The Lessons of Deep Throat

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 2, 2005 12:29 PM

How relevant are the lessons of Deep Throat and Watergate today -- to the modern press corps, in particular?

Opinion writers are finding plenty to say about that.

David Sarasohn, an associate editor at the Portland Oregonian, writes: "Along with the always-useful 'Follow the money,' Watergate left us another message: When the White House goes on the attack against reporters, it's probably because there's something it doesn't want reported. . . .

"Deep Throat may now seem a distant figure, but deep pressure seems a familiar attitude. . . .

"Taking on Nixon, after all, was not an inviting prospect. Just re-elected, citing a mandate, he'd purged most of his Cabinet and replaced them with White House loyalists. He denounced opponents as elitists, and claimed the support of a 'silent majority,' while his vice president stumped the country attacking newspapers and TV networks for not saying that Vietnam was going splendidly."

The Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minn., editorializes: "It's tempting to disconnect the just-jolted memories of the Nixon constitutional crisis from the goings-on in Washington and the news media now. Different times, different actors . . . But there are also shadowy recesses of relativism that might have shifted but surely not disappeared at the highest levels of American government. . . .

"The challenge then and now for citizens is to insist on transparency so they can judge the public conduct of public servants. . . .

"It was downright eerie on Tuesday that as the Felt disclosure emerged, President Bush was denouncing a critical report by the human rights group Amnesty International as based on the word of 'people who hate America.' It was a hallmark of the Nixon White House to see criticism or questioning as reason to put the dissenter on an 'enemies list.' It was the hallmark of those times, too, for Nixon to purge independent thinkers and replace them with unquestioning loyalists."

Clark Hoyt, the Washington editor for Knight Ridder Newspapers, writes: "The lessons of Deep Throat are important for today's journalists and the public. Anonymous sources are in ill repute these days, partly because journalists have overused them, allowed them to launch partisan attacks and even, tragically, invented them. But even the solidest anonymous sources, who decline to be identified out of genuine fear of reprisal, are often under attack, not because the information they provide is wrong but because it doesn't support a particular political agenda."

David J. Sirota writes on the American Prospect Web site: "American journalism today has lost its confrontational, hold-their-feet-to-the-fire attitude that gave it a reputation as our government's fourth check and balance. Young reporters can't imagine what that kind of reporting really is because they've never experienced it."

Newsday's editorial board writes: "When the system is rigged by the powerful to thwart the rule of law, the news media are a key safety valve. The press provides an effective way for the truth to get out to the public, even when the most powerful boss in the free world is doing all he can to make sure it never does.

"There's a lesson in that, particularly as government secrecy has been ratcheted up in the war on terror and President George W. Bush has taken to disparaging the news media's use of anonymous sources."

Tim Grieve writes in Salon: "'Where are the 'Deep Throats' of today?' But the thing is, they're there -- and they're not hiding. They go by names like Clarke and Wilson, like O'Neill and Taguba . They've told us some of the stories, connected some of the dots. The Downing Street memo takes us a long way down one trail, but how much further could we go? What would a real investigation, one conducted by an independent prosecutor or a House impeachment committee, tell us about Saddam Hussein's WMDs? What would someone like Colin Powell say under oath? What would we learn about what Bush knew and when he knew it?"

During a televised photo-op with the president of South Africa a few hours before the roundtable interview, Bush had dodged the question of whether he considered Deep Throat a hero or not.

"He was -- it's hard for me to judge. I'm learning more about the situation. All I can tell you is, is that it's -- it was a revelation that caught me by surprise, and I thought it very interesting. I'm looking forward to reading about it, reading about his relationship with the news media. It's a brand-new story for a lot of us who have been wondering a long time who it was."

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Meanwhile, Joseph L. Galloway , in his column for Knight Ridder Newspapers, smells a whiff of Vietnam.

"In a Memorial Day interview, Vice President Dick Cheney told Larry King that the Iraqi insurgency is in its death throes, Osama bin Laden 'is on the run,' we've dealt a major blow to al-Qaida and the terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been 'treated humanely and decently.'

"Wait a minute. What did he say? That sounded suspiciously like a 'light at the end of the tunnel' speech.

"President Bush echoed his No. 2's conclusions the next day. . . .

"This would be a good time to conduct a thoughtful review of where we are in this war, where we're going, what our exit strategy should be and what can be done to prevent a Vietnam-style disaster in the Middle East."

Cheney: We're Winning

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "Evoking the memories of Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Cheney called upon a new generation of military officers Wednesday 'to hunt down the terrorists before they can hit us again' and declared that the United States is on course for victory in the war on terrorism.

"In a commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy, he offered a sober, tough-minded portrait of the mission ahead of the graduating cadets, a task far more daunting than they imagined when they enrolled four years ago just before hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"'Ladies and gentlemen, this is a war we are winning,' Cheney told the 906 graduating cadets, their families and underclassmen gathered in Falcon Stadium."

Here is the text of Cheney's speech.

Outfitted with a 10-gallon hat, the vice president did not say a word about the sexual harassment and assault scandal that rocked the academy recently, nor the ongoing investigation into whether cadets were pressured to convert to evangelical Christianity.

But he did take a swat at previous administrations the likes of which I don't think we've heard since the campaign: "During the '80s and '90s, as terror networks began to wage attacks against Americans, there was a tendency to treat those attacks as isolated incidents. And those acts were answered, if at all, on an ad hoc basis with subpoenas, criminal indictments, and the occasional cruise missile. As time passed, the terrorists concluded that they could hit America with very little consequence to themselves and might even change American policy through acts of murder, so their attacks became more ambitious and more deadly. After 9/11 this nation made a decision: We will not sit back and wait for future attacks. We will prevent those attacks by taking the fight to the enemy."

African Aid Watch

Elizabeth Becker and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "President Bush refused on Wednesday to budge on his administration's opposition to doubling aid for Africa, a major proposal on the agenda for a summit meeting of industrial nations next month in Scotland."

Here's the transcript of Bush's photo-op with South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Patrick Wintour writes in the Guardian that British Prime Minister Tony Blair may finally be giving up on enlisting Bush's aid.

Sudan Watch

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush said yesterday that the killings in Sudan's Darfur region constitute genocide, breaking with the United Nations and some administration officials who in recent months have carefully avoided using the term to describe the violence and death in Darfur."

Egypt Watch

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush prodded Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday to provide a model for other Mideast nations to follow by holding genuinely democratic and contested presidential elections."

Korea Watch

Reuters reports: "North Korea called U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney a 'bloodthirsty beast' on Thursday, in response to Cheney saying the North's leader Kim Jong-il was irresponsible and ran a police state."

Venezuela Watch

Pascal Fletcher reports for Reuters: "Venezuela on Wednesday condemned as 'meddling' and 'a provocation' President Bush's meeting at the White House with a prominent opponent of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez."

The War President

Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey , writing on Newsweek.com, notes a possible irony.

"Speaking alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week, Bush started to explain his theories about how elections in the region would affect terrorist groups such as Hamas.

" 'The president ran on a peace platform,' Bush said of Abbas. 'You know, maybe somebody will run on a war platform--you know, vote for me, I promise violence. I don't think they're going to get elected . . . As a matter of fact, I think the people that campaign for peace will win.'

"That's a curious analysis for a politician who described himself last year -- as he ran for re-election -- as a 'war president' and campaigned intensively on the issue of national security."

Briefing Follies

Eccentric Baltimore radio personality Lester Kinsolving managed to make his way to the front row of yesterday's press briefing with Scott McClellan. And the result was predictably unpredictable.

"Q Since the President is scheduled to attend a Republican fundraiser on June the 14th, which will also be attended by California gubernatorial candidate and porn star Mary Carey, what guarantee does the White House have that she will do nothing pornographic at this event? What will be done if she does?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I haven't looked that far ahead on the President's schedule.

"Q But it's important -- it's only two weeks from now. You must have some plan --

"MR. McCLELLAN: Les, that's another one -- that's another one I'm just not going to get into dignifying."

Avoiding Women Journalists?

Later in the briefing, McClellan was grilled about why Bush doesn't call on more women correspondents.

"Q If 25 percent of the journalists are women, I would think more than 2 percent of questions -- or, in fact, it was one question -- would perhaps be directed to the women.

"MR. McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to taking questions from a wide variety of people, and I don't think that's a reflection on the President. I think that's a reflection on maybe the media and the diversity within the media. So I think that's a question you ought to direct to the media, not us."

The Chris Cox Nod

Bush this morning formally nominated Rep. Christopher Cox of California to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, replacing William H. Donaldson.

From the text of Bush's announcement: "I've given Chris a clear mission: To continue to strengthen public trust in our markets so the American economy can continue to grow and create jobs. The nation is increasingly a nation of stock holders. A generation ago, only a small percentage of American families invested in stocks and bonds. Today, more than half of households are investing -- for their families and for their futures. Now more than ever, we must make sure Americans can rely upon the integrity of our markets."

Stephen Labaton writes in the New York Times that Donaldson announced his resignation just yesterday, "after repeated criticism from his two fellow Republican members of the agency and from some business groups and administration officials who contended that his enforcement and policy decisions had been too heavy-handed."

Jonathan Peterson and Richard Simon write in the Los Angeles Times that Cox may be just the the securities industry is looking for.

Surrounding the White House

Agence France Presse reports: "A US anti-war group vowed to surround the White House in a sea of demonstrators during coordinated protests scheduled to take place in Washington, as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco on September 24.

"The ANSWER Coalition expects more than 100,000 people, from families of US soldiers to trade unions and diverse religious groups, to take part in the demonstrations against the war in Iraq."

Santorum Watch

Carrie Budoff writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The White House hasn't been coy in showing its affection for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's 2006 reelection bid. Chief strategist Karl Rove went so far as to suggest that conservatives book a Motel 6 here next year and get to work.

"Now, President Bush will back up his support with an appearance at a June 14 Santorum fund-raiser in Bryn Mawr, the senator's campaign confirmed yesterday."

Today's Calendar

Bush holds another of his meticulously staged "conversations" on Social Security at the Hopkinsville-Christian County Conference and Convention Center in Hopkinsville, Ky.

James Malone writes in the Louisville Courier-Journal that ticket distribution was in the hands of the office of the local Republican congressman, Ed Whitfield.

After that event, Bush heads to St. Lous to headline a $2,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner for Senator Jim Talent's re-election bid.

Then it's off to the ranch in Crawford for a long weekend.

Laura Bush is in Chicago to announce the recipients of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's libraries grants.

Uniting the Opposition

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post from the annual meeting of the Campaign for America's Future, a celebration of all things liberal. He finds that Democrats are unified -- in their opposition to the president.

"[A]t this week's gathering, everything from the conference's title -- 'Take Back America' -- to the exhibit booths was all about Bush. The Nation magazine handed out pins portraying Bush as Alfred E. Neuman. American Prospect had a blown-up cover labeling Bush 'The Most Dangerous President Ever.' Televisions played MoveOn.org ads showing a Bush impersonator attacking an aging couple at breakfast by 'pulling the rug out from under Medicare.'

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