‘Gaslit’: 4 Things to Know About Martha Mitchell Before Watching Julia Roberts’ New Political Drama

The Starz network’s new series Gaslit tackles the topic of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, but this time folks will see it from someone else’s perspective. The limited series focuses on Martha Mitchell (portrayed by Julia Roberts), the woman who first blew the whistle on the Nixon administration’s wrongdoing. The show covers Mitchell’s point of view along with that of her husband, John Mitchell (Sean Penn), and various other people close to the administration. Here’s what you need to know about Martha before diving into the series.

'Gaslit' star Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell is seen here sitting in a formal gown at a dinner table in a production still from the series.
Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell

‘Gaslit’ characters refer to Martha Mitchell as the ‘Mouth of the South’

Mitchell, born in Arkansas, was the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General John Dixon. She often got both herself and her husband into predicaments by being known as a gossip. Mitchell befriended several reporters and subtly tipped them off regarding critical political matters. Her outspokenness on Republican issues earned her the nickname “The Mouth of the South,” but people also called her “Martha the Mouth.” Gaslit mentions Mitchell’s nickname at least once in the series.

Martha Mitchell was the first whistleblower of the Watergate scandal

Most people know Deep Throat as the official whistleblower of the Nixon administration’s crimes, now known as Watergate. All the President’s Men, a movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein, tells how the journalists uncovered Watergate. However, it was Mitchell who first alerted people to the wrongdoings. Gaslit focuses mainly on Martha Mitchell instead. 

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John Mitchell hired a former FBI agent to keep his wife from alerting the press about Watergate

John Mitchell worked closely with President Nixon and eventually left his position as attorney general to head up the Committee to Reelect the President, also mockingly known as CREEP. Five men broke into the Democratic National Committee offices when the Mitchells visited California and destroyed necessary paperwork. James McCord, a former bodyguard of the Mitchells and someone Martha developed a friendship, was one of the men.

John Mitchell feared his wife’s reaction to the news. He hired former FBI agent Steve King to come to their hotel and prevent her from talking to the press. Mitchell later told reporters that King tied her to the bed, kicked her, and a psychiatrist forcibly injected her with a sedative to keep her quiet.

'Gaslit' focuses on John and Martha Mitchell, seen here in a file photo from 1971.
John and Martha Mitchell | Bettmann/Getty Images

Mitchell was shunned after her claims and died completely alone

Unfortunately, Nixon’s aides and even her husband worked to discredit her claims. The press barely covered Martha Mitchell’s story. She was often brushed off as an alcoholic who didn’t know what she was talking about.

The press didn’t take Mitchell’s accusations seriously, despite her saying the Watergate scandal went all the way to the Oval Office. Most of the time, if the press covered Mitchell’s story at all, it was reported from a celebrity gossip angle. Accounts from Nixon’s aides often implied Mitchell was an alcoholic and seeking attention. Deep Throat entirely overshadows her part as a whistleblower in Watergate.

Estranged from her daughter and divorced from her husband, Mitchell died “destitute and alone,” according to the Eugene Register-Guard. Neither her ex-husband nor her 14-year-old daughter Marty was by her side when she died. 

Gaslit‘s version of Martha Mitchell hopes to bring attention back to the woman nobody believed and her unfair treatment from those with power. The limited original series premieres exclusively on Starz on April 24, 2022.

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