Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Facts are stubborn things

The most frustrating thing about the recent commentary on Watergate and the press is the shallowness of most of it. We have important new facts, but we mostly get predictable posturing: Nixon as victim versus Nixon as monster.

That is somewhat funny because the MSM usually prides itself on its “sophisticated”, “nuanced” view of the world in contrast to the “simplistic”, “black and white” worldview of unthinking partisans.

Take this example from columnist Martin Schram:
Richard Nixon's ex-convicts - who did jail time for their crimes against democracy and then profited from their crimes by writing books and becoming celebrities - had returned to work one more con. Nixon's former senior White House assistant, Charles Colson, and the Nixon team's burglar-in-chief, G. Gordon Liddy, worked the cable news circuit, expressing moral indignation that the FBI's former deputy director, W. Mark Felt, was Deep Throat.
Now that is a nice way to slam your opponents, but it really does not get at the key issues raised by those men. It does not admit that they raised anything that deserves discussion.

I think Chuck Colson made a telling point when Mark Felt was outed as Deep Throat. Check out this interview with Christianity Today:

CT: On CNN and the Today Show and elsewhere you've said that Mark Felt's actions as "Deep Throat" were not honorable. Why?

CC:Because he was basically leaking FBI files, which ironically is what I went to prison for. He was handing out FBI files, which are held in the greatest secrecy, in a clandestine operation with Woodward and Bernstein. That's the most secure thing in the United States government, because the FBI, for goodness sakes, has files on half of the American people. And if they indiscriminately pass this out, for whatever they deem to be a worthy purpose, you've broken down the whole system.

I gave one FBI file on Daniel Ellsberg to a newspaper reporter. So I don't think it's honorable to do what Felt did. I think he had an honorable solution, which he chose not to use.

Colson went to jail for sharing sensitive FBI information with a reporter. Felt did the same thing and became the hero of Watergate. That inconsistency of outcomes is striking. It is worthy of serious examination.

Instead we are given only character assassination. Colson went to jail so nothing he says can have any merit according to Mr. Schram. He then ladles on some gratuitous smear-gravy about felons making millions from their crimes. A lot of smoke here, but not many facts or much argument.

I’d argue that Colson, of all the Watergate figures, showed the most contrition and did the least to profit from his crimes. For years after his guilty plea, he stayed away from political commentary. His work with Prison Fellowship has been admirable. He worked hard to get conservatives to think seriously about crime, punishment, rehabilitation, redemption, and charity instead of relying on empty slogans about law and order.

It seems to me that nothing in his post-Watergate life precludes Colson from making his point about Felt’s actions and Colson’s crime. Further, it is a good point; I’ve not seen a good rebuttal.

Note as well that Schram singles out only Liddy and Colson for condemnation. He apparently has no problem with John Dean who has truly made a career out of Watergate. By my count he has produced at least five books that rely on his Watergate notoriety. He was also on all the news shows talking about Deep Throat. Did Schram forget him because Dean asked no hard questions?

UPDATE: Julie Neidlinger has more on Colson and his work here.

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