferguson says A&E tried to give the film a low profile, which he says is part of a "pattern and practice of censorship and suppression of documentary content" at the network. "A&E invested millions of dollars in this project and promoted it extensively," the company countered. Watergate can be seen on various streaming services. (Trump said he learned from Nixon.)