Zhou Enlai apparently never did say, “The impact of the French Revolution? Too early to say,” in the early 1970s, but whoever mistranslated him was certainly onto something. Sometimes it really does seem like it takes a rather extended period to elapse for the truth of a story to filter out.
First up, at Newsbusters, Tim Graham quotes from Pat Buchanan; whom long before he was a TV pundit was an aide in the Nixon administration:
The Nixon-hating legends at The Washington Post are furious with author Jeff Himmelman for pulling the curtains back on their own machinations. You can see the damage in Pat Buchanan’s latest column on how Watergate was over-inflated in the history books.
In a taped interview in 1990, revealed now in “Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee,” the former Washington Post executive editor himself dynamites the myth: “Watergate … (has) achieved a place in history … that it really doesn’t deserve. … The crime itself was really not a great deal. Had it not been for the Nixon resignation, it really would have been a blip in history.” Buchanan enjoyed how Bob Woodward was put on the other side of the microscope:
Still, what is most arresting about “Yours in Truth” is the panic that gripped Bob Woodward when Jeff Himmelman, the author and a protege of Woodward, revealed to him the contents of the Bradlee tapes.
Speaking of “All the President’s Men,” Bradlee had said, “I have a little problem with Deep Throat,” Woodward’s famous source, played in the movie by Hal Holbrooke, later revealed to be Mark Felt of the FBI.
Bradlee was deeply skeptical of the Woodward-Felt signals code and all those secret meetings. He told interviewer Barbara Feinman:
“Did that potted palm thing ever happen? … And meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage. Fifty meetings in the garage … there’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.”
Bradlee spoke about that fear gnawing at him: “I just find the flower in the window difficult to believe and the garage scenes. …
“If they could prove that Deep Throat never existed … that would be a devastating blow to Woodward and to the Post. … It would be devastating, devastating.”
When Himmelman showed him the transcript, Woodward “was visibly shaken” and repeated Bradlee’s line — “there’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight” — 15 times in 20 minutes.
Woodward tried to get Bradlee to retract. He told Himmelman not to include the statements in his book. He pleaded. He threatened. He failed.
That Woodward became so alarmed and agitated that Bradlee’s bullhockey detector had gone off over the dramatized version of “All the President’s Men” suggests a fear in more than just one soul here.
Prior to aggrieved FBI agent Mark Felt outing himself as “Deep Throat” a few years before passing away, Buchanan himself was thought be some to be Deep Throat. But as Mark Steyn wrote in 2005, Felt’s admission dramatically cheapened the myths of Watergate, for those who are paying attention beyond the 1976 Robert Redford-Dustin Hoffman movie (which added plenty of mythology of its own to the story. Not that some at the Washington Post minded very much):
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.
And similarly, the halo of Walter Cronkite, another 1970s-era old media titan is looking a bit tarnished these days, as even Howard Kurtz noted recently in the Daily Beastweek:
But he was far more liberal than the public believed, and he let it show in unacceptable ways. Had Cronkite pulled such stunts today, I would probably be among those calling for him to step down.
Barry Goldwater distrusted him from the start, and with good reason. On the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Cronkite nodded his head in thinly veiled contempt when handed a note on air that the Arizona senator had said “no comment.” Goldwater was attending his mother-in-law’s funeral that day.
“Whether or not Senator Goldwater wins the nomination,” Cronkite told viewers another day, “he is going places, the first place being Germany.” Although Goldwater had merely accepted an invitation to visit a U.S. Army facility there, correspondent Daniel Schorr said he was launching his campaign in “the center of Germany’s right wing.” During Goldwater’s speech at the 1964 convention, some conservatives fed up with the networks gave Cronkite the finger.
Four years later, after Cronkite had belatedly turned against LBJ’s Vietnam War, he met privately with Robert Kennedy. “You must announce your intention to run against Johnson, to show people there will be a way out of this terrible war,” he said in Kennedy’s Senate office. Soon afterward, Cronkite got an exclusive interview in which Kennedy left the door open for a possible run—the very candidacy that the anchor had urged him to undertake. (Kennedy announced three days later.) I am shaking my head at the spectacle of a network anchor secretly urging a politician to mount a White House campaign—and then interviewing him about that very question. This was duplicitous, a major breach of trust.
Speaking of “Too Soon to Say,” note this admission over the past weekend from Bob Schieffer, another grizzled CBS stalwart:
I think one of the lessons that probably all of us recognize is that if you — I wrote a book once about Ronald Reagan. It came out the month that he was, that George Bush was inaugurated. The book, I think, everything in the book is accurate, but it is not entirely true, because we didn’t know at that time that the Soviet Union was going to fall in. I don’t give Reagan credit, total credit, for that but certainly his policies had a part in it. I think you really run a risk when you start trying to judge a presidency too soon.