The press’ role was important in unearthing the scandal, but it wasn’t nearly as overarching as earlier assessments suggested.
By Max Holland
Max Holland is the author of Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat
(University Press of Kansas, 2012).
It has taken all of the 40 years since the June 1972 break-in at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., to arrive at a proper understanding of the media's role in the scandal that broke a presidency. Even then, it is not the sheer passage of time that permits a balanced accounting. Rather, it is time plus some key disclosures and documents, including information gleaned from recordings surreptitiously made by President Richard M. Nixon; recent releases by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act; the 2007 opening of critical portions from the Woodward and Bernstein Papers at the University of Texas's Ransom Center; and finally, confirmation, in 2005, that the über-secret source known as Deep Throat was in actuality W. Mark Felt, the bureau's No. 2 man in 1972-73.
Integrating all this information results in an understanding that diverges markedly from the first draft of history presented in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's 1974 book, "All the President's Men," and two years later, glorified in the eponymous movie. To be sure, the press played an instrumental, possibly irreplaceable, role. Yet contrary to the legend fomented by the book and film, the media did not save the day with truth its only weapon.
The linchpin in this mythic version, of course, has always been Deep Throat, or more precisely, the widespread public perception of his role. Regardless of whether one believed Woodward's initial 1974 rendering (Felt as principled whistle blower, trying to save the office of the presidency), or the more nuanced 2005 version presented in "The Secret Man" (Felt as savvy bureaucrat, trying to protect the bureau from Nixon's clutches), the fable hinged on the clandestine-minded Deep Throat and his "deep background" arrangement with Woodward. The late Christopher Hitchens noted as much when he observed, in his New York Times review of "The Secret Man," that Watergate ranked "as the single most successful use of the news media by an anonymous unelected official with an agenda of his own."
So long as there was no consensus about Felt's true design, there was a gaping hole at the center of the narrative. The new documentation fills that void, and fractures the fairy tale at the same time.Read the entire article here.