The Lynx Bulletin

Number 176

14 November, 2010

Journalism Today Is Partly The Product Of The Myth Of Watergate. Be Reminded, Therefore, Of The Truth

Yes, it’s an old story, and of course it is not nearly as fascinating now as it was back then. At the time, it made for a successful movie, and that inspired two generations of would-be and actual reporters. The results, unfortunately, have not been salutary. Take a quick look, therefore, at the myth, the truth, and the harm done.

The standard version goes a lot like this: Nixon was a nasty man who became president by appealing to the brownshoe community’s fear of hippies. He was fond of pulling dirty tricks on his political opponents, such as spreading lies about them. He hired some anti-Castro Cubans to break into the offices of the Democratic Party and steal some records that proved misdeeds, or something; we don’t know exactly what Nixon was after, but the Cubans thought they were going to prove that the Democrats were illegally negotiating with Castro. The Cubans were clumsy fools, so they were caught. In the investigation, the White House prevented the truth from getting out, but a couple of brave, smart, intrepid journalists at the Washington Post were tipped off by a guy who knew where the dirt was (and told them to “Follow the money”), so the paper printed everything, which put the Bad Guys in jail and forced Nixon to resign. Journalists saved the country from an evil president, so hooray for them and their boss and their paper and all journalists.

Well, virtually every speck of the above is not true. A lot of the details don’t matter much today, such as the involvement of G. Gordon Liddy, the endless lies of John Dean, the fact that Attorney General Mitchell was the guy behind the break-in, and that his wife Martha was halfway round the bend. Never mind all that, entertaining though it is.

The importance of Watergate is found in the implications of the myth that the press cleaned Washington up. Because of Watergate, investigative reporters were elevated to stellar status. Watergate gifted the entire journalistic establishment with an aura of objective decency and commitment to justice that means that whatever they write must be true. Ouch!

The pathetically simple-minded faith in investigative reporting resulted in a huge team effort to figure out who assassinated a journalist. The outcome was a grotesque embarrassment — the rescuing cavalry charged over the hill and off a cliff. Reporters are not criminal investigators, and their texts often amount to little more than conspiracist speculation. Lesson learned? No, not at all.

Before Watergate, newspapers and journalists were hardly heroes. Kids learned the why of the Spanish-American War in school; there was a general understanding that old man Hearst was a degenerate; some still remembered the fetid New York Graphic and the bums like Ed Sullivan and Walter Winchell who got their start in that cesspool. “Yellow journalism” meant something rotten, or at the very least ethically compromised. In the public’s eye, journalism was pretty much a racket, and reporters were crass types, alcoholics and cynics who were not above much.

Watergate countered all that. Of course some would say journalism had already became a profession and matured as a consequence, but it is clear that Watergate was a sterling exception to the overall below-average public image of the news business. It was an unusual bright spot in a generally disreputable record, Lardner and Pyle notwithstanding.

In fact journalism remained plagued by endemic flaws. Plagiarism, deceit, fabrication of facts, unprincipled partisan propagandizing — all these sins remain in evidence today. The rise of electronic media has not improved matters. Fisk, Moyers, Pilger, the virtually entire BBC, Rather, Cronkite, Mapes, Couric, Jordan and many more have made the news media more medicine show than anything resembling a profession.

Now return to a consideration of Watergate, and begin your detoxification with this commentary by Mark Steyn. He clarifies the role played by the two WaPo reporters’ source, a fellow given the code name (ooh, spies and codes and disguises!) of “Deep Throat.” Here are a few snippets chosen to whet your appetite for the whole:

Before the final denouement…, 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.

… Now we learn that Deep Throat was…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.

… The nobility of the Watergate myth — in which media boomers and generations of journalism school ethics bores have sunk so much — seems cheapened and tarnished by this last plot twist.

… thanks to All The President’s Men, the media took it for granted they were America’s plucky heroic crusaders, and there’s no point being plucky heroic crusaders unless you’ve got the dark sinister forces of an all-powerful government to pluckily crusade against.

Had all this been known at the time, the story and the reporters’ roles in it would been considered scummy and unexciting. But of course the men kept the secret of “Deep Throat,” and a myth was born. That myth had them digging out the truth from a vile administration in spite of the dangers involved, and loyally making sure their selfless, conscience-driven informant did not go swimming while wearing concrete shoes.

There is a lot more to be found here, and in this recent piece as well, if you are interested. But you get the point: telling the world who and what “Deep Throat” really was would have destroyed the essence of the story and aborted the myth — without, let it not be forgotten, harming “Deep Throat” at all.

Now that the story is better (but not fully) known, no harm can be done to the reporters or to their occupation’s reputation. Journalists are heroes, not simply rather ordinary, opinionated people who have a skill set that predisposes them to making crowd-pleasing observations.

The moral of this tale told too late is simple: see reporters as what they are — glib folks, certainly little better or worse than most, and often not above giving the story a tweak or two.

Note, please, that those tweaks, the sort of things done by the likes of Dowd or Mapes, are a good deal more dishonest and deceitful than anything ever done by one of the most despised propagandists of the twentieth century, Leni Riefenstahl.

 

Links

Israel faces a serious military challenge that is not nuclear. How should it respond if literally thousands of missiles rain down on the nation from virtually all directions? That is exactly the attack Iran has made possible. It will be launched in the event that Tehran believes there are advantages to be gained.

NASA considers the inevitable to be probable and threatening, and the agency is on target. This is bigger than the story suggests.

A Red Rosa by any other name would be as lowly…. All right, now that you have no idea at all what this is about, click on the link and see whether you can avoid getting grouchy marks for uppity dexterity.

If it’s rational, reasoned and informed opinion you want, you have to approach outlets such as the Los Angeles Times with great care. Those folks will try to slip all manner of nonsense past you. Your best defense is the arcane and delicate art of the detection of sophistry. Here is some exercise to keep you in top form.

This outfit has to be going somewhere: a Google search for “Lone Survivor Foundation” returned almost fifty-five thousand results. Good. Try it, and click on a couple of links.

In plain English, it’s “lying and deceiving,” but in Obama-speak it’s a “misunderstanding.” To grasp its nature and significance is to see that it’s propaganda based in ideological rubbish, and that it’s economically harmful.

A New York Times editor explains why his subscribers appear to him to be either dimwits or spendthrifts or maybe both, and how that benefits his paper.

For sale: highly enriched uranium suitable for making nuclear bombs. Or so it’s claimed. Perhaps this will be the real legacy of the USSR.

The Religion of Peace: “According to open-source reports, between 2001 and 2008, U.S. agencies stopped one or two terror attempts a year. However, from 2009 until today, the government has been uncovering one or two cases a month, a troubling growth in jihadi activities.” Everyone, especially that dangerously deluded amateur currently in the White House, should read the short article. The domestic threat posed by the Islamic community is real and growing. The sermonizing continues endlessly, of course, for the Koran has a lot to say about bloodshed….

What was Obama up to, spending all that money on his visit to India? Here’s one answer.

Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan: a report with photos.

Quote from a recent news report: “Jindal has criticized the administration in the past over the spill, but that he would do so at the outset of his book suggests he wants to raise his national profile — and perhaps seek national office.” That sounds good to this newsletter.

The principle is simple: if you are denied political expression, you state your grievances, explain yourself, and take up arms against the government that oppresses you. That’s what happened when the USA got its start. But if you re-state that series of events as, “If ballots don’t work, bullets will,” your oversimplification of history and ethics will get you in hot water. Violent revolutionary sentiment is as American as chop suey, and this newsletter agrees with Malcolm X that when individuals are improperly deprived of the exercise of Liberty, the measures taken to correct things can be “any means necessary.” What’s wrong with that? All governments should live in fear of the governed.

A tip of the hat to reader GB for this report on work being done in medical applications of nanotechnology.

Wow. Has this case dragged on forever, or what? What would have happened if Caryn Johnson’s e-mail account had been cracked? Or Katie Couric’s? Just asking….

Will Obama step down rather than run? No one knows, but this newsletter did speculate on that possibility some time ago (in June, Number 151 suggested that there might be no incumbent in the next presidential election). Well, now — it seems the Washington Post may have been keeping tabs on seditious propaganda from Flyover Country. No one here is flattered by the attention of the elite, though, for the spin is appalling. An incompetent ideologue becomes “great” by walking off? Wouldn’t it be infinitely more admirable of The One to adapt by becoming a federalist, a true democrat and a champion of Liberty?

The pressing, urgent need for health insurance turns out to be a bit less than claimed. Consider who made the claims, and why….

Will this hammering harm the AGW cult? Almost certainly not. Faith knows no refutation. That’s especially true when said faith supports power- and money-grabbing politicians. Look what the lies and deceit have done for Al Gore!

Here’s almost ten minutes of video on immigration; it’s part of a series on the totality of “Wingnut” values. As an ethics-centered presentation, it’s interesting and instructive. For sheer statistics and their implications, this newsletter continues to encourage you to watch the gumball video here. It remains the most cogent video presentation on a sane immigration policy. Barack Obama and John McCain and most of the US Senate would recoil from it in shock, though it simply can’t be disputed.

Readers of this newsletter will recall that the notions of dark matter and dark energy have come under assault here. Here’s more on the latter irrational concept.

 


The staff of The Lynx Bulletin expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Arch Linux, Emacs, Screen, Elinks and Firefox Namoroka.

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