Some initial thoughts about W. Mark Felt and Watergate
First, apologies to my many readers. I have not been blogging lately because I have a major investigative story coming out next week, and am about to become a twice published author very soon. (When I say that I am about to become a twice published author, I do not mean thatI have a book that is going to sell two copies, but rather that I am going to be an author of two books.)
I am going to blog a lot about W. Mark Felt and Watergate in the days ahead, but have a few comments in the meantime: For us old school journalists, who actually have spent time in the county courthouses and on the phone and on the road developing sources, the entire episode has made us feel good about journalism once again. Whatever one thinks about the current day Bob Woodward, the Washington Post's Watergate reporting was a watershed event in American journalism. Now that we know that Mark Felt was Deep Throat, I believe that history's verdict will lead to him (rightfully) receiving more credit for Nixon's downfall while the credit awarded the Post will be somewhat less. But revisionists who want to diminish the role of the newspaper entirely by this new disclosure are doing so unjustly.
But besides the revelations of Deep Throat reminding us of a better time for American journalism, there is an undercurrent still present that can not be ignored: the current state of American journalism.
It is perhaps sad to say that many of us are also simply grateful for the fact that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did not fabricate the existence of Deep Throat.
Many at the Washington Post have felt the same way, as Post Style reporter/stunt man/funny man Hank Stuever wrote: "Perhaps Deep Throat's lovely (and daring) parting gift to Washington, especially to reporters, is simple: He actually exists. He is not fabrication or composite. He is one man, a fact not easily proved had he taken his secret to the grave. That in itself, in an era where trust has been shredded beyond recognition, is something to behold."
While many in journalism were waxing nostalgic and high-fiving, many of us were also pointing out that Watergate was thirty plus years ago, and the journalism of today is very different. David Sirota perhaps was speaking for many of us when he wrote today:
"Upon the news this week that Watergate source `Deep Throat' had come forward, CNN's Judy Woodruff waxed nostalgic about the golden rule of muckracking journalism. `It is so hard, I think for young people we know who work here at CNN and other news organizations to even imagine what Watergate was like,' she said. `To have a White House come undone, an administration come undone, because of some news reporting.' Coming from a lead reporter at one of America's largest cable networks, it was truly a sad moment.
"First and foremost, it was sad because she was right-- American journalism today has lost its confrontational, hold-their-feet-to-the-fire attitude that gave it a reputation as our government's fourth check and balance. Young reporters can't imagine what kind of reporting that really is because they never experienced it.
"Certainly there was a Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but those were cheap attempts by journalists to recreate Watergate without actually doing the investigative work. They were pathetic journalists' attempt to grab the sizzle of scandal without doing the hard work that uncovers serious crimes like Watergate. Though there are certainly some very fine investigative reporters left, they have become a rare breed, usually replaced by blow-dried blowhards who spent more time sucking up to power than challenging it."
My own comments: Whitewater was not Watergate. Michael Isikoff and Susan Schmidt were not Woodward and Bernstein. Len Downie is not and will never be Ben Bradlee. Henry Hyde was not Peter Rodino. And Kenneth W. Starr was not Archibald Cox.
And finally, Bob Woodward is not Bob Woodward, at least anymore-- meaning that the Bob Woodward who broke Watergate stories is not the same reporter today than he was back then.
Back to Sirota here to drive home the point:
"[O]ne of the much-lauded reporters who broke Watergate, Bob Woodward, actually epitomizes these problems. More than any other, his career charts the decline of the national press corps to the laughingstock it is today. Here was a tough-nosed reporter who made his name doing the gritty, unglamorous work that eventually exposed one of the more egregious abuses of power in American history. But instead of using the credibility he earned from Watergate to build a career exposing corruption, he quickly dove into the Beltway culture, where that kind of thing is looked down upon. He used fame to suck up to those in power, and then wrote books like Bush at War that simply told power's story, ultimately becoming just another bloviating cutout on the pundit circuit."
The comment about Woodward being just another "bloviating cutout on the pundit circuit" in my opinion is unfair. Whatever one thinks of Woodward's reporting itself, he is still doing reporting.
As to Sirota's comment that Woodward's reporting has become one of simply telling power's story, I would add that, unfortunately, it has become not only one of simply telling power's story, but celebrating power's story.