Sunday, December 28, 2008

All the FBI's men

George Friedman's essay on Deep Throat at Stratfor is a must read that looks at the journalism narrative now that we know who Deep Throat was (also read comments by Belmont Club and Cannoneer). This is a perfect example of how a narrative can arise and influence our interpretation of history and inspire people to act. Woodward/Bernstein became the archetype of the modern journalist. The noble investigative journalists pursuing the truth and bringing down a corrupt president. How many people became journalists to live out their "All The President's Men" fantasy? How many times have we heard journalists lecture us on how important they are because they are holding public officials accountable and speaking truth to power? Journalists have used Watergate as a justification for publishing leaks, including classified information while keeping sources secret from the public. Knowing that Mark Felt was Deep Throat reveals the Woodward and Bernstein legend to be a lie. Contrary to what we have believed for several decades, this was a story about how Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee knowingly participated in a black ops mission to bring down a president. Woodward and Bernstein owe their fame and careers to the fact they they were chosen by the secret policeman to play a role in his operation. For decades they protected his identity not as some noble act to protect a vulnerable whistle blower from those with power. Rather it turns out that it was Mark Felt who had and abused power. When is some journalist going to confront Woodward and Bernstein and demand answers about their knowing participation in such an operation? Be sure to read Friedman's essay in full. Here's an excerpt:

And now we come to the major point. For Felt to have been able to guide and control the young reporters’ investigation, he needed to know a great deal of what the White House had done, going back quite far. He could not possibly have known all this simply through his personal investigations. His knowledge covered too many people, too many operations, and too much money in too many places simply to have been the product of one of his side hobbies. The only way Felt could have the knowledge he did was if the FBI had been systematically spying on the White House, on the Committee to Re-elect the President and on all of the other elements involved in Watergate. Felt was not simply feeding information to Woodward and Bernstein; he was using the intelligence product emanating from a section of the FBI to shape The Washington Post’s coverage.
Instead of passing what he knew to professional prosecutors at the Justice Department — or if he did not trust them, to the House Judiciary Committee charged with investigating presidential wrongdoing — Felt chose to leak the information to The Washington Post. He bet, or knew, that Post editor Ben Bradlee would allow Woodward and Bernstein to play the role Felt had selected for them. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee all knew who Deep Throat was. They worked with the operational head of the FBI to destroy Nixon, and then protected Felt and the FBI until Felt came forward.
...
This was enormously important news. The Washington Post decided not to report it. The story of Deep Throat was well-known, but what lurked behind the identity of Deep Throat was not. This was not a lone whistle-blower being protected by a courageous news organization; rather, it was a news organization being used by the FBI against the president, and a news organization that knew perfectly well that it was being used against the president. Protecting Deep Throat concealed not only an individual, but also the story of the FBI’s role in destroying Nixon.
...
Until Felt came forward in 2005, not only were these things unknown, but The Washington Post was protecting them. Admittedly, the Post was in a difficult position. Without Felt’s help, it would not have gotten the story. But the terms Felt set required that a huge piece of the story not be told. The Washington Post created a morality play about an out-of-control government brought to heel by two young, enterprising journalists and a courageous newspaper. That simply wasn’t what happened. Instead, it was about the FBI using The Washington Post to leak information to destroy the president, and The Washington Post willingly serving as the conduit for that information while withholding an essential dimension of the story by concealing Deep Throat’s identity.
Journalists have celebrated the Post’s role in bringing down the president for a generation. Even after the revelation of Deep Throat’s identity in 2005, there was no serious soul-searching on the omission from the historical record.

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