Friday, June 03, 2005

June 3, 2005

Worthy of Reflection?
President Bush looked a bit flummoxed when asked what he thought of Mark Felt (AKA, Deep Throat.) “I want to read about it, learn more,” Bush responded. It was not as much what he said that spoke volumes, as it was his body and face language. “Deer in the headlights,” comes the closest to capturing the look.

Over at the Pentagon another top administration official, Don Rumsfeld, didn't have to "learn more." As a Nixon appointee, Rumsfeld had a front-row seat for Watergate. In fact, that’s when Rumsfeld learned the dangers of breaking laws on a leaky ship. That explains why as Defense Secretary now he lords over a virtually hermetically sealed agency.

Asked what he thought of Mark Felt, Rumsfeld brushed the question aside, “I’m not in a judgmental mood today,” he said.

Hmmm, a Bush official in a non-judgmental mood? I don’t exactly believe that; but fine, don’t judge. Then how about reflecting a bit?

Reflect on what? Well, for starters, abuse of power. And abuse of office. How about the dangers of blinding hubris and arrogance? What about reflecting on lists of citizen-enemies, gnawing paranoia, witch-hunts, plumbers, domestic surveillance and, of course, war.

The similarities between the administrations of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush are striking, and worthy of reflection.

Both administrations suffered from:

* An unpopular war begun and continued on false premises.
* An obsession with controlling information and plugging leaks.
* Worldwide condemnation of the conduct of its armed forces, including documented allegations of atrocities.
* Distrust of a free press, which it saw as a hostile and often unpatriotic force.
* A habit of cloaking itself in godly purity and patriotism, while repeatedly lying to it’s own citizens about the great matters of the time – matters of life and death, war and peace, prosperity and poverty.
* A pattern of using the power of office to reward supporters and savage its detractors.

That was the Richard Nixon administration. And it’s all here again under George W. Bush. The only difference is there appears to be no Mark Felts left in government, no one working deep in the bowels of this administration who knows the truth and cares enough about America to risk all, as Felt did. Someone with the goods – the real goods – on Iraq, the real goods on Cheney’s energy task force; the real goods on Gitmo and torture and who authorized it; the real goods on secret US-funded detention facilities scattered around the world where the Geneva Convention is violated in the name of democracy every day, every hour; the real goods on growing domestic surveillance that too often now crosses the line; the real goods on illegal taxpayer-funded domestic propaganda operations to manipulate and discredit the media -- the real goods on all that, and who knows how much more.

Where is our Deep Throat? Will he/she surface in time, this time? Will the same motivations finally convince someone to say, "Enough!" Felt stepped up to the plate when it became clear to him that the Nixon gang had pretty much neutralized legal systems of checks and balances. They had the FBI in their pocket. They had the CIA working to make sure the FBI stayed in that pocket. They fired the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, the second they learned he was going to conduct a real investigation. So, Felt stepped out of the shadows and gave Woodward ad Bernstein the real goods, and he helped save America.

But this administration has managed to keep its dirty little secrets secret. You have to know there are dozens of highly place career government employees who know the truth, the whole truth. Apparently none of them are Mark Felts. Instead, when faced with the choice of risking their generous government pension or leaving America’s soul at risk, they are sticking to their pensions.

I am not in the reporting business any more, but when I was there were still a few Mark Felts in government. Thanks to them, I and other investigative journalists were able to unravel which government officials and elected politicians facilitated and then profited from the savings-and-loan scandal. We were able to lift the lid off what Ronald Reagan was really up to in what came to be known as the Iran/Contra scandal. Even though he ended up getting away scott free, at least history will know the truth.

There is nothing complicated or mysterious about becoming a Deep Throat. It’s really quite simple. Sometimes the information would come to me in large manila envelopes with no return address, stuffed with copies of classified State Department and Justice Department cables. Sometimes it was a phone call: “You might be interested in a civil suit just filed in Denver. There are names in it you will recognize.” Sometimes it was a just name and phone number scribbled on a napkin during an otherwise unremarkable lunch with a mid-level bureaucrat. That’s all it takes -- a conscience, a respect for the rule of law, a bit of moral outrage and a dash of courage.

Deep Throats don’t give reporters their stories. Putting it all together is the reporter’s job. But what Deep Throats provide is invaluable – it's often just the end of the right thread. Felt provided just that, the end of a thread two reporters latched onto and began following. When they lost that thread he put it back in their hands.

There’s a lot of angst in newsrooms today about using sources like Felt – anonymous sources – but they are critical to the process of keeping a free and informed. An uniformed populace soon becomes a misinformed populace and inevitably a misled populace. Lies that go unmasked are a cancer, not just on the Presidency, but also on democracy itself.

Where are you, Deep Throat? To quote Simon & Garfunkle -- "Where have you gone? A lonely nation turns it eyes to you.

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