Gagging on Deep Throat
Karl Marx once remarked that historical events occur twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. When it comes to the scandal machines in the Nixon and Bush administrations, he could not have been more wrong.
The reactions of Nixon contemporaries and today's Bush sycophants to yesterday's Deep Throat revelations are predictably - and eerily - similar. But the Bush team's own overt war against anonymous single sources and brutal retribution against whistle-blowers is no joke. The tragedy for American democracy is very real indeed.
Consider the firestorm of rage and venom directed at Deep Throat Mark Felt by Nixon's henchmen, many convicted felons:
- Chuck Colson. The convicted Nixon aide and born-again prison minister said he was "personally shocked" and that "Mark Felt could have stopped Watergate. Instead, he goes out and basically undermines the administration."
- G. Gordon Liddy. The convicted Watergate burglar said that Felt, "violated the ethics of the law enforcement profession. If he possessed evidence of wrongdoing, he was honor-bound to take that to a grand jury and secure an indictment, not to selectively leak it to a single news source."
- Pat Buchanan. The Nixon press aide and speechwriter and currently MSNBC talking head called Felt a "traitor" and added, "His deeds are dishonorable, if not criminal."
- John Dean. The convicted White House counsel and failed Deep Throat sleuth asked, "The other issue that comes up is, indeed, has the man obstructed justice? Is that one of the reasons he remained silent?"
- Henry Kissenger. Nixon's national security adviser and later Secretary of State sniped, "'Hero' is not the first word that comes to my mind. I view him as a troubled man. I don't think it's heroic to act as a spy on your president when you're in high office."
- Ben Stein. The Nixon aide, conservative gadfly and erstwhile game show host cried when reflecting on Nixon's resignation. Of the Felt story and Nixon's legacy, Stein said, "That is his [Nixon's] legacy. He was a peacemaker. He was a lying, conniving, covering up peacemaker. He was not a lying, conniving drug addict like JFK, a lying, conniving war starter like LBJ, a lying, conniving seducer like Clinton -- a lying, conniving peacemaker. That is Nixon's kharma."
Predictably, the conservative commentariat took a similar line:
- Monica Crowley. The co-host of MSNBC's Connected and one-time Nixon presidential librarian said, "His predecessors were protected by a press, a liberal press that catered to the likes of John F. Kennedy, catered to the likes of Lyndon Johnson, who, frankly, did everything in the book while they were in the White House."
- Ann Coulter. On May 24th, the heroin unchic Coulter labelled the Johnson administration "the most skull-and-dagger, spying on its opponents, corrupt administration, I mean, up until the Clinton administration."
- Rush Limbaugh. The most celebrated pill-popper of the Right weighed on the "real" significance of the Deep Throat story. "It's important to understand this because the template for going after Bush was forged right here with Watergate. W. Mark Felt and the whole press push to force a president out of office survives to this day. Whenever another Republican gets into office, the same tactic is employed. Watergate is the template."
Most observers see Felt's role as critical in bringing the Watergate scandal to light and its perpetrators to justice. 9/11 commissioner and then Watergate counsel Richard Ben Veniste summed it up, "the importance of whistle-blowers shouldn't be underestimated, particularly when there are excesses by the executive branch of government -- which in this case went all the way to the executive office." And Carl Bernstein, Woodward's collaborator at the Post, himself noted Felt's significance for Americans today, "There's a principle involved. Reporters may be going to jail today for upholding that principle, and we don't and won't belittle it now."
Which brings to the Bush White House. Thirty years after Nixon's resignation, the Bush team is waging a more subtle and successful war against the media. The most paranoid, secretive and vengeful White House since Nixon has sought to create its own news reality through bogus science, fake news, fake reporters, staged events and scripted interviews. Retribution against leakers, whistle-blowers, and objective truth itself is certain, swift and severe. Just ask General Shinseki, Paul O'Neil, Richard Clarke, Richard Foster or Joseph Wilson.
In the wake of the Newsweek fiasco, the uproar over the Amnesty International report, and the unending revelations from Guantanamo Bay, the Bush White House attacks the messenger, just as Nixon did 30 years ago. Scott McClellan argued, "This was a report based on a single anonymous source that could not substantiate the allegation that was made. The report has had serious consequences." And an "outraged" President Bush merely said the allegations came from "people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report".
Robert F. Kennedy once famously said, "Richard Nixon represents the dark side of the American spirit." Well, RFK never met George W. Bush.
UPDATE: Bob Woodward has just published in the Washington Post an account of how the FBI's #2 man Mark Felt became Deep Throat. A key sound bite from Woodward's account, "There is little doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis."