W. Joseph Campbell

Woodward’s new book stirs retelling of Watergate myth

In Debunking, Media myths, Newspapers, Washington Post, Watergate myth on September 25, 2010 at 10:33 am

The pre-publication publicity and reviews about Bob Woodward‘s new book, Obama’s Wars, have inevitably stirred fresh retellings of the heroic-journalist myth of Watergate, in which Woodward figures prominently.

Nixon resigns, 1974

The heroic-journalist meme can be distilled to a single sentence–as CNN commentator Jack Cafferty demonstrated in a blog post the other day.

“In 1974,” Cafferty wrote, “Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon with their reporting on Watergate.”

And demonstrating anew that media-driven myths can travel far and well, the Daily Telegraph in London declared the other day in a profile of Woodward that his collaboration with Bernstein brought them “global fame” for “breaking the Watergate scandal and forcing Richard Nixon’s resignation in the early 1970s.”

The venerable BBC, in its profile, said of Woodward:

“The veteran journalist was at the heart of the scandal that rocked the White House and brought down U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1974.

“Along with Carl Bernstein, his colleague at the Washington Post, Woodward was instrumental in uncovering a series of abuses of power that reached the highest level of the administration.”

I address, and debunk, the heroic-journalist myth of Watergate in my new book, Getting It Wrong.

Among the many elements of the myth’s debunking, I note that principals at the Washington Post have sought periodically over the years to dismiss the notion the newspaper was central to Nixon’s fall.

Katharine Graham, the newspaper’s publisher during the Watergate period and beyond, said in 1997, at the 25th anniversary of the scandal’s seminal crime, the foiled burglary at Democratic national headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.:

“Sometimes people accuse us of bringing down a president, which of course we didn’t do. The processes that caused [Nixon’s] resignation were constitutional.”

And Woodward, himself, has concurred, albeit in earthier terms.  “To say that the press brought down Nixon, that’s horseshit,” he said in 2004 in an interview with American Journalism Review.

Complexity-avoidance, I write in Getting It Wrong, also helps explain the tenacity of the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate. Like many media myths, the heroic-journalist meme minimizes the intricacy of historical events in favor of simplistic and misleading interpretations.

In the case of Watergate, it is far easier to focus on the purported exploits of Woodward and Bernstein than it is to try to grapple with the intricacies and complexities of what was a sprawling scandal.

Far more significant and decisive to Watergate’s outcome were the contributions of federal prosecutors, federal judges, bipartisan congressional panels, and, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court. They were the forces in that succeeded in identifying Nixon’s criminal attempt to obstruct justice in the Watergate scandal–the misconduct that led to his resignation.

Against the tableau of prosecutors, courts, and bipartisan congressional panels, I write in Getting It Wrong, “the contributions of Woodward and Bernstein were modest, and certainly not decisive.”

I further write:

“This is not to say the Post’s reporting on Watergate was without distinction.” Indeed, the newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1973, for its reporting about the scandal in the summer and fall of 1972–during the four months following the foiled breakin at the Watergate.

But by late October 1972, the Post’s investigation into Watergate had run “out of gas,” as Barry Sussman, then the newspaper’s city editor, later acknowledged.

As earnest as their reporting was, “Woodward and Bernstein did not uncover defining and decisive elements of the Watergate scandal—the cover-up and the payment of hush money to the Watergate burglars,” I note in Getting It Wrong.

Nor did they disclose the existence of the White House audiotaping system that proved so critical to Nixon’s fate.

Nixon, I write, “likely would have served out his term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House.

“Only when compelled by the Supreme Court did Nixon surrender those recordings, which captured him plotting the cover-up and authorizing payments of thousands of dollars in hush money.”

Now that’s what “brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.”

Related:

About these ads
  1. [...] Woodward’s new book stirs retelling of Watergate myth [...]

  2. [...] Woodward’s new book stirs retelling of Watergate myth [...]

  3. [...] Woodward’s new book stirs retelling of Watergate myth [...]

  4. [...] In Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on October 1, 2010 at 8:27 am Bob  Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, was the single most-discussed topic in news links posted at Web logs Monday [...]

  5. [...] Woodward’s new book stirs retelling of Watergate myth [...]

  6. [...] yet the Watergate myth lives on, as an example of the news media exerting power in an effective and beneficial [...]

  7. [...] underground parking garage where during the Watergate investigation Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward sometimes met his high-level federal source known as “Deep [...]

  8. [...] of Watergate: That is, the notion that the investigative reporting of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down the corrupt presidency of Richard [...]

  9. [...] has become the scandal’s dominant popular narrative, maintains Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in their dogged coverage, brought down the corrupt presidency of Richard [...]

  10. [...] or political books. Among them was Bob Woodward, he of the Washington Post Watergate fame and author most recently of Obama’s [...]

  11. [...] commentary refers to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who reported on Watergate for the Washington Post, and asserts that Wikileaks [...]

  12. [...] by “Deep Throat,” the high-level, anonymous source who met from time to time with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post during the newspaper’s Watergate [...]

  13. [...] to “the advice” the stealthy anonymous source “Deep Throat” offered Woodward of the Washington Post during the newspaper’s Watergate [...]

  14. [...] and far more pertinent to Media Myth Alert, is the reference in the Spiegel essay to Woodward and Bernstein’s having “once exposed the Watergate [...]

  15. [...] notion that the Post and its reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency in the Watergate scandal [...]

  16. [...] I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the contributions of Woodward and Bernstein’s investigative reporting, I write, “were modest, and certainly not [...]

  17. [...] his periodic meetings — sometimes in a parking garage in suburban Virginia — with Bob Woodward of the Washington [...]

  18. [...] The movie purports to recount tell the ingenuity and persistence of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in investigating the scandal that ultimately brought down Richard Nixon’s [...]

  19. [...] “follow the money” was advice never given by Felt in periodic meetings with Woodward, which sometimes took place in a parking garage in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Virginia, [...]

  20. [...] is the case with all media-driven myths, there are elements of accuracy in that narrative. Woodward did periodically discuss Watergate with a high-level government source to whom the Post referred as [...]

  21. [...] of the 10 media-driven myths dismantled in Getting It Wrong, including the notion that “Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post brought down Nixon with their Watergate [...]

  22. [...] notion that the work of Woodward and Bernstein “inspired a generation” of journalism students is a persistent subsidiary [...]

  23. [...] and the notion that the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency have particularly powerful [...]

  24. [...] is that “Deep Throat” conferred privately with both Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Post’s  lead reporters on [...]

  25. [...] The comment, often attributed to the stealthy “Deep Throat” source cultivated by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, was written into the screenplay of All the President’s Men, the movie [...]

  26. [...] had been counseled to “follow the money,” the advice certainly neither would have unraveled Watergate nor led him to [...]

  27. [...] reason that Watergate’s dominant narrative focuses so squarely on Woodward, Bernstein, and the Washington Post is, I said, the cinematic version of the reporters’ book, [...]

  28. [...] had been counseled to “follow the money,” such advice certainly would neither have unraveled Watergate nor led him to [...]

  29. [...] had been advised to “follow the money,” the guidance neither would have unraveled Watergate nor led him to [...]

  30. [...] Press Club announced the other day that it plans to recognize the Watergate reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at next year’s Southern California Journalism Awards [...]

  31. [...] recent book titled Leak, which claims that Felt was a crucial if sometimes duplicitous source for Woodward on Watergate. (Bernstein, by the way, met Felt only weeks Felt’s [...]

  32. [...] was sage counsel offered by the stealthy, high-level “Deep Throat” source with whom Bob Woodward of the Washington Post periodically met as the scandal [...]

  33. [...] was referring to the supposed effects of the Watergate reporting of Bob Woodward of the Washington [...]

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,631 other followers

%d bloggers like this: