Sunday, 10 June 2012


The Washington Post had scooped the world's press on next Sunday's 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, just as they did with the story itself 40 years ago. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward offer a fascinating catalogue of some of the ways they conclude that 'Richard Nixon was even worse than we thought'; you can link to that piece here.

But the retrospective is even more interesting for what it doesn't discuss, which is motivation. Exactly what was it that made Richard Nixon so sensitive to leaks and things that might slip out of the White House and be revealed? What were the things Nixon needed to protect? And who ordered the break-in?Answers come there none.

At the risk of being labelled a conspiracy theorist, which is about the worst thing the mainstream media can call someone suggesting larger forces might be at work in American politics (remember the derision of Hilary Clinton's reference to a 'vast right-wing conspiracy' against her husband? That sure proved far-fetched!). But Woodward and Bernstein (and even more so Woodward in his series of insider books about American politics) have always avoided any consideration of 'deep politics'-- something particularly unusual given Woodward's own background in Naval Intelligence. Now Robert Redford has announced he's going to make a documentary about Watergate, with Woodward (whom he played in the movie) and Bernstein coorperating, and I can only think that this Woodward thesis is about to be reinforced for the post-literate among us.

Of course the 'great man' approach to history remains a valid one,within its limitations. But what Woodstein are presenting, 40 years on, is an even more graphic account of Richard Nixon as the presidential equivalent of the 'lone crazed assassins' who have stalked American politics for at least the past 150 years. As I pointed out in my book about Oliver Stone, it's irony at the highest level that America's highest-profile conspiracy theorist should make a movie remarkably sympathetic to Nixon and his psychological flaws; the difference being that Stone never took his eyes off the bigger picture, and was thus better prepared to see him in the context of forces operating around, if not beyond, his control.

The Post article makes much mention of Nixon's anti-Semitism, and the ambiguous place of Henry Kissinger in his administration. But it contains zero discussion of Kissinger's role in Nixon's October Surprise. Nor is there any mention of, among others, Howard Hughes, Donald Nixon, the Mafia, Bebe Rebozo, Cartha DeLoach, or Pepsico. And what exactly was his concern about 'the whole Bay of Pigs thing' which the White House tapes reveal? Exactly what were the Watergate burglars looking for?

Beyond Nixon himself, there are still basic questions about the whole Watergate affair, and even more about the Post's coverage. What was the true role, and motivation, of Deep Throat? Was Mark Felt the only source, or was DT an amalgam for others? What role did Woodward's own history with Naval Intelligence play? And let us not forget that, although Nixon did eventually resign (leading to that wonderful cover of Rolling Stone, headlined cuttingly: The Quitter) the whole Watergate issue was swept under the carpet by the media during the 1972 election campaign, which was an almost total sweep of America for Nixon. That is the legacy we need to remember.

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