How it happened that a newspaper believes, almost half of a century after the fact, that it managed to make history by forcing a sitting U.S. President to step down should not be a mystery. The Washington Post, an inconsequential municipal rag till then, started a campaign never seen before in serious journalism.
Richard M. Nixon resigned his Presidency August 8, 1974, amid accusations (some real, others not so much) of serious wrongdoing.
The Washington Post has been basking in this glory ever since.
For most of American journalists and their employers (readers, listeners, viewers), the paper has created what has become known as “investigative journalism.”
Historical fiction (or lie?)
As illiterate statement as ever pronounced.
First of all, all proper journalism begins with asking questions and checking the veracity of answers. Printing and re-printing news releases isn’t journalism.
And, secondly, one of the first seriously recorded cases of investigative journalism didn’t happen in America. It happened as the 19th century was coming to its end and the 20th century was starting, in what used to be the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The guy’s nickname was The Ardent Reporter (der Rasende Reporter), and his name was Egon Erwin Kisch.
Kisch was of socialist, communist, even, persuasion. Still, some of the stories he had managed to unearth have become an integral part of history, and several would become famous as books, stage plays and movies. Their authors wouldn’t attribute their works’ origin to Kisch. They picked up news stories as their subject matter, ignoring bylines as they proceeded. Kisch even tried to challenge one such case in court. He lost. Did you make it up? No. You recorded a fact. So can anyone else. You have no patent on facts.
Not so Washington Post: the names and characters of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward would be immortalised by none less than Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in an Alan J. Pakula movie based on their book, All the President’s Men. Americans now know even that Washington Post staffers got to call the duo Woodstein, as if that was important.
Hotel Watergate name’s last syllable (-gate) would become a must in the trade when describing any scandals worth mentioning.
And yet, the entire story is worth recalling today as a sign of scandalously blatant abuse of journalism standards and the role played by secretive (and unelected) officials who happen to have chips on their shoulders.
The Woodstein duo called their major source Deep Throat. Today, their FBI informant would be described as a member of Deep State.
As a result of Woodstein’s very shoddy reporting, journalists (and journalism) would become undeservedly important and respected. A number of other reporters jumped on the bandwagon (Seymour Hersh of The New York Times comes to mind), and chasing Nixon’s wrongdoings, both real and imagined, would become America’s national journalistic pastime.
A number of people, steeped in real investigative journalism, would question what was happening. Starting with the mysterious intrusion into the Democratic Party offices at Watergate that triggered the whole thing, through claims of American intelligence agencies being involved in all kinds of dangerous hanky-panky, all the way to financial misdeeds allegations, never substantiated to satisfy an independent court of law, by the way.
A veteran criminal prosecutor John O’Connor published his first truth-bomb: Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism a couple of years ago.
Now, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, O’Connor wrote The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened.
The Washington Post is caught here with their pants down. O’Connor, a prosecutor whose handling of the story reminds one of the legendary Lieutenant Colombo, has dismantled the Woodstein story all the way to proving this was a subversive act comitted by U.S. intelligence community, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in particular.
O’Connor reveals deals between The Washington Post and the CIA that should have landed all of them, including Woodstein and their supervisors, such as Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, behind bars. It never happened.
Not only that: the paper that started as Democratic Party’s “official organ,” shared Joseph Califano as general counsel with the Democratic Party during the Watergate era.
And when some facts began surfacing later on, The Washington Post would hide the truth and allege that those who were trying to make sense of the scandal were lying through their teeth.
Another recent book, The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President, by Geoff Shepard, concentrates on some perfectly strange behaviour patterns displayed by several Nixon appointees. He calls them betrayal. And he has proof for his accusations.
The result: the man who had won Presidential re-election by a 520 to 17 electoral votes margin did the honest thing by stepping down. Yet, thanks to The Washington Post, he would be remembered as Tricky Dick.
If this sordid story reminds you of what has been happening in recent years, you’re on the right path. Starting with the Russiagate (it’s there again, too!), all the way to leaks about scandals that had never happened, these people haven’t changed.
They seem unaware of the difference between reporting and journalism: a reporter informs her/his readers about events, journalists think they are the events.
Lest anyone thinks that, thanks to Internet, we now have better ways to check the facts as presented by the mainstream (legacy, corporate, your pick) media, think again: these guys have gobs of money in their wallets and they’ve been using it to supress those whose news gathering differs from theirs, instead of bowing their heads in shame.
And that should be our lesson, half of a century since the Watergate break-in.