Aside from the initial disclosure of his true identity, I've paid little attention to this week's public conversation about Deep Throat, so I was taken aback this morning when I tuned into the talking-head shows and learned that former Nixonians are trying to smear Mark Felt as some kind of bum for blowing the whistle on their wrongdoing. This flabbergasts me for a half-dozen different reasons, not least of which is the incredible notion that TV commentators are still (or once again) arguing about a political battle that was won and lost (depending on your perspective) thirty years ago. I suppose that shouldn't surprise me, given the lingering bitterness over the Clintons, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and even, in some quarters, the Civil War. People have long memories and grudges do endure. But I guess I keep hoping there'll be an outbreak of common sense any day now, and this eternal optimism causes me to be caught consistently off-guard when it doesn't happen.
I'm reluctant to get into this because I really don't want to pick a political fight here on Simple Tricks after the pleasant silence of these past couple of months. But when I hear that people like G. Gordon Liddy -- one of those who did prison time for the Watergate break-in, just in case you don't know -- are calling Mark Felt a disgrace and a traitor because he went to the press with what he knew, well, that's so ridiculous as to beg some kind of comment.
I'm no expert on the subject of Watergate. I was watching Sesame Street the day Nixon resigned. I've seen two movies on the subject (All the President's Men, naturally, and the goofy but charming comedy Dick), and it seems like I watched a PBS documentary about it a while back, probably an episode of Frontline or The American Experience. My interest in Deep Throat stems from the romance of unsolved mysteries, and the mythic image of a cigarette-smoking man in a trenchcoat speaking truth from the shadows. Up until a week ago, I'd never heard the name Mark Felt, and I know nothing of the man's character or his motives for revealing the dirty deeds of the Nixon administration.
But I do know the basic facts of the Watergate scandal: in 1972, five men broke into the headquaters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel for the purpose of bugging the place. Their operation was bankrolled with Nixon campaign funds, and at least one of them was on the payroll of the GOP Committee to Re-elect the President. Nixon may not have personally ordered the burglary, but he likely knew about it, and his White House made efforts to cover it up and obstruct the investigation after the fact.
Now, I don't think you have to be a rabid partisan to feel some sense of outrage at the idea of one political campaign trying to gain an unfair advantage over another through illegal means, and then using the government's own resources to try and hide everything when the operation goes south. Seems to me that's about as ethically bankrupt as politics can get. So bankrupt, in fact, that a lot of people at the time believed the very Constitution of our United States was in danger.
So how can anyone use the word "traitor" with a straight face when discussing the man who helped reveal such insidious corruption? How can someone who is himself a felon convicted of participating in that corruption -- I'm speaking of Liddy, the man who planned the disasterous buglary-and-bugging op -- presume to wag his finger at anyone else's sense of ethics?
The logic behind these attacks on Mark Felt seems to be that Felt violated protocol by going to the press with his concerns instead of his own superior at the FBI, or to another government official. I've also heard the suggestion that Felt was less interested in revealing corruption than in grinding his ax -- he had hoped to become head of the FBI after the death of J. Edgar Hoover, and instead a Nixon political appointee got the job.
I think the answer to the first issue is obvious to anyone who has ever experienced the slightest drop of paranoia: who could Mark Felt go to that wasn't part of the corruption? His superior at the FBI was a Nixon appointee, so he wasn't to be trusted. By the same token, knowing what Felt apparently knew, anyone with close ties to the White House was out of the question. And, as I understand it, Congress wasn't much interested in Watergate until growing public attention -- generated by the press coverage that Felt was contributing to -- forced them to be.
As for Felt's motives, well, I don't have any idea how noble or petty they may have been, or even whether his actions were legal (I'll admit I am completely ignorant of the law as it pertains to this situation.) But his actions were the right ones, in my humble opinion, regardless of why he chose them or whether they violated the letter of the law.
G. Gordon Liddy and other Watergate conspirators are hardly in a position, morally and ethically speaking, to say anything about Mark Felt. At best, they're speaking with a mouthful of sour grapes, because they lost the battle and some of them did time for it; at worst, they're trying to rewrite history, to recast themselves as the victims of this story instead of the villains. And I find that outrageous. If we don't want to elevate Mark Felt/Deep Throat to the status of hero, that's fine and probably justifiable. I've done a little reading about him today, and he's a complex character, to put it mildly. But to try and turn him into a bad guy for exposing other bad guys? That's a load of bull.Posted by jason at June 5, 2005 11:53 PM