W. Joseph Campbell

The Washington Post ‘wrecked’ Nixon’s life? Sure it did

In Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on August 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I’m tough on the Washington Post in a couple of chapters in Getting It Wrong, my new book that addresses and debunks prominent media-driven myths.

I call out the newspaper for its singular role in publicizing the erroneous hero-warrior tale about Jessica Lynch who, because of botched reporting by the Post, unwittingly became the best-known Army private of the Iraq War.

I also challenge the hero-journalist myth of the Watergate scandal, asserting in Getting It Wrong that (contrary to the dominant popular narrative) the Post and its reporters did not topple Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency. (The Post, to its credit, also has challenged that narrative from time to time over the years.)

While I’m no apologist for the Post and consider it far weaker than its reputation,  I have no patience for such off-handed and outlandish characterizations as those appearing in a post yesterday at the Felsenthal Files, a blog of Chicago Magazine.

The blog post was titled “Blago: The View from Washington” and addressed the Post‘s editorial last week about retrying Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor, on federal corruption charges. A jury in Chicago this month convicted Blagojevich on one charge of lying to federal investigators but failed to return verdicts on 23 other counts.

The Post in the editorial said Blagojevich’s prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, “took his shot and lost. He should stand down before crossing another fine line–the one that separates prosecution from persecution.”

The Felsenthal Files found towering irony in that view, stating:

“If Rod Blagojevich has one hero in life besides Elvis, it’s Richard Nixon, and if there’s one newspaper that wrecked Nixon’s life and legacy it’s the Washington Post. How ironic, then, that the Washington Post is trumpeting almost the same line as Blago himself.”

Putting aside the wisdom of retrying Blagojevich, the Felsenthal Files’ flippant passage, alluding to the Watergate scandal, cries out for comment: “… if there’s one newspaper that wrecked Nixon’s life and legacy it’s the Washington Post.”

Wrecked?

Oh, c’mon.

The Washington Post didn’t wreck Richard Nixon.

It was Nixon’s criminal misconduct that defined the Watergate scandal and ultimately led to his resigning the presidency in disgrace in August 1974.

It wasn’t the Post‘s doing.

To regard Nixon’s fall as an effect of the Post‘s investigative reporting is, I write in Getting It Wrong, “to abridge and misunderstand the scandal and to indulge in a particularly beguiling media-driven myth.”

I further write that the “heroic-journalist interpretation [of Watergate] minimizes the far more decisive forces that unraveled the scandal and forced Nixon from office”–the special prosecutors, the federal judges, bipartisan congressional panels, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Supreme Court.

Even then, Nixon probably would have served out his term–if as a wounded and weakened chief executive–had it not been for the existence of the audiotapes he made of many of his conversations in the Oval Office.

Only when ordered by the Supreme Court in July 1974 did Nixon surrender those recordings that captured him plotting to cover up the crimes of Watergate and authorizing payments of thousands of dollars in hush money.

The wreckage of Watergate undeniably was of Nixon’s own doing.

WJC

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