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Saturday, February 05, 2005

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Journalism, Then & Now:
Watergate and Bulgegate


Sometimes the synchronicity can't be ignored.

Two stories today.
One from the WaPo about the Watergate papers of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their notes from the famous journalistic investigation that led to the downfall of (then) President Richard Nixon were made public. The catch is that only the quotes from those who have already died are available. Still, that leaves an awful lot of Republicans who became convinced that Nixon was either a crook, off his rocker, or both.

It's one of the great stories of American journalism. If you are not old enough to have lived through it (or even if you are), get yourself a copy of
All the President's Men. It's a tale of paranoia, corruption and abuse of power, but it's also a story of the tenacity of two young reporters and an editor, Ben Bradlee, who had the courage to stand behind them and their story.

That was, of course, back in the days when editors had some spine and weren't afraid of running with an unpopular story about the lies of a powerful administration.

Which brings us to the other half of our story. Remember those pictures of the device under Bush's coat that were caught on video during the first presidential debate. Everybody on this side of the blogosphere was running with the story, especially after NASA imagery analyst, Dr. Robert Nelson, did a little photo enhancement from the debate video and determined that whatever was under Bush's coat wasn't the result of bad tailoring.


Given Bush's rather bizarre performance at the first debate . . .
On one occasion, he burst out angrily with "Now let me finish!" at a time when nobody was interrupting him and his warning light was not flashing.
. . . lots of people were left wondering who Bush was listening to when he was supposed to be talking. Photos of the bulge certainly added to speculation that Bush was being fed his lines. That is, of course, cheating.

Now we learn (
thanks Susie) that the New York Times was following the story and had an article ready to print. Unfortunately, some gutless (and for the moment) unnamed editor decided that the story wasn't important enough for the Paper of Record to run in the days before the November 2 election.

Of course,
Salon.com did run the story. But that's, you know, on the internet, so it was probably just a wild theory. You know how those stories are that you find on the internet.

Which brings us full circle. Remember how we started with Watergate. The one thing about the Watergate story that has had people wondering for 3 decades is who was Deep Throat, Woodward's anonymous source inside the Nixon administration who told him to follow the money. That question is not answered in the batches of Watergate papers made public by the University of Texas. But
recent speculation (see Adrian Havill 2/4/2005) is that it was none other than (are you ready?) . . . Poppy Bush:
Certainly nearly everyone who reads Poynter was mystified when George W. Bush -- a President who arguably hates the press -- gave Bob Woodward seven hours of interviews which became the core of two best-selling and largely laudatory books. He also urged his cabinet to cooperate with Woodward and many did.

The explanation: George Herbert Walker Bush, the president's father, is Deep Throat.

Historians will immediately point out that Bush, the elder, wasn't in Washington between 1971 and 1973 but lived at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York where he was ambassador to the United Nations. Okay. But my examination of White House records at the National Archives show Bush attending many Washington state dinners and weekly cabinet meetings during that period. More importantly, he was in Washington nearly every weekend where he owned a house and where his son, Neil, attended St. Alban's prep school during the week. Seven of the eight meetings between Deep Throat and Woodward that are chronicled in "All The President's Men" take place on a weekend.

Did Bush have motivation? You bet. It was Richard Nixon who urged Bush to leave a safe seat in Congress, hinting there would be a position as assistant Secretary of the Treasury waiting for him if he failed to win a Senate seat held by Ralph Yarborough. When Bush lost, Nixon reneged and asked him to take the U.N. slot instead but teased him by hinting he would be the replacement for Spiro Agnew in 1972. Instead, he was given the thankless task of heading the Republican National Committee in 1973. The elder Bush got his revenge in the end, by standing up at a cabinet meeting in August of 1974 and becoming the first person in Nixon's inner circle to ask the President to resign.

How did they meet? Probably at the Pentagon where Woodward was stationed in the late 1960s. The former President made a 16-day visit to Vietnam in 1967 and briefed military brass upon his return. Certainly the two, both Yalies and both Navy men, could find common ground.

Woodward claims never to have even interviewed the former President. At the same time, in his 1998 book, Shadow, he boasted that Bush had aides dropped off classified documents to his home which became the basis of a Washington Post front page story.

Okay, so if Bob Woodward has never spoken to Bush 41, then why would the former President write him a chummy three-page letter in the late 1990s? The "Dear Bob" letter's 7th paragraph begins, "Watergate was your watershed. For you, it was an earthshaking event that made you a media star -- deservedly so . . ."

When I presented this theory to Len Garment, a former Nixon aide, he demurred, saying that Bush wasn't the type of daredevil to skulk around in underground garages. Perhaps, but then who would have figured the former President to go skydiving in his eighties.

Thus Texas may be the perfect repository for Woodstein's notes.
Havill makes a good case. Atrios, who is always ahead of the curve, says he's heard that one before.

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