Thursday, June 02, 2005

Rewriting History, Thirty Years On

I've always been bugged by revisionist history, maybe because it requires either hypocrisy, intellectual sloppiness, outright mendacity or a bit of each. Over the past few days, the revisionists have been out in full force.

The comments about Mark Felt from characters like Chuck Colson and Pat Buchanan are predictable and worth no more than the paper on which their resumes are printed. What interests me is the spin from conservatives who have no personal axe to grind about Watergate, and in many cases were not old enough at the time to do much more than sit on the floor watching Star Trek. The stable over at NRO's Corner, for example, has penned a variety of intimations and hysterical outbursts over the past few days, including the following: Felt was literally crazy; he had ulterior motives; he was the head of a right-wing conspiracy against Nixon; Watergate would have been uncovered without the press; the mainstream media has acted like a fat, middle-aged guy reliving high-school glories; Woodward and Bernstein were unimportant and the story would have happened without them. Notice how the press is the focus of much of this instead of the actual crimes that were committed? And Rich Lowry actually had the stones to play "gotcha!" and dig up a piece Josh Marshall wrote a few years ago in which he speculated Deep Throat might be Pat Buchanan. Rich, is that really a game you want to play?

Today, Jonah Goldberg posted the following email from a reader:
My dad was a Special Agent in the FBI from 1951 until 1977. He knew Mark Felt and had significant contact with him. Felt was always on my dad's short list of who Deep Throat could be, since the info provided to Woodward and Bernstein had to have come from someone with access to an incredible amount of sensitive information. Dad says it was no secret among FBI agents that Felt was angry that Nixon passed him over to replace J. Edgar Hoover and instead appointed his longtime crony Pat Gray. So Felt clearly had an axe to grind and by going to the media he exacted his revenge. He argues that any statements to the contrary about Felt's motives are a disingenuous attempt to recast him as an altruistic whistleblower, which simply isn't true.

Dad's take is that Felt should have done something with the info he had, but going to the WaPo was illegal and, more important to my dad, a betrayal of his oath of office. Dad 's position is that Felt should have gone to the grand jury, which would have been independent of FBI, DOJ and White House control, personal consequences be damned.
Felt should have gone to the grand jury? What grand jury was that? The Watergate burglars were arrested on June 17, 1972. There was no grand jury until that September; the first action it took was to indict Liddy, Hunt and the five burglars. In the months between the burglary and those indictments, Woodward and Bernstein wrote crucial early stories about the conspiracy based on tips from Felt. Indeed, as Woodward wrote in today's WP, within 48 hours of the burglary he was getting information from Felt. Facts matter, guys.

Besides that, the argument that Felt should have taken his information to a more traditional enforcement entity ignores the historical context. First, as Woodward wrote in today's WP, Felt---a former Nazi spy catcher---considered the group around Nixon to be "Nazis" and "sinister." There were characters like Liddy, Colson and Tony Ulasewicz; it's possible Felt feared for his safety. Second, where else could Felt have turned? The nature of this conspiracy was that the tentacles reached deep into various parts of the government. One of the burglars (James McCord) was a former CIA agent and a coordinator for Nixon's re-election campaign, Howard Hunt was a CIA employee for 21 years, and John Mitchell ran the Department of Justice as well as the Committee to Re-Elect the President. How's that for an impartial, trustworthy Attorney General to whom a whistleblower confidently could turn---especially considering the burglars had been paid with Nixon campaign funds? Felt could not be sure how many were dirty or how deep the conspiracy went. And last, this would have been Mark Felt against a very popular President; a few months after the Watergate break-in, Nixon beat McGovern by 60% to 37% in a historic landslide.

Besides ignoring this important historical context, some conservatives have shown striking ideological hypocrisy over the past few days. If there is one symbol of everything to which traditional conservatism is diametrically opposed, it would be Watergate---a big-government criminal conspiracy to violate civil liberties, subvert the legal process and undermine the institution of democracy. If you call yourself a conservative but are more outraged about the press or a whistleblower, you've really lost your way. And if you're Jonah Goldberg, you need to explain why some leakers are more equal than others; Ken Starr was considered an egregious leaker about an episode upon which Jonah built a career.

And if intellectual honesty, historical accuracy and ideological consistency are not compelling enough, maybe some of these alleged conservatives can convince themselves that without Watergate there probably would have been no President Carter. And without Carter, there might not have been a President Reagan.

How's that for an easy, reassuring way out of the memory hole?


Anonymous ctbill said...

Great post. As you wrote, facts matter.

6/02/2005 9:36 PM  
Blogger DrDave said...

Last night, Jon Stewart had clips of Liddy, Buchanan and Robert Novak all criticizing Mark Felt's actions. Yep, Liddy the convict, Buchanan the fascist-isolationist, and Novak, the standard-bearer for jounalistic integrity.

If I am ever so fortunate to be criticized by the likes of Liddy, Buchanan and Novak, I will know that I have done the right thing.

Facts matter, indeed.

And while we're on that subject, did you read Peggy Noonan's column?

Who the hell let her out of the looney bin???

6/02/2005 11:04 PM  
Blogger hilzoy said...

Thank you.

6/02/2005 11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point about Carter & Reagan. Maybe someone should pose to Ben Stein the question of whether he would have been willing to give up the Ragan presidency to save all those dead Vietnamese and Cambodians.

6/02/2005 11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes thanks, some really good points particularly about Goldberg and leakers.

6/02/2005 11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did Noonan ever become a speechwriter? Her style is horrendous---about the worst I have ever seen on an op-ed page.
She writes like a 3rd grader, and has trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy.

6/03/2005 12:40 AM  
Blogger mjs said...

What more evidence is required for the thinking portion of the 51% of the country that voted for GWB that there is no "conservative movement" and that the Republican party is now owned by power hungry activist minded theocrats (and some corpocrats thrown in for good measure) who desire global hegemony and want to fight a spiritual war prophesied in the Bible. Whatever small amount of restraint Novak, Buchanan, et al once had is no longer necessary in an era where the majority leader of the House and Senate desire to legislate specific results in intimate family matters and where the President lies about the case for War. With Rep.'s in power in all three brances of government they are free to come unhinged from reality - hisotry becomes relative - and everything malleable. The most malleable of all to the power mad becomes Truth. It should be no surprise that the leaders of the "conservative" movement deride the one person who revealed corruption in the White House and call him a traitor without any hint of irony. Some of what Novak has to say is also likely directed to those in the current Administration who may be considering coming clean about the "fixing" of the facts to meet the Bush Iraq policy objectives in an effort to save their reputations. Thus far Bush/Rove has been pretty good about enforcing discipline and marginalizing the few who have been critical. Novak et al are merely forecasting the consequences to someone who strays - they will be considered a traitor.

If Nixon were a Dem. Felt would be a Rep. hero. Their anger is partisan. The commentators noted by TCR must hate America.

6/03/2005 12:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Felt is a coward. And his family is ugly (taking advantage of a 91-year old man suffering from dementia).

It saddens me that people don't even know what a HERO is anymore.

Bringing down Nixon and his corrupt group is a good thing. But how Felt did it, was a)against the law, b)against his oath of office, c)cowardly.

You act as if the ONLY option Felt had was to leak information to the WaPo. How ridiculous.

But the truth is that the man was not willing to take the hit.

And let's not leave out the hypocrisy of Felt a few years later being convicted of a very similar thing!

I think very little of Felt. He saved his own butt, betrayed his oath, sought revenge for being passed over, etc.

And if he thought it was so "heroic", why didn't he ever divulge this secret? Only now, in this pathetic mental state, is his FAMILY betraying him in order to try and line theri pockets. How ugly.

6/03/2005 3:17 AM  
Anonymous KevinNYC said...

How is Felt a coward, name one single decision you made that could have disrupted your entire life.

How did he save his own butt? He didn't seek revenge for being passed over. He was upset that Nixon was attempting to blatantly politicize law enforcement. Nixon wanted an FBI file on every member of SDS. Felt wasn't the guy running around committing crimes. In fact, he was upset that the Justice Department, the IRS, the Washington Police were all being used as a weapons against whoever Nixon percieved to be an enemy. When the President of the United States is part of a criminal conspiracy even the #3 man at the FBI needs whistleblower protection.

(Noonan) writes like a 3rd grader, and has trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy. This perfectly explains how she got her job. She fit Reagan's style.

Someone should ask Jonah Goldberg what he thought this, when Nixon was mistakenly told Felt was Jewish:

Nixon: Is he Catholic?

Haldeman: (unintelligible) Jewish.

President Nixon: Christ, put a Jew in there?

6/03/2005 5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What oath did Felt betray? To defend the constitution? or To protect criminals?
Like so many times we have ad hominen attacks from the faith based and facts from the reality based.

6/03/2005 6:58 AM  
Anonymous susanpike said...

Interesting and GOOD post!

6/03/2005 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has Jonah even tried to explain the difference between Ken Starr and Mark Felt yet?

6/03/2005 7:31 AM  
Anonymous calicold said...

Great point about Nixon beating McGovern by a HUGE amount even AFTER Watergate broke.

6/03/2005 8:08 AM  
Anonymous semper fubar said...

The reason the rightwing is out there slinging mud at Felt, throwing out labels like "treasonous" "cowardly" "unethical" etc, is to fire a warning shot at any would-be whistleblowers in this adminstration.

The last thing they want is for a guy like Felt, who was instrumental in stopping a criminal enterprise at the top level of our government, to be viewed as some kind of hero. That might encourage administration insiders today to take the chance on ratting out the Bush criminal enterprise.

Simple as that. A warning shot.

(Not that we have the media to follow up such a story today anyway. Downing Street memo, anyone?)

BTW, clip of the Daily Show bit on this is at Crooks and Liars

6/03/2005 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of this is just incredible. Memory hole, indeedy.....

6/03/2005 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I pretty much knew conservatism was dead as an intellectual force, but it seems like the stinking, rotting corpse of what it used to be is now going to be paraded around on cable news shows for a few weeks.

These are people who'd deny the holocaust ever happened if they thought it would drum up enough votes.

6/03/2005 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it "interesting" that Novak has no problem using an anonymous source to out a CIA agent witch is blatently illegal and could have gotten many people killed but likes to castigate an anonymous source from 30 years ago where no one was endangered of being disappeared or publically killed. And, and there is an investigation regarding Novak's leak -which he won't reveal despite a grand jury- which was never such an official investigation with regards to Deep Throat(unless I missed it).

Ah conservates and their double standards - it is only wrong when the other side does it.

6/03/2005 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as drdave mentioned, jon's stewarts take on this was good.

good post as well. thanks for the history refresher, I don't have all this watergate stuff memorized.

the revisionists have a good chance of getting away with this. yesterday I was talking with a 28 year old coworker and he didn't know what Deep Throat did. I suspect there are a lot more like him out there and they would be very susceptible to the idea that Felt was a traitor.

6/03/2005 9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this post very helpful as well in terms of historical background, thanks TCR.

6/03/2005 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great. more ad hominem attacks, I'm so sick of them. Felt was mad he didn't get promoted. Somehow that undoes what Nixon did?

no wonder the neoconservatives' policies treat the average american like garbage. If I were dishing out their hooey I wouldn't have any respect for the suckers that fell for it either. have you noticed how ballsy they are getting lately? they don't even make the slightest attempt to come up with halfway decent lies anymore.

6/03/2005 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your stark intellectual honesty is refreshing. It is unfortunate that the example and the lessons of Watergate won't or can't translate onto the corruption currenly permeating our government. The lessons learned by the VRWC during that time are certainly paying off now. Call it what you will, slime and defend, Swift-Boating, 3-card Monte, it works.

I think there have been efforts to exponse the crime syndicate inhabiting the WH, but without the 24/7 noise machine we experienced during Watergate and Monica, there is no way to break through to the thinking part of the American political brain.

6/03/2005 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

like others, I was not aware of some of these historical facts, thanks.

6/03/2005 10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there is one symbol of everything to which traditional conservatism is diametrically opposed, it would be Watergate---a big-government criminal conspiracy to violate civil liberties, subvert the legal process and undermine the institution of democracy.

Right on!

The hypocrite nut jobs seem to be running the Republican party overth...

Too bad Felt's didn't think about his country now... it seems odd that a 91 year old man with dementia would have sense, and that this is his guardians cashing in ...

6/03/2005 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boy Vietnam, Watergate --- what year is it?

I'm getting to the point, who cares.

How about we take care of today and tomorrow.

6/03/2005 11:24 AM  
Anonymous kindness said...

Yea, the conservatives are at it again. Swift-Boating Felt with all their might.

Maybe the one good thing to come out of the '04 election was the use of a new verb; to swift boat someone.

6/03/2005 11:26 AM  
Blogger TravisG said...

"Rewriting history was an important part of the Bolshevik project to remake the world. Throughout the decades of Communist rule, the U.S.S.R. was a country with an unpredictable past: Russia's -- and in fact the world's -- history was continuously being reshaped by Communist ideologues.

"Events of remote and recent times were reinterpreted, distorted or erased so as to better fit Marxist theory and ensure the political dominance of the Communist Party."

Replace "Marxist" with "conservative" and "Communist" with "Republican," and it rings true, doesn't it?

6/03/2005 11:53 AM  
Blogger Phoenix Woman said...

When Colson and Company talk about how Felt should have reported Colson and Company's crimes to the proper authorities, what they oh-so-carefully leave out is that THEY would have been "the proper authorities".

Felt had no choice but to do what he did, the way he did it.

And hearing G. Gordon "Head Shots" Liddy criticize Mark Felt is like hearing Hitler accuse Churchill of war crimes.

6/03/2005 12:17 PM  
Blogger Phoenix Woman said...

Travis G:

We have always been at war with Eastasia, and Saddam never shook Rumsfeld's hand.

6/03/2005 12:18 PM  
Blogger owenz said...

It's important to note that although Liddy, Buchanon, and Colson have no credibility on Watergate (or anything else), the cable news media loves them. Wolf Blitzer and his ilk run shows that are the political equovolent of the Jerry Springer show. They place a premium on aggressive, outrageous, and downright silly guests - and they have zero interest in projecting an accurate picture of what happened at any level. To call it "news" is laughable.

As for the jokers at NRO and other wannabe smear artists, their attacks on Felt strike me as particularly tired and dull. They know it's their job to run through the checklist of worn out tricks - attack the target's character, question his motives, question his sanity, distract from the underlying crime, etc. - but it all feels half-assed, like they realize they should be doing something better to do with their time. You can practically feel Jonah sigh as he pops a viagra and tries to muster the outraged required to really lay into Felt...but the fire just isn't there. It's tough...even ripping Hillary isn't like it used to be when he was young and verile. He just looks down at his limp, bloated body and wonders, "what happened to me? Ten years ago I would have made every member of the Felt family weep in I can hardly get out of bed in the morning. Things just aren't the same....God I look fat..."

6/03/2005 2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post.

Over the past few months, I've come to understand how partisanship blinds people. America seems to have picked sides like Hatfields and McCoys, overidentifying with political parties and labels to a dangerous degree. I mean, how partisan do you have to be, exactly, to deny the blatant criminality of the Nixon administration? (And how sad is it to realize that, despite said criminality, the quality of governance we had back then seems superior to what we have now?)

Of course, asking the above makes me wonder what partisan blinkers *I* have on. I didn't really start paying attention to politics until about 2000, so I don't feel like I have any perspective at all on the Clinton administration.

What I know is that, as citizens, we've lost consensus on the shared factual basis from which our dialogue springs. Right now, we have partisans willing to debate, not opinions based on facts, but the facts themselves. Is global warming actually happening? Was Terri Schiavo in a persistent vegetative state? We should have answers to these questions so we can take action from there, not have two bickering talking heads telling us "Is not, is too." The televised media have failed us, the print media are getting there. If you get a guy on a cable news show talking about how Hitler was bad, you'll get an opposite talking head talking about how he was not.

What I do know is that all of us, Hatfields and McCoys, deserve better than what we're getting from our government. Republicans now have total power in government, so why, if conservatives are right, aren't things going very well? Back in 1992, when Clinton was in office and Democrats had control of the legislature, didn't we see dramatically progressive legislation?

Well, because our parties have stopped representing us. They throw us bones on hot-button issues - it gets us mad and motivated - but what's *happening* seems, to partisan little me, to be the powerful aiding the powerful, and everyone else getting left out in the cold.

The great American political battle of the 21st century will not be between Democrats and Republicans, but between the people and the truly corrupt politicans in our goverment. I mean, corruption in politics is nothing new, but, honestly, has it ever been *this* bad?

6/03/2005 2:19 PM  
Anonymous EWK said...

I mean, corruption in politics is nothing new, but, honestly, has it ever been *this* bad?

I think it has always been this bad, what has changed is the technology enables much grander levels of corruption. Watch Deadwood and you see how corruptly the west was developed, but the crooks could only control so much...

6/03/2005 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goo post by TCR, bravo!

6/03/2005 2:27 PM  
Blogger Jacobo said...

The anonymous coward at 03:17h stated that "How Felt did it was...b) against his oath of office..." As a brief review of the FBI Oath of Office, we have:

I, [insert name here], do solemnly swear to support, uphold and
defend the Constitution of the United States of America against
all enemies, foreign and domestic, to obey the lawful orders and
directives of those appointed before and above me, and that I
enter into this office without any mental reservation whatsoever,
so help me GOD.

So, senior o seniora anonymous coward, what part--exactly--did Felt go against? Before jumping to a concussion, note that Agents must "obey the lawful orders...", not just any order.

6/03/2005 8:23 PM  
Anonymous tommyfla said...

This might have been the best piece on Mark Felt I read all week.

6/04/2005 6:27 PM  
Anonymous jillie said...

agree with previous poster.

6/04/2005 10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something I haven't seen mentioned yet, is that Felts himself was convicted and later pardon by Reagan for ordering unlawful search and seizures into citizen homes (amendment 4). Some feel this is the foundation for the current patriot act. On a side note, I don't understand Presidential pardons no matter who is in the office, they all seem to pardon their connected or wealthy cronies. It is one thing to be proven innocent and the President pardons you, but for the President to just say your not guilty, wipe the slate clean seems ripe for corruption wether your a Reagan, Bush or Clinton.

But is Felts still a hero?

I think this is an interesting topic for journalists because several journalists are under pressure to reveal their sources or go to jail (i.e., Judy Miller).

6/05/2005 1:42 PM  
Blogger Origen'sghost said...

I can dismiss Liddy out of hand and would expect nothing less from Buchanan but, as a Christian, I find Colson’s reaction particularly disappointing. Here is a man who was saved from a life of moral depravity by the events of Watergate. He himself said in all seriousness that he was willing to kill his own grandmother if Nixon would ask him to do so. As a result of his conviction and prison term he was led to true repentance and a more meaningful, sanctified life in the service of others and of God. I don’t know the details of Colson’s Prison Fellowship but I’m sure that it’s done much to help others .
So, in a very real way, W. Mark Felt was God’s vehicle for the salvation of Chuck Colson. Too bad he can’t see it.

6/06/2005 1:15 AM  
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