Exploding the Watergate Myth: It was all lies by the deep state and the Washington Post

Exploding the Watergate Myth: It was all lies by the deep state and the Washington Post. By Bruce Bawer.

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.


The lies

Then, two and a half years ago, John O’Connor — a veteran criminal prosecutor and friend of FBI number-two Mark Felt, who in 2015 admitted to being Deep Throat — published a book entitled Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism.

Alas, that work never made it onto my radar. But now, just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the break-in, O’Connor has given me a second chance. In The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened, which he characterizes as “a more accessible, plainspoken” version of its overly “dense” and “lawyerlike” predecessor. In it, O’Connor 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.


The truth came out, eventually


By book’s end, Woodward and Bernstein — and their editors — no longer look like heroes. Far from it. Also, the title All the President’s Men turns out to be a misnomer. Watergate wasn’t really a Nixon job. It was a CIA caper.

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.

Nixon was too honorable, apparently:

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.

The journalists lied, because they wanted to get Nixon:

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.

Then there’s the Baker report, issued in 1974 by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker and other Republican members of the Ervin Committee. In it, they pegged Watergate as a CIA job. O’Connor calls the Baker report “a stunning revelation.” But in a Post preview of the report, Laurence Stern emphasized one of its least important details while deep-sixing its spectacular conclusions. The point, as O’Connor writes, was “to tell the public, falsely, that the report would be ho-hum.”

Yes, Woodward and Bernstein mentioned Deep Throat’s bombshell about “the entire U.S. intelligence community” in their book, and allowed it to be included in the film, because it needed that jolt of drama and danger toward the end. But neither the book nor the movie ever elaborated on the “intelligence community” angle. Nor did anything of the kind find its way into Woodstein’s articles for the Post.

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.”

There’s another relatively new Watergate book that’s well worth reading. In The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President, Geoff Shepard, who was a young lawyer in the Nixon White House, doesn’t focus overmuch on the Post or the CIA or the reasons for the DNC break-in, but instead laments Nixon’s betrayal by appointees like John Dean and Elliott Richardson, demonstrates that Nixon was a victim of “extensive judicial and prosecutorial abuse,” and shows how, once Nixon was in their crosshairs, leading figures in the Deep State … 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.

So it went. As both O’Connor and Shepard illustrate, there are plenty of scoundrels in the annals of Watergate. But when it comes to long-term impact, none of them compare to Woodward and Bernstein. …

Journalists grabbed a great deal of power after forcing Nixon to resign. They stopped being mere reporters, but players.

Thanks to their selective, slanted reporting, Americans started revering journalists, of all people — a habit that they began to shake off only a few years ago. Consider that, if all the facts of Watergate had been properly reported, Americans’ disdain would have been aimed primarily at the intelligence community — which, in real life, it took most of us another half a century to learn to distrust.

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.

How power is truly wielded by the deep state and the bureaucrats.

The Deep State has been around for yonks.

hat-tip Stephen Neil, Scott of the Pacific