The bigger picture on Watergate

The bigger picture on Watergate

Summary: As an avid follower of Watergate, I have been consuming megabytes of data about the unmasking of Deep Throat for decades. I can remember following the story in the newspapers (pre-Internet) and listening to the Watergate hearings on the radio.

TOPICS: Amazon

allpresidentmen.jpgAs an avid follower of Watergate, I have been consuming megabytes of data about the unmasking of Deep Throat for decades. I can remember following the story in the newspapers (pre-Internet) and listening to the Watergate hearings on the radio. When the movie "All the President's Men" came out in 1976, I was inspired to become a journalist, although my scoops were confined to the technology world. Many times in the past I showed parts of the movie to my news teams as inspiration for fighting the good fight. I have had my own Deep Throats who steered me in the right direction in pursuit of scoops, not of the importance of a Watergate or Irangate, but how about a new laptop from Apple or IBM buying Lotus.

The whole discussion over whether Mark Felt was a traitor or hero, and whether his motives were pure, is beside the point. He helped Woodward and Bernstein unravel the grossly criminal actions of the Nixon administration and bring about much needed reforms. Is it a contradiction for a top FBI official, and Woodward mentor, to help uncover the misdeeds of the Nixon administration and to approve illegal break-ins during the FBI's investigation of the Weather Underground? Perhaps, but how can ferreting out criminals and transparency be bad in the big picture? Isn't that the job of the FBI? All the dissembling and castigation of Felt by Pat Buchanan, John Dean and others who either played a role in the conspiracy or view whistleblowers as disloyal is embarrassing.

If the Web and the blogosphere had been around in the early 1970's, Woodward and Bernstein would have had a lot more help and competition in digging out the truth. As the Washington Post's newly minted blog on Deep Throat (that's how you know that blogging is mainstream) reports, "All the President's Men" (the book) zoomed up the Amazon best seller list (No. 24 as of this writing). The DVD of the movie has gone from nowhere to No. 14. The best result to come out of the identification of Deep Throat after more than 30 years of mystery is that a whole new generation can learn about Watergate and the practice of good journalism.

Topic: Amazon

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  • Another perspective

    As an equally avid follower of Watergate at the time, let me offer another view of Mr. Felt's role.

    It would be one thing for a mid-level FBI employee, or even a senior official in another area of the federal government, to do what he did. But for a very senior official, one who could plausibly expect to be made director of the FBI, to "backdoor" this information to reporters who had their own reasons for wanting Nixon out, seems inexcusable.

    I know cynicism about government is fashionable, and I take a back seat to no-one in a healthy distrust of government motivations, but is it really too much to ask that a senior law-enforcement official actually, you know, enforce the law?!

    I heard Pat Buchanan this morning on a local radio station, talking about Mr. Felt, and he didn't come across as over-the-top on his criticisms of Felt's actions. Buchanan is a demagogue, no question, but on this one, he's more right than wrong.
  • So Nixon gets away?

    The choice here was between having someone with the courage to do what Felt did, or letting Nixon get away with rigging the election through the nomination of George McGovern.

    Buchanan thinks that would have been OK. Buchanan has no respect for our democratic system (small d).

    I think the words of Nixon loyalists on this should be considered carefully, and we should now have the right to question their commitment to democracy.
    • Not at all

      If Nixon deserved to go (and he did), then it was the responsibility of those in positions of authority to pursue his removal via public, legal means, not through leaks, and through the dissemination of confidential material via the newspaper.

      What you end up with is one guy with an at least dual motivation (revenge + a true belief that Nixon was going to get away with a crime) giving information on the sly to 2 other guys with severely compromised motivations (career advancement, political leanings (at least in Bernstein's case), and stopping a crime and its cover-up). We can debate the order those motivations should go in, but I don't think you can seriously argue that the sole motivation on both sides was a passionate committment to constutional democracy.

      Felt was in a unique position: he knew what was going on, and he was a senior law enforcement official. He could conceivably have done something about this through legal channels. That he didn't says something about him and his motivations.

      Don't let the outcome, which almost everyone would agree was ultimately positive for the country, obscure the underhanded way the outcome was pursued. There was another choice, but Felt didn't take it.

      I do, however, have no problem questioning Buchanan's committment to democracy. He's been drifting further and further out on the fringe for years on that score. But that doesn't entirely negate what he has to say about Felt's motivations.
      • motivations

        Certainly Felt has mixed feelings about his actions as has been written about over the last number of days...and concerns about his job and the Hoover-era tradition and reputation of the FBI...and he clearly knew something about subterfuge...but in the bigger picture what legal means to pursue justice and have the truth come out when those above him are squashing the investigation, lying, asking the FBI to give the investigation to the CIA you sit back and just ignore?
        • re: motivations

          Arguably, Felt had an axe to grind against Nixon because he had been passed over to replace Hoover. However, crimes were being committed and covered up so that needed to come out.

          I have heard the argument on the airwaves that the right thing to do would have been to do it openly. That would be more noble but it might also have been a good way to slit your own throat. One of the people doing the covering up was effectively the Chief law enforcement officer (Nixon). The heads of the various law enforcement branches are political appointees of the President (I was young but wasn't one of Nixon's Attorney General's implicated in the whole mess?). There's a very good chance going out in the open gets you nowhere but torpedoed as far as your career goes (and maybe even dead). If you go to the opposing party in Congress, the whole thing would just smack of politics.

          All in all, being anonymous was probably the best way to handle it (anybody who disagrees might want to have a conversation with Linda Tripp). His motives may not have been pure but it was probably the right thing to do.