Thursday, June 30, 2005

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Shelby Foote, RIP

A writer and historian of traditional sensibility. A devoted reader of Proust who wrote a sweeping narrative of the Civil War when the historical profession was sinking into the mire of minute case studies and the miasma of narrow viewpoints and the "studies' epidemic. The astonishing thing is that he had the last laugh of sorts.

When he appeared as a commenter on Ken Burns's Civil War documentary, he achieved a fame and popularity that tenured, professional historians can only fantasize about.

There is an irony, of sorts, in that. Foote, a stubbornly old-fashioned Southern gentleman, a man who wrote his 1,500,000 word epic in longhand using a dip pen, tuned out to be a charismatic figure on television.

This obituary is from his home town paper. On Saturday CSPAN will re-air their three hour visit with him from 2001.

UPDATE: I think this is a measure of his charisma. No one can accuse Ken Burns of being a Southern sympathizer, but he knows good television.
Burns said Foote gave the documentary a "sense of willing the past moment to life."

"We had planned to film 30 or 40 historians. Shelby Foote was in it 89 times or something like that. The next closest was seven or eight times," Burns said

HT: Raine in Seattle

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

They learn nothing and they forget nothing

Thus are legends perpetuated
But there sometimes are good reasons for using anonymous sources, as well. The identification of former FBI official Mark Felt as The Washington Post's famed "Deep Throat" has revived interest in the Watergate scandal, perhaps the most important journalistic revelation in American history. Without Felt and a number of other unidentified sources, the lawlessness in Richard Nixon's White House might never have come to light.

The South Bend Tribune is trying to explain why they sometimes use anonymous sources. Deep Throat is the big hammer that clinches the case for using them sometimes. So much easier to just repeat the legend than to look to closely at what Deep Throat, Woodward, and Bernstein actually accomplished.

Though, to be fair, their policy is not a bad one. If the managing editor does their job, a lot of bad stories will get nipped in the bud. OTOH, that can be a big "if" given the dynamic discussed here:

The rotten heart of investigative journalism
I hope it's just temporary

I mean the pig's cute and all, but it sure isn't going to blog about barbecue.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Caution: Reporter at work

My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is the last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

Joan Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem

Knowing that Sloan was always less that anxious to see them, they did not telephone ahead. As usual, he was too polite to close the door in their faces. He looked pale and defeated. he had lost weight. He uninvited them into the front hallway. The job-hunting was going badly, he said-- the taint of Watergate. Equally awful, there was no end in sight to the trials and civil depositions that were making him a professional witness at about $20 a day. They did not know how to respond. Visiting Sloan always made them feel like vultures.

Woodward and Bernstein, All the President's Men

I liked Bernstein; he was scruffy but impressed me as sincere. Woodward was stuffy. He had tried to interview my friend John Martin of the Internal Security Division about me, and Martin had declined comment.

'Nobody turns down Bob Woodward' huffed the newly baptized member of the Beautiful People.

G. Gordon Liddy, Will

Hersh came into the story in November 1972. He had learned from Bob Loomis, his editor at Random House, that there was a book going around town in which Frank Sturgis, one of the Cubans, told all, in conjunction with a free-lancer with strong Cuban connections named Andrew St. George. Loomis had seen the outline and it sounded like strong stuff, as if the Cubans were ready to tell their side of the story. St. George George, who had one been with Castro in the hills, and who had worked for both Life and Look, had fallen on thinner days as a journalist, and Hersh made a connection with him. Later St. George felt badly used by Hersh, but meanwhile he cooperated, and made a fatal mistake for any reporter: he allowed Hersh to meet Sturgis,, his prime source. Sturgis was on the make, St. George was a connection for him, but Hersh with the might and majesty of the Times was clearly a better one. Traditionally, reporters do not let their superiors or any of their colleagues meet their best sources for precisely this reason, a source may decide to trade up. Sturgis, having met Hersh, bypassed St. George.

David Halberstam, The Powers that Be

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Patrick Gray on ABC

It was an interesting interview, but not a blockbuster. ABC could have done more with it had they wanted to. The main problem was that they did not do a very good job of putting Gray's statements into the context of the Watergate story and Felt's role in it. They are still fixated on the "limits of loyalty" angle. As i've tried to show here, the crucial questions relate to the truthfulness of Felt's leaks and the reliability of Woodward and Bernstein as reporter/historians.

Here's a newspaper account based on the transcript ABC provided reporters.

Friday, June 24, 2005

"Dogs and cats living together"

I never watch the Stephanopoulos on ABC. But he was on Imus this morning to discuss his interview with L. Patrick Gray. That makes his show appointment TV this weekend. It is Gray's first interview in over 30 years. For the first time, we will hear his side of the story.

Gray is an interesting case. The Nixon insiders left him "twisting slowly in the wind." Felt and Dean made him a scapegoat and used him to justify and cover-up their own misdeeds. Reporters blamed him for things he did not do. Yet, Woodward watched him testify at his confirmation hearings and thought he "demonstrated a dangerous candor."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Watergate: The Dean Story and the Standard Account

In the spring and summer of 1973, Watergate reporters knew that the big stories were going to come from John Dean. Liddy was reveling in his Spartan silence. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, and Mitchell were hanging tough with their modified limited hangout. McCord, Sloan, and Magruder were not high-ranking enough to shed much light on what had happened inside the Oval Office. Dean's story was the only game in town for those who wanted the next front page headline.

Even before Dean went on the record before the Ervin committee, he and his lawyers were using reporters to get their spin on the story. They were in a strong bargaining position. They could pick and choose among reporters. Those they liked got just enough facts to break a story. Obviously, they had no incentive to select journalists who asked too many hard questions about Dean's role or who tried to verify his account by going to 'hostile' sources.

In his book The Powers that Be, David Halberstam details how this worked. This incident is typical:
[Dean] was very good with the Washington Post. He cut out the New York Times for quite a while because the Times seemed to him to be reflecting the Chuck Colson anti-Dean line. Finally there was a breakfast between Scotty Reston and Bob McCandless [Dean's lawyer]. Reston wanted to know how the Times could get back in on the John Dean industry and it was decided that if the Times did not actually call for immunity for dean, it would nonetheless say that people should start listening to him. Shortly after that, Seymour Hersh was assigned Dean by the Times and soon after that, the Times's coverage was right up there with that of the Post.

Maybe I am naïve, but this sounds like the Times willingly, eagerly participated in discussions with John Dean that were part of John Dean's personal cover-up. In their pursuit of a "big story" the Times agreed to vouch for a Watergate conspirator before they could check his story.

The Times was not alone in this. As Halberstam makes clear, all the big dogs on the Watergate beat played this game. The Watergate narrative that took shape was compromised by their reliance on John Dean. The reporters and their editors had been co-opted. The outlines of the Standard Account of Watergate had to follow John Dean's story.

The co-option, in some cases, was severe and persisted long after the Summer of '73. In the acknowledgments for All the President's Men, Woodward and Bernstein include Taylor Branch among those who "contributed their time, energy and counsel to the preparation of this book". Branch was also the co-author of Dean's first Watergate book, Blind Ambition. Hays Gorey, who was a key reporter for Time magazine on Watergate was the ghostwriter for Maureen Dean's memoirs. The Dean camp not only manipulated the first draft of history in 1973, they managed to shape the second draft as well.

In 1973-74, the pace of events made it impossible to revise the evolving narrative. The reporters who were the "Watergate experts" were locked into the Dean version of the crime and the coverup. No untainted outsider had time to master the details and independently verify them. Moreover, some of the most crucial facts were unavailable. Dean did not admit that he destroyed the Hunt notebooks until after the Ervin hearings were finished. Liddy did not tell his story until 1980.

By the time new evidence became available, Watergate was old news. Even worse, it had acquired the mythic properties. The David and Goliath story of Nixon versus Woodward and Bernstein (better yet, Redford and Hoffman) was more than mere history. It was too powerful to be analyzed and too well known to be investigated anew. There was also the undeniable fact that Nixon had committed crimes and deserved to be impeached. What did the why's and how's matter?

Of course, the same case could be made for teaching the fables of Parson Weems to our junior high students. After all, George Washington was a great man, so what does it matter if he never said "I cannot tell a lie" after chopping down a cherry tree? The pundits of the MSM would pour scorn on any school board that made such a ridiculous argument. So why are they so happy to repeat the Watergate fables?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Watergate Silences: Gaps in the historical record

Ron Rosenbaum has an interesting two-part question in this New York Observer article:

1. Did Nixon order the June 1972 break-in at the Watergate?
2. Why haven't journalists and historians pursued this question with more energy?

Rosenbaum thinks the answer to #1 is 'yes" which leaves him struggling to answer #2. And he most definitely does think it deserves an answer.

This is the real scandal for journalists: Amidst the orgy of nostalgic self-congratulation that the Mark Felt revelation has prompted, it seems to have been forgotten that journalists have abandoned the most basic crime-reporter responsibility-pin down whodunit. As in who ordered it. None of the official investigations, the Senate Watergate Committee, the House Impeachment Committee, the Special Prosecutor's report were able to pin it directly on Nixon. As a result, as Mr. Greenberg attests, in most mainstream biographies and histories of Nixon and Watergate, Nixon gets a pass. He lied about everything else, but on this one thing-the initiating act of the fall of a government-we should just take his word; he's telling the whole truth.

I think that Rosenbaum is right to argue that we need close this gap in Watergate history. But I think that there are other gaps as well-gaps that call into question Rosenbaum's certainty about question #1. However, these gaps are troublesome because they raise troubling questions about the Standard Account of Watergate: brave press and investigators bring down evil Nixon and his Praetorian Guard.

First off, though, let's say that Rosenbaum is right. Nixon had potentially scandalous dealings with Howard Hughes and was afraid Larry O'Brien (DNC chair) would use them against him. A big question immediately comes to mind: why was Nixon and crew so certain that O'Brien had this information? Had they unearthed evidence that someone had collected evidence for the DNC or that someone there was attempting to use it?

They must have been certain because the break-in was not a routine matter. The Nixon White House had many enemies but they sent out Liddy and Hunt only a few times to do black bag jobs. Why were they so certain that the evidence was in that office at that time?

If the evidence was in the Watergate it certainly did not arrive via a public-spirited citizen. Too much digging around in this matter might bolster one of the Nixon camp's first defense-"everyone does it." If the Plumbers just got carried away in a game of political "Spy versus spy", then Watergate loses its moral clarity. The mythic power of the Standard Account is best maintained by focusing on the cover-up. Only one side could misuse the power of the Presidency so there was less danger of moral ambiguity.

Rosenbaum does not address one of the big reasons for this puzzle about the break-in. That is that the Standard Account took shape based on only a few sources. In the critical year-1973-the big Watergate disclosures came from James McCord, John Dean, Jeb Magruder and Deep Throat.

Now we know that all four were self-interested and often dishonest in crafting their stories. Dean, for example, could not reveal the details of the break-in authorization because he maintained that he was not involved. By deflecting attention from himself, he sent investigators and reporters down blind alleys that led to dead-ends. Similarly, Dean shifted responsibility for the loss of the Hunt notebooks to Patrick Gray, which helped obscure Dean's pre-break-in culpability while also making Nixon and Haldeman look more guilty.

Journalists are understandably loath to dig into the evasions of Dean, Felt and McCord. Any serious attempt to do so takes some of the shine off the boys of Watergate summer. It's hard to sustain a myth about heroic reporters when the heroes get conned by their sources and help them concoct false, misleading stories in pursuit of plea bargains or promotions.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Deep Throat: The irreconcilable differences between image and fact

William Safire traces the origins of Watergate back to the wiretaps placed on White House staffers and reporters beginning in 1969. However, this domestic security operation plays a very small role in the Watergate narrative of All the Presidents Men. Now that we know who Deep Throat was, this blind spot is revealing and raises troubling questions about Felt's motives and the price reporters pay for using anonymous sources with personal agendas.

Woodward and Bernstein did not break the wiretap story. Its outline first appeared in Time magazine in February 1973. Deep Throat kept this operation secret from his young reporter friend. Mark Felt knew about the bugging because it was a national security operation authorized by the Attorney General, blessed by J. Edgar Hoover, and conducted by the FBI.

When the story came out in Time, Woodward met with Deep Throat to ask about the wiretaps. His source fed him lies. He laid the blame on Liddy and Hunt. "There was an out-of-channels vigilante squad of wiretappers that did it." The leaders were "ex-FBI and ex-CIA agents who were hired outside of channels."

More telling, Deep Throat laid down a warning about following Time's story too hastily:
"Don't jump too fast."

Deep Throat had protected the FBI by deflecting blame to the White House and CREEP. He shielded Kissinger and Haig who had been involved from the beginning and had helped select the targets for the tapping.

Felt's silence and subsequent lies are revealing for several reasons. First, it undercuts the idea that his Watergate revelations had an altruistic motive. The man who helped bring down Nixon had no problem with the FBI bugging reporters and White House staffers. He kept the NSC wiretaps secret for over three years. That is hard to square with his image as a patriot trying to defend the Constitution. Second, Felt's actions demonstrate that his relationship with Woodward was pragmatic with no hint of benevolence. He hid a big story from a young reporter, he minimized its scale as the story began to surface, and he flat out lied when the cover-up broke down.

It is perplexing, then, to read Woodward's accounts of his thought after that February meeting:
"It was enough to know that Deep Throat would never deal with him falsely."

Skip forward to May 1973. The month begins on a high note for both the source and the reporter. The hated L. Patrick Gray was forced out of the FBI on April 27. On the 30th Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Kleindienst, and Dean resigned. Woodward and Bernstein wrote a story on 3 May that reiterated that the NSC taps were a Liddy/Hunt/CREEP operation. But Deep Throat was fighting a read-guard action. With so many investigations underway, the truth about the FBI wiretaps were bound to come out. Matters soon came to a head.

On 14 May FBI director Ruckelshaus revealed that the NSC wiretaps had been an FBI operation. On 15 May, Sy Hersh revealed in the New York Times that Henry Kissinger himself had worked with the FBI to select which staffers would be bugged.

The next night (16 May) Woodward met with Deep Throat. By any reasonable standard, the reporter should have been angry and skeptical. After all, his friend at the FBI had misled him for three months. The Post had been scooped by the Times and Time magazine because he had believed Deep Throat. How many other lies had been told, and how many other false stories had Woodward and Bernstein written?

Instead, Woodward meekly "listened obediently" to Deep Throat's next yarn. He was not allowed to ask questions as his now unreliable source held forth.

This is a moment of high drama in All the President's Men. Woodward goes back to apartment and calls Bernstein. When his partner arrives, he does not speak. With music playing in the background (more on that in a later post), they communicate via typewriter and scrawled notes.
"Everyone's life is in danger."

What spills out of the typewriter is the outline of a conspiracy so immense it defies belief and sends stabs of fear down everyone's spine. Nixon was using the CIA. Surveillance was everywhere. Howard Baker was in the tank. The cover-up was not about Watergate but a much bigger plot.

What follows is several days of clandestine adventure. They go to Bradlee's house for a meeting on a "half-dark street that ends at 4.00a.m. Editorial meetings are held outdoors or in vacant offices.

"For several days afer Woodward's meeting with Deep Throat, Bernstein and Woodward hehaved cautiously. They conferred on street corners, passed notes in the office, avoided telephone communications."

It makes for a fine story and a better movie, but it does not sound like good investigative reporting. How can two respected reporters be so trusting of a source that lied to them? If we believe W/B, then we must conclude that the reporters were gullible. They were so enamored with their secret source that they had taken leave of their critical faculties. They were not hard-bitten skeptics. Instead, they behaved like brainwashed cultists who accept any outlandish claim made by the trusted master.

The key thing is that Deep Throat's behavior torpedoes his image as a tortured patriot. His behavior is understandable but reprehensible nonetheless. He used the Washington Post to protect the FBI. He shifted blame for the wiretaps to two convenient targets (Liddy and Hunt) who he knew were innocent. He lied for bureaucratic advantage.

This story, it seems to me, must be the starting point for evaluating Mark Felt. It explains why he leaked instead of going to Congress as an honest whistle-blower. He leaked because he wanted to lie. In this case, he could not go to Congress because the truth hurt the FBI, not L. Patrick Gray.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The other side of Deep Throat

Ralph de Toledano provides a particularly interesting view of Mark Felt. He was Felt's ghost writer and a long-time friend and supporter of Richard Nixon. He wrote up some of his recollections in the 4 July issue of The American Conservative.
Contrary to legend, J. Edgar and Richard M. thoroughly disliked each other, though they kept their feelings under wraps. Following his usual custom of trying to keep new presidents off-balance. Hoover sent Mark Felt to investigate trumped-up charges by political gossip columnist Jack Anderson that John Ehrlichman, a Nixon adviser, was a homosexual. Ehrlichman was cleared, but from that moment Felt had him in his pocket, and the president had it in for Felt.

When Hoover died, Felt served for one day as acting director. But when it was suggested that Felt take over Hoover's job, Nixon was emphatically against it. Felt was "a bad guy," Nixon said. "I don't want him. I want a fellow in there that is not part of the old guard." Instead, he appointed L. Patrick Gray III, a Justice Department official. When the scandal began to build, Bob Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, complained, "the FBI is not under control because Pat Gray doesn't exactly know how to control it." Felt was running the investigation, and it was "leading into some productive areas" and getting much too close to home. Every thing that FBI agents were turning up was in Felt's hands. Moreover, Haldeman suspected, and he was correct, that Ehrlichman was reporting White House cover-up activities to Felt, and he had been told that Felt was leaking to the Washington Post and to Time.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Woodstein gets played: Deep Throat, Gray, and Hunt's notebooks

In light of the previous post, you have to wonder: How did L. Patrick Gray get tagged as a big fish in the Watergate cover-up?

It turns out that John Dean lied about him to divert attention form dean's own involvement in the Watergate burglary and cover-up. Deep Throat helped by feeding incorrect information to Woodward when the story broke.

After the arrest at the Watergate, Dean went through Howard Hunt's White House safe. He eventually turned over most of the material to FBI investigators. He gave two folders to Acting Director Gray. He himself kept two notebooks in which Hunt recorded the details of the spying operations and his covert career.

In October 1972, Hunt's lawyers filed a motion for the government to produce the notebooks. The prosecutors and FBI did not have them and feared that their disappearance could result in a dismissal of the case against Hunt.

In December, the prosecutors met with Dean and pressed him about the contents of hunt's safe. He pleaded poor memory when it came to the specific items found there, but insisted that he turned everything over to the FBI.

In the middle of the meeting, Dean pulled Assistant Attorney General Henry Peterson aside and told him that he gave the most sensitive items directly to gray. "If there are missing documents, he's got them."

This is from Dean's own account in Blind Ambition.

At a stroke, Dean (falsely) implicated Gray in the Watergate cover-up. He bought himself time and turned attention away from his own actions.

Dean claims that he destroyed the notebooks in January 1973.

What Gray actually received from dean were two pieces of "research" Hunt had worked on at the White House. One concerned JFK and the Diem assassination. (Hunt may have been trying to forge cables that would implicate JFK in the assassination of Diem.) The other was a dossier on ted Kennedy. They were sensitive because they were proof that Hunt was involved in political intelligence for Nixon and may have been gearing up for some very dirty tricks. However, neither file related to the Watergate burglary.

In December, 1972 Gray burned them.

On 26 April 1973, the New York Daily News broke the story of Gray's destruction of the files. By this time Dean had cut a deal with prosecutors and his narrative was the impetus for the "revelation". He did not mention at this time that he had retained the notebooks and destroyed them himself.

Woodward reports that he called Deep Throat soon after he heard about the Daily News story. Deep Throat confirmed it was true. He added that gray had been warned by the White House that the material was "political dynamite" and "could do more damage than the Watergate buggings themselves". He also stated (inaccurately) that Gray destroyed them within a week of receiving them.

It is impossible to determine how much of the distortion in Deep Throat's account was from Dean and how much was Felt putting the knife to the hated outsider who was his boss. In any case, Gray had the misfortune to wind up in the crosshairs of two willful men with personal agendas and a deficit of character. Woodward, Bernstein, and the rest of the press ended up carrying water for the bad guys in this case.
Dean did not admit that he destroyed the notebooks until after he cut his deal with prosecutors and became their star witness. This was after he testified to the Ervin committee. His gripping testimony in the summer of 1973 was a part of his own, personal, cover-up.

The April revelations were a deathblow to Gray's chances of being confirmed to head the FBI. With the fate of Hunt's notebooks still a mystery, his destruction of the two files seemed more sinister than it was.

Felt, however, did not gain from Gray's troubles. Nixon nominated another outsider to be FBI Director (William Ruckelshaus) and Felt would soon leave the bureau.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Even if you are sick of Deep Throat

Don't miss this ABC article on L. Patrick Gray. It is rewarding on three counts.

First, it sets the record straight about L. Patrick Gray. Deep Throat/Felt's virtue is heavily dependent on making Gray a Watergate conspirator. It is surprising, then, to read that Gray was not indicted for any Watergate-related matters. This undercuts the DT/F camp's argument that Felt was "forced" to go to Woodward because his boss was part of the Watergate conspiracy.

In fact, Gray's legal problems were exactly Felt's problems: illegal break-ins during the investigations of the Weather Underground. There was one key difference: Charges were dropped against Gray, but Felt was convicted.

Second, see how Bradlee and Bernstein got their facts wrong about Gray. They are desperate to defend their sources and methods and could not be bothered with little things like accuracy.

Third, Terry Lenzner makes an appearance. I did not realize that Bill Clinton's dirt collector was an investigator for the Watergate Committee.

A little offline digging suggests that Lenzner did not change his stripes. With Clinton, he worked to discredit those who might reveal embarrassing information about the Big He. With the Ervin Committee, he attacked those witnesses who undercut John Dean's politically useful but self-serving testimony.

Here is how William Safire described him in July 1973:

Terry Lenzner, born of wealth, captain of the Harvard football team, protégé of Ramsey Clark, and lawyer for the Reverend Philip Berrigan, is the essence of radical chic. He is a man on the make who strikes the pose of a stern guardian of civil liberties, but who has shown he has not the most rudimentary understanding of fairness and civility in human relationships.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Isn't this a little like

a bunch of American automotive engineers giving Cadillac it's overall excellence award the year they brought out the Cimarron ?

I can't think of a better example of the compound mentality in action.
Google traffic puzzle

The last couple of days i've gotten a steady stream of visits from people searching for "schrafft" and "ice cream". No idea why.

Monday, June 13, 2005


The latest roundup of econ and business blogging is over at Byrne's MarketView.
Deep Throat; No choice but to leak?

Richard Helms, A Look over My Shoulder

When President Nixon ordered his White House staff-- Messrs. Halderman, Ehrlichman, and Dean-- to direct me (via General Walters) to supply bail for the Watergate burglars, and to deflect the FBI's investigation of the crime, I instructed Walters to refuse their demands. Rather than force my resignation, and presumably face the likely intense public curiosity about the reasons for my leaving, President Nixon backed away.

Helms's actions show that the Nixon crowd were easily cowed by officials willing to do their duty. Felt, obviously, had the same power to focus "intense public scrutiny" on the White House by airing his concerns and resigning. (Or better yet, bringing them to Congress). His motives for leaking are clearly more ambiguous and less honorable than his rabid apologists will admit.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A plea from Steve Sailer

An Open Letter to the Women of the World: I know there's something about dangerous wackos like this fellow that sets your hearts to going pitty-pat, but, really ... Have you ever thought about how much better this world would be if, when meeting a potential homicidal maniac, you didn't always act upon that urge to have his baby?

backstory here

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Deep Throat's silence

Some confirmation for the theory i floated here about Felt's refusal to take a victory lap in the years after Nixon left the White House.

In Crazy Rhythm (1997), Leonard Garment relates some inside dope from Woodward himself:

One Bob Woodward told me that Deep Throat 's public role and public persona had changed radically since Watergate days; it was no so discordant with his former garage skulking behavior that Deep Throat would never come forward to identify himself.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Through the looking glass

Go read Patterico on illegal immigrants and consular rights

You can’t have it both ways, L.A. Times. You can’t make it hard for police to ask whether people are Mexican nationals, and then punish law enforcement because they failed to do that.
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The floodgates are open

Mark Felt: The Inevitable Sequel

Monday, June 06, 2005

"Defining wealth"

Shannon Love has a must read post over at Chicago Boyz.

Mark Steyn

But ''Revenge of the Sith'' is a marvel of motivational integrity compared to ''Revenge of the Felt,'' the concluding chapter in that other '70s saga, Watergate. Before the final denouement last week, there were a gazillion guesses at the identity of ''Deep Throat,'' but all subscribed to the basic contours of the Woodward and Bernstein myth: that he was someone deep in the bowels of the administration who could no longer in good conscience stand by as a corrupt president did deep damage to the nation. So Darth Throat, a fully paid-up Dark Lord of the Milhous, saved the Republic from the imperial paranoia of Chancellor Nixotine by transforming himself into Anakin Slytalker and telling what he knew to the Bradli knights of the Washington Post.

Now we learn that Deep Throat was not, in fact, Alexander Haig, David Gergen, Pat Buchanan or Len Garment, but a disaffected sidekick of J. Edgar Hoover, an old-school G-man embittered at being passed over for the director's job when the big guy keeled over after half-a-century in harness.

Jay Rosen
As everyone knows, there is a priesthood in journalism. Whether it has authority is another matter. The team of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and Woodward himself as author and investigator, are comparable to cardinals in the church. (Although Bernstein is seen as an under-achiever after Watergate, Woodward heads the college.) A chain of belief connects them and their deeds to the rookie reporter, to the J-schooler sweating a Masters degree, even to the kid taking liberal arts who joins the college newspaper. (Me, class of '79.)

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest collection of econ and business blogging is over at Gala Time.
"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

I doubt most modern journalists would agree with the newspaperman in John Ford's The Man who Shot Liberty Valance. The modern reporter is on a quest to strip away myth and legend to get at THE TRUTH.

Or at least that is what they tell us. But when it comes to the sacred myths of their profession (Vietnam and Watergate), they go to great lengths to shore up the legend.

I've already noted some of the flaws in the Vietnam myths: how professional ambition tempts reporters to become unduly pessimistic, how the historical record often undercuts the idea that the ignorant brass squelched honest truth-tellers in the ranks but brave reporters got the word out, how the press misread the Tet Offensive.

The key thing is that despite these facts, the legend remains. Old bulls like Halberstam and Rather still pat themselves on the back for the great job they did in Vietnam.

The same thing is now happening with Watergate and Deep Throat.

We are now told that Deep Throat's motives either do not matter or were purely noble. An ambitious bureaucrat with scores to settle has replaced the heroic source played by Hal Holbrook in the movie. Does not matter. Does not change the storyline. The only people who care, say Bernstein and Bradlee, are die-hard Nixon propagandists like Pat Buchanan and felons like G. Gordon Liddy.

That charge is revisionist/denial tripe of the worst sort. Long before Felt's outing, thoughtful writers worried that the motives and bureaucratic agendas of Woodstein's sources mattered a great deal. There was a black hole in the record and that left us with an incomplete understanding of Watergate.

Edward Jay Epstein wrote this in 1974:

Perhaps the most perplexing mystery in Bernstein and Woodward's book is why they fail to understand the role of the institutions and investigators who were supplying them and other reporters with leaks. This blind spot, endemic to journalists, proceeds from an unwillingness to see the complexity of bureaucratic in-fighting and of politics within the government itself. If the government is considered monolithic, journalists can report its activities, in simply comprehended and coherent terms, as an adversary out of touch with popular sentiments. On the other hand, if governmental activity is viewed as the product of diverse and competing agencies, all with different bases of power and interests, journalism becomes a much more difficult affair.
Liberal historian Max Lerner reviewed The Final Days in 1975 and worried that Woodward and Bernstein paid too little attention to the "self-interest of the sources" and denied the reader enough information to "make his own assessment of them."

In 1982 Ron Rosenbaum wrote:
In defense of the non-dottiness of Deep Throat speculation, let me point out that Watergate and its aftermath was a subterranean war of leaks, of attempts by one faction or another to divert press and prosecutorial attention to rival power centers. Several significant civil wars within the White house and within the bureaucracies and agencies acted themselves out in deep background attacks. Deep Throat might have been a conscience-stricken lone seeking absolution in underground garage confessionals. But he might have been a cynical game-player trying to use the Washington Post for some factional gain. Without knowing his identity, our understanding of Watergate history will be incomplete.

For three decades we have waited for an important piece of the Watergate puzzle. We now have it. Suddenly, Woodward, Bernstein, and their cheering section insist that the identity of Deep Throat is irrelevant, that Deep Throat was not THAT important to the Watergate stories (poor Hal Holbrooke).

At the same time, we are supposed to see Deep Throat as a hero because he helped bring down Nixon and helped the Washington Post save the republic. Of course, the whole threat to the Republic thing relies heavily on the stuff Deep Throat told Woodward. The actual crimes of Watergate (those proven in court) are pretty prosaic. The drama in ATPM-the need for clandestine signals and secret meetings, flowerpots and typed messages-all that rests on Woodward's and Felt's veracity.

That drama also depends on convenient omissions. To set up the heroic struggle between the Nixon White House and two young reporters, the Standard Version leaves out the real battlefield. To make Deep Throat central to Watergate, the journalistic mythmakers ignore what was happening in Judge Sirica's courtroom. Nixon was doomed when James McCord broke his silence to get a lighter sentence. The men around Nixon were brought down the way most criminal conspiracies are: prosecutors pressured the small fry into implicating their bosses. Deep Throat had no role in that. Neither did Woodward and Bernstein.

Some have tried to justify Felt's leaks by pretending that the Nixon-beast was so powerful that he had no place to turn. Bill O'Reily maintains that he would have been "destroyed" had he blown the whistle publicly.

This is laughably wrong. Democrats controlled the Congress. They would have gladly given him a hearing. Powerful figures like Jack Brooks were champing at the bit to impeach Nixon. What they needed was solid evidence. Surely Felt could have given them that.

The sad thing is that the facts never could support the Watergate narrative that Woodward, Bernstein, and Robert Redford cooked up. Here's Epstein from 1974:
In any event, the fact remains that it was not the press, which exposed Watergate; it was agencies of government itself. So long as journalists maintain their blind spot toward the inner conflicts and workings of the institutions of government, they will no doubt continue to speak of Watergate in terms of the David and Goliath myth, with Bernstein and Woodward as David and the government as Goliath.

So it turns out that the MSM is not all that different from John Ford's movie scribbler. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." At least when the legend makes your profession look heroic and serves a political purpose.

UPDATE: See also:

Leaks, Journalsim, and the Right to Know

On leaks, bias and truth

It's only a game

The rotten heart of investigative journalism

Saturday, June 04, 2005

One more eternal mystery about Deep Throat

Even if Felt is Deep Throat, we will never know much about his motives. He can't tell us anymore (time and age distort everything). More importantly, he can't tell us much about his dealings with Woodward. We have only one version of interaction-- W&B's myth-making in ATPM.

A couple of days before Vanity Fair released it's story I quoted Joan Didion's warning that "writers are always selling somebody out."

Investigative reporters often wheedle, cajole, flatter and threaten their sources to pry lose useful information. Here's a reporter looking at Sy Hersh's methods:
In those years, much attention was focused on Hersh's personality and reporting techniques. One of his editors at the Washington bureau, Robert Phelps, recently recalled, with wry disbelief, the kinds of messages that Hersh would leave. "He would call people and he'd say 'I'm Seymour Hersh, I'm doing a story on this . . . If he doesn't call me, I will get his ass.' They'd call back."
So it is possible that Felt dropped a few bites of information to Woodward out of spite and disappointment, and then found that he was hooked by the reporter. It is also possible that Felt (who was convicted of crimes for his actions at the FBI) was caught between revealing dirt on Nixon or seeing the dirt from the Bureau show up in the post.

Would Woodward or Bernstein play that game? Who knows? They certainly won't tell us, and their compromised sources won't tell us. An uncompromised sources (one who is not trying to swap information to protect his own secrets) or a resolute non-source would have no idea about the sinister side of the investigation.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Another bit of Deep Throat history and motivation

In the immediate post-Watergate period, conservatives believed that the press and liberals in Congress were targeting our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with an aim to gut them. Pike committee, Church Committee, Sy Hersh, Philip Agee, etc. etc.

The prosecution of Felt and Miller was seen as a part of that effort. As i recall, Human Events and National Review defended the FBI guys. I think some efforts were made to raise money for their defense. In addition, a lot of former and current FBI agents rallied to their side.

How would they have reacted if Felt had come forward as Deep Throat?

Felt was in a tough position. Liberals and the media loved Deep Throat but hated Hoover loyalist FBI agents. His only friends and supporters hated reporters like Woodward, the liberal papers who sponsored them, and their unnamed sources.

Side point: I really would like to know who pushed for Felt's pardon in the Reagan White House.
Yes, exactly

Why do people think that the secret to marketing is to pay someone to do it for you? Great marketing isn't something you can buy. You have to do it.
Steve Yastrow over at the Tom Peters Blog.
One Deep Throat question that can never be answered

How did Felt feel as he watched RN appear as a defense witness at his trial? Was there any twinge of guilt or second thoughts about helping Woodward?

Nixon Spoke on Behalf of Felt in Court

In a strange footnote to history, Richard M. Nixon unwittingly testified on behalf of Deep Throat in a federal court trial in October 1980 -- six years after Nixon was forced to resign as president because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Maybe that was part of the reason he was reluctant to claim credit in later years.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Wow, how the mighty have fallen

Bad Business for Magazines About Business

When the Meredith Corporation announced its purchase of Gruner & Jahr's women's magazines last Tuesday, Meredith said that Gruner's business magazines, Fast Company and Inc., were not "material" to the sale. What that means is that two magazines that sold for more than half a billion dollars four years ago now have a value of zero.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Deep Throat: Let the games begin

For thirty years participants, journalists and buffs have been trying to figure out who Deep Throat was. The combed through All the President's Men line by line looking for telling bits that pointed to one suspect or excluded another. Now Mark Felt has seemingly owned up to being the most famous anonymous source in history.

Which really doesn't close the book on the thing. Look for a flood of new information from all corners. The unifying theme-- the lies, red herrings, and discrepancies in the Woodstein account. Was Felt in Washington on all the days Woodward claims they met? Was he really a heavy smoker? Did he have a relationship with Woodward before Watergate?

Some "revelations" will be trivial; others flat wrong. But some will add to our understanding of Watergate.

Right now, i wonder about the Woodward's claim that he and Deep Throat had a relationship that pre-dated Watergate. If Felt had no such relationship (as Len Colodny stated on MSNBC on Tuesday) then that is important. It may be that Woodward was just burnishing his reportorial credentials. It can also be read as evidence that Woodward was trying to hide Felt's motive for the first leaks (spite over the Gray appointment.)

I also wonder what the Post's coverage of Felt's own legal troubles looked like. Any evidence that they pulled their punches? Did Woodward or Bernstein provide any of the reporting?