It is said, that “All is fair in love and war.” However, history suggests that the cliché should be, “All is fair in love, war, politics, and personal agendas.” In a system that is supposed to be “by the people and for the people,” the overwhelming evidence of scandal and controversy throughout the political arena, term-after-term, should dispel the myth of democracy being alive and well in the United States of America.
Gone are the days when honorable men would stand their ground, face-to-face, and fight their own fights. Gone are the days when truth, honor, and integrity were woven into men’s hearts like they were woven into the flag and sanctified with the anointed blood of patriots who sacrificed all for a glorious ideal. America has peaked, and now slides precariously down the shadowed side. The political system has failed, and it has created a chain-reaction, with far reaching effects, that will inevitably decimate this once great nation. All because of two predominant political tenants: “money buys power” and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
All the President’s Men, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, is a detailed journalistic retelling of the infamous Watergate fiasco. It is a look at pompous politics inspired by the aforementioned thirst for power, and energized with a mountain of money. In fact, hundred-dollar bills appeared to be the favorite flavor throughout the affair.
Five men were arrested at 2:30 am on June 17, 1972 for burglary. They had broken into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the executive office section of the Watergate hotel complex. Along with “a walkie-talkie, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35- millimeter cameras, lock picks, pen-size tear gas guns, and bugging devices” (p.15-16), almost $2300 dollars was taken from the five suspects:“Most of it was in $100 bills, in sequence” (p.16). And the Washington Post reporters would follow the money trail back and forth through the insulated web of conspiracy for the next two-years, all the way to the top levels of the White House.
“Insulated” was the primary defense; a solid foundation of legal loopholes and loyal flunkies to hinder all investigative attempts to reach the inner-circle of collaborators. Fortunately, for the American people, there is no honor among crooks. When the majority of conspirators saw their defenses unraveling their resolve caved, and they told their tales in attempts to ease the inevitable consequences. Unfortunately, for anyone still wishing to believe in right and wrong, by the time the scandal was over even Woodward and Bernstein sacrificed their integrity as an acceptable cost in pursuing the story. They both crossed moral and ethical boundaries, and were a mere breath away from felony charges on occasion. And they were willing to place the lives and reputations of others at risk as long as they met their deadlines, or got a new clue or piece to the puzzle. “Sloan wondered if newspapers weren’t a little hypocritical, demanding one standard for others and another for themselves; he doubted that reporters had any idea of the anguish they could inflict with only one sentence” (p.86).
During the period that Nixon’s crew of misfits was busy little beavers attempting to dam up the leaks and arrest the scandal, Woodward and Bernstein were equally obsessed.
Their next move represented the most difficult professional –
unprofessional, really – decision either had ever made. They
were going to blow a confidential source. Neither had ever
done it before; both knew instinctively that they were wrong.
But they justified it (p.190).
And a FBI supervisor even told them the following:
“You realize that it’s against the law for one person to monitor
a call that goes across a state line,” he told them (p.190).
We also read how “Woodward wondered whether there was ever justification for a reporter to entice someone across the line of legality while standing on the right side himself” (p.210). The thought came to mind when he and Bernstein were attempting to get members of the Grand Jury to break their legally given oaths, and risk jail time, just to give them additional clues.
Another deception that permeated the media push to dethrone Nixon and his administration was the solidified portrayal of Republicans versus Democrats. The media, including the Washington Post and its reporters, downplayed, buried, or ignored the facts that Nixon’s misfits carried out similar attacks against other Republicans. And we see the identical agenda in All the President’s Men. There are two minor mentions of Nixon’s people going after his Republican opponents; such as the following: “The President’s forces had been out to wreck the campaigns both of the Democrats and of Nixon’s challengers within his own party – Representative Paul McCloskey of California and Representative John Ashbrook of Ohio” (p.133). But there was a conspicuous absence regarding any follow-up investigation pertaining to Republican targets, even though additional clues suggested Nixon’s people had used similar tactics in his earlier campaigns. And the Washington Post maintained a strict Republican versus Democrat perspective throughout the entire affair (as did most media forums).
Logically speaking, the only advantage to bury attacks on Republicans by Nixon’s crews is to enhance the liberal agenda – by deceiving the public into believing the only victims were Democrats. And it worked. That’s how I remembered it coming across back then. Not until I dissected their text – like they dissected the White House denials – did I realize the lack of follow-up in the investigation down the Republican path and earlier campaigns was intentional.
Spalding Gray used deception in a far different way than Nixon’s administration, the Washington Post, and Woodward and Bernstein. He allowed the facts surrounding the Cambodian situation to digest before composing his magnum opus, “Swimming to Cambodia.” He was not a journalist regurgitating facts; he gave birth to a truth based on emotion: similar to Tim O’Brien in The Things They Carried. Gray did not report, he enlightened. He manipulated words to inflame the sensorial experience, provoke thought, and tug at the heart. He epitomized the contemporary version of the ancient storyteller: the oral tradition of passing on historical truths.
Nixon and his lackluster loyalists, the Washington Post, and Woodward and Bernstein all utilized deception to further their personal agendas, and to hell with anyone that got in the way. Yes, the paper and reporters came out smelling like a rose in the public’s perspective at the time. But the loss of integrity on the part of the Post and reporters is clearly evident. They were considered heroes for bringing down Nixon’s administration (a positive outcome to be sure). But they were actually anti-heroes, similar to Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, or any of Clint Eastwood’s characters in the days of the Spaghetti Westerns. On the other hand, Gray’s manipulation of the truth was not to deceive the public but to make the truth more palatable to digest.
© JW Thomas