Watergate: Woodward and Bernstein lied. And lied. And lied.

Watergate: Woodward and Bernstein lied. And lied. And lied. By Bruce Bawer.

All the President’s Men was a splendid work of American cinema — and it was about what we’ve all been told ever since was the most splendid chapter in American journalistic history, a textbook case of dogged footwork and moral integrity that lifted the Post into the front rank of American newspapers, gave Woodstein (the Post’s in-house nickname for Bob and Carl) an Olympian status that they still enjoy to this day, made journalists as a class more important and influential than ever, and ushered in a new era of aggressive and ambitious — yet far more respected — investigative reporting about politicians.

But, but, but:

There was always another big question about Watergate: why would the Nixon White House have wanted to burglarize Democratic headquarters in the first place? It was already obvious that Nixon was heading for a landslide victory. He didn’t need any DNC dirt. Even in the movie, an unnamed editor at the Post, played by John McMartin, tells Bradlee: “I don’t believe the story. It doesn’t make sense.” The motive for the burglary remained murky for decades. …

In The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened …[John O’Connor, a veteran criminal prosecutor and friend of FBI number-two Mark Felt, who in 2015 admitted to being Deep Throat] leads us, Virgil-like, through the whole convoluted scandal, debunking old conjectures, proffering new information, and ultimately spelling out, with prosecutorial meticulousness, the myriad ways in which the full story deviates from the Post’s accounts.

By book’s end, Woodward and Bernstein – and their editors – no longer look like heroes. Far from it. … Watergate wasn’t really a Nixon job. It was a CIA caper. …

If you saw All the President’s Men, you may remember Woodward’s discovery that [Howard Hunt, the White House operative] was also at the CIA and that he worked part-time at a PR firm called Mullen. Mullen never comes up again in the movie. In fact, as Woodstein soon found out, it was a CIA front.

But that little detail never made it way into any of their Post articles. Because on July 10, 1972, according to CIA records to which O’Connor gained access, Mullen’s president, Robert F. Bennett made a deal with Woodward — O’Connor calls it “a conspiracy of obstruction” — to feed him Watergate stories in exchange for a promise to omit from Post reporting any mention of Mullen’s role as a CIA front. …

It soon became clear to Woodstein that the Watergate break-in had been a CIA operation for which Hunt, because he was a White House official, had been able to claim presidential authorization. Yet the Post — which, as O’Connor notes, was founded in 1877 as “the official organ of the Democratic Party” and which in the 1970s, believe it or not, shared a general counsel (Joseph Califano) with the DNC — didn’t want to bring down the CIA. It wanted to bring down Nixon. And after learning that the CIA’s motive for the break-in had to do not with political secrets but with a prostitution referral service that was operating out of DNC headquarters, the Post wanted to protect Democrats.

Why, then, did Nixon pursue the ultimately self-destructive cover-up? Because John Dean — the White House counsel who, unbeknownst to Nixon, had had his own personal reasons for wanting the DNC’s prostitution records — urged Nixon to do so, never informing him that what he was covering up was, in fact, a CIA project. As O’Connor observes, if Nixon hadn’t pursued the cover-up, the truth about the break-in might actually have come out, and Nixon would’ve been seen not as its mastermind but as an innocent fall guy.

You may ask: if the Post hid the truth about Watergate, how did that truth stay hidden for so long? The answer requires you, if you’re old enough, to think back to the pre-Internet era. It was remarkably easy, back then, to hide facts — even facts that had gone public. As it happens, news stories containing key elements of the real Watergate story appeared at the time in various newspapers around the U.S. But they weren’t national newspapers. Their reports weren’t picked up by other media. And so they disappeared quickly down the memory hole.

Meanwhile the Post, whose reporting on the subject was considered definitive, consistently — and dishonestly — covered up the truth. And kept doing so in the years that followed.

An example. In 1980, Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy published Will, which O’Connor calls “the most honest of the Watergate memoirs.” Because its publication was a headline event, the editors of the Post felt compelled to weigh in. In an editorial, they dismissed Liddy’s claim that the burglary had (in their words) been “not an attempt to collect political intelligence on President Nixon’s enemies, but an effort master-minded by then White House counsel John Dean to steal pictures of prostitutes” — even though they knew this was true. Woodward was similarly dishonest in his Post review of the book. …

Bottom line: the Post, that vaunted bulwark of American freedom, was, as O’Connor puts it, “guilty of a cover-up far more significant than Nixon’s.”

Before Trump, there was Nixon:

Leading figures in the Deep State — from Bradlee to Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, both Kennedy family intimates — cynically worked together to remove from the Oval Office a man who’d just been re-elected by an overwhelming margin of 520 to 17 electoral votes, but whom they, the Beltway insiders who felt their own judgment should trump that of the American people, uniformly despised.

And they won. …

A major lurch to the left and bureaucratic control:

Woodward and Bernstein didn’t just destroy Nixon. They radically altered the course of American history. By bringing down Nixon, they gave us Jimmy Carter. They revealed to their colleagues in the American news media just how much power they all had to shape public opinion — and how much wealth and prestige they could accrue by bending the facts to fit a partisan narrative. Woodstein’s example made possible the news media’s use, decades later, of endlessly repeated lies about Donald Trump to bring down yet another successful presidency.

In short, the real story of Watergate is far different from the story we’ve been told all these years. The only remaining mystery now is this: to what, if any, degree will John O’Connor, in the face of a press corps and a community of academic historians who are devoted to the Watergate myth, succeed in replacing that myth, in the public record, with the Nixon-friendly, Post-damning facts?

The administrative state might have got rid of JFK, they got rid of Nixon with the spooks and the cover-up lies, and Trump’s election defeat was probably rigged. Hmmm.