Ed Driscoll

Revenge Of The Felt

In a piece titled “Tales from Dark Side don’t live up to hype“, Mark Steyn puts Mark Felt into context with another relic from the 1970s whose story concluded this summer as well:

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.

Hmm. Like the ”Star Wars” wrap-up, ”How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat” feels small and mean after three decades of the awesome dramatic burden placed upon it. 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.

The best thing I read on the subject in the last few days was a 1992 piece by James Mann from the Atlantic Monthly. He doesn’t identify Deep Throat, though he mentions Mark Felt in an important context. But get a load of this remarkably shrewd paragraph from 13 years ago:

”By coincidence, the Watergate break-in occurred on June 17, less than seven weeks after Hoover’s death and [FBI outsider] Gray’s appointment [as acting director]. The FBI took charge of the federal investigation at the same time that the administration was trying to limit its scope.

”Therein lies the origin of Deep Throat.”

Bingo! Mann also adds: ”Rarely is it asked whether White House aides like Haig, Ziegler, and Garment were the sort of people willing to hold 2 a.m. meetings in a parking garage, or whether they were able to arrange the circling of the page number 20 of Bob Woodward’s copy of the New York Times, which was delivered to his apartment by 7 a.m. — the signal that Deep Throat wanted a meeting.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Mann’s observation seems obvious. That’s what the spy novelists call ”tradecraft.” It’s the sort of thing spooks and feds do, not White House aides. Why then was it not so obvious for the last three decades?

The answer is that, 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. Think how many conspiracy movies there’ve been where White House aides are the sort of chaps who think nothing of meeting you at 2 a.m. in parking garages, usually as a prelude to having you whacked. In films like Clint Eastwood’s ”Absolute Power” or Kevin Costner’s ”No Way Out,” political appointees carry on like that routinely. That image of government derives principally from the Nixon era.

Which is only fair: the media’s coverage of the 21st century’s War On Terror and its asymmetrical combat actually predates Nixon: it’s straight out of the Johnson era.

Update: The LBJ/Nixon-era playbook would, of course, be infinitely more effective for the legacy media, if there wasn’t a new media to counteract it. Hugh Hewitt writes:

Pretty much every American who cares to know the situation in Iraq knows it, but gets an enormously skewed view of the situation from MSM.  Chrenkoff is the reliable guide to all things Iraqi, not just the car bombs, and Belmont Club the Fourth Rail, Victor Davis Hanson, and Winds of Change provide the strategic analysis.  Dems trying to peddle "Iraq as Vietnam" find it slow going because the new media provides the real news, not the "beat Bush and the GOP" version of it.  The few MSM voices that challenge the Dem tilt of the MSM —Jack Kelly, Michael Barone, etc– have seen the blogosphere amplify and extend their objective analysis beyond their old orbits.  Completely new perspectives from bloggers building powerful followings —LaShawn, Mudville Gazette, Major K— are also helping to shape the public’s very sophisticated understanding of the Iraq rebuilding process.  Not only is there no Walter Cronkite in 2005, ready to return from some Baghdad version of Tet and declare that the peace cannot be won, even if there was, he wouldn’t be believed because the facts are available for all to read.

No wonder representatives of the old media are running around uttering statements like this.

Another Update: Jay Rosen’s comments on Watergate and “Newsroom Religion” are also well worth reading.