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The Red Flag in the Flowerpot
April 29, 2012 11:40 PM   Subscribe

The Red Flag in the Flowerpot - "Four decades after Watergate, there’s something that still nags at Ben Bradlee about Deep Throat."
"Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight." [BB, 1990]
posted by peacay (51 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks, that was fascinating.
posted by Wolof at 1:45 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure whether to file that under "Less than Resolved" or "Inconclusive."
posted by Daddy-O at 3:44 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So that was his opinion in 1990? Hasn't a lot happened since then, like Deep Throat being revealed and many books and so forth? Has his opinion changed or do we have some more recent quotes that support this view?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:59 AM on April 30, 2012


DT was apparently always a pain in the neck.
posted by jaduncan at 4:00 AM on April 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


The New York Magazine excerpt is not itself without some controversy.
posted by caddis at 5:19 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Controversy sells books.
posted by Pendragon at 5:31 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps even more interesting than the "doubts" issue:

For four decades, Carl and Bob have insisted that the grand jurors they contacted had given them no information. For four decades, that story endured, as it was replayed in interviews and reread in library copies of All The President’s Men, and as Woodward and Bernstein and ­Bradlee became a holy trinity of newspaper journalism. But, according to the memo, it didn’t appear to be true: Z was no mystic; she was a grand juror in disguise, and had apparently broken the law by talking. Woodward and Bernstein had always denied it—in 1974, and as recently as 2011.

This will no doubt be red meat for the right wingers.

I look forward to the book. Ben Bradlee has been a remarkable larger-than-life figure.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:42 AM on April 30, 2012


I could read about the insecurities of the rich and powerful all day long. This was great, thanks.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:04 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's so striking about Watergate is what a non-issue it would be today. The idea of the Post reporting it is inconceivable, for one thing; the idea of the public taking umbrage; the fact of the President having a hate list and dirty tricks: all this seems like Tom Brown's Schooldays today.
posted by Balok at 6:04 AM on April 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


I have to admit that I have never really read into Watergate as much as I should have... I'm skimming through the seven pages of article but could someone give me some bearings as to, if the most fringe-theorist interpretation of this article were true, what it would actually mean?

Would it prove something about whether Richard Nixon was a criminal? I thought that things like lists of his domestic enemies had been discovered and that we have self-made tapes of him saying all sorts of shady things in discussions with U.S. officials and foreign leaders, not specifically related to the Watergate conspiracy. Or is it about other members of the conspiracy? Or maybe just saying that regardless of whether the things revealed in Watergate were true, it was investigated or prosecuted in a sketch fashion?
posted by XMLicious at 6:08 AM on April 30, 2012


XML: I'm only familiar with Watergate in a cursory way, having been much too young to pay any attention when it was happening (although I do remember Nixon resigning, so I'm not as young as I'd like :) ). And the writing in this article is absolutely terrible; I'd like to whack the author with a rolled-up newspaper for jacking off with his keyboard instead of laying out what he knows in a clear and straightforward way. But, as far as I can tell, sifting through the bafflegab, there seem to be two interesting bits in this article:
  1. The reported contacts with Deep Throat may have been 'sexed up', making them sound more mysterious than they actually were. The evidence for this is very, very indirect, and seems to be almost entirely based on one guy's apparent overreaction to one phrase. It's extremely tenuous and doesn't seem actually important in any way. Considering how much the article focuses on this, and how irrelevant to anything it seems, it makes me want to reach for the punishment newspaper again. Bad reporter! Bad! *whack*
  2. Second, and much more interesting: It looks like one of their sources was a grand juror in the case. This is kind of a big deal, and could involve jail time for the juror, if not the journalists. A judge had threatened them with jail for unsuccessfully approaching another juror, many years ago, so this is maybe not as farfetched as one might think.
Personally, I would be much more upset if this were a private citizen that was being leaked about by a juror, but this is the President, and holding him to a higher standard seems perfectly acceptable to me. By the very nature of his job, he shouldn't get the same kind of privacy protections that normal people do.

But, man, pulling this out of that article was not easy. Bad reporter! *whack*
posted by Malor at 6:26 AM on April 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Woodward rejects new Watergate claims: "'There’s a transcript of an interview that Himmelman did with Bradlee 18 months ago in which Ben undercuts the [New York magazine] piece. It’s amazing that it’s not in Jeff’s piece,' Woodward said.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:29 AM on April 30, 2012


Too bad nothing about Mary Myers nags at Bradlee.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:52 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, man, pulling this out of that article was not easy.

Thanks. Yeah, it seems like lots of the writing about Watergate is like this. As someone who wasn't born until after it happened, I get the most high-level points about it leading to proof that Nixon illegally tried to cover something up, and I'm moved by the image of Daniel Schorr reading Nixon's enemies list live on the air and unexpectedly coming to his own name, but time and again over the years when trying to learn about Watergate I find my eyes glazing over as the person writing about it starts going over painfully tedious details about what particular people did on particular dates and times and I'm left wondering Okay, but why? Why are we talking about this? which never seems to get resolved in any timely fashion.

I mean, to some degree I understand why they might do this - that in some cases it's an effective dramatic or narrative device for someone already familiar with the players and the details - and I would probably end up doing the same sort of thing if I tried to explain an issue that I remembered due to being really intent while watching it unfold in the media, it's just that it has an obfuscating effect. It's kind of like reading one of those Russian novels where there are a hundred different characters you're expected to remember and distinguish between even though they each have a name so long that your eyes cross before you finish pronouncing it.
posted by XMLicious at 6:53 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder if that simply isn't part of the process of history. The major players (on one side, at least) and their friends are still alive. Wait 50 years and a more streamlined, more "packaged" narrative will have emerged.
posted by Bromius at 7:20 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, we're still too close to Watergate to get a narrative out of it. We sort of have one about the Great Depression in the 30s, but given that we're still fighting over the politics of the government response to the Depression in 2012, we're going to be wrangling with Watergate for a long time.

I'm glad this material will be out there for future historians to make and revise the consensus narrative, though.
posted by immlass at 7:23 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


During the 1972 election campaign the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (sometimes called CREEP) used money laundering to channel donations to the Nixon re-election campaign into slush funds that financed illegal wiretapping and burglaries, including the Watergate break-in, which was approved by John Mitchell, the Attorney General of the United States. CREEP financed the buglers' legal defense.

When the scandal broke, Nixon and other administration officials lied both publicly and in court by stating that no one in the administration was involved. Nixon may not have been involved in planning the break-in, but he was deeply involved in the coverup. He ordered White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to have the CIA block the FBI's investigation into the break-ins.

So, burglary, money laundering, wiretapping, perjury, and obstruction of justice.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:33 AM on April 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I should add, yeah, we (Americans) agreed "Nixon did a bad thing" but there are a lot of details like "did Ford do the right thing by pardoning him?" that are still open questions.
posted by immlass at 7:35 AM on April 30, 2012


What's so striking about Watergate is what a non-issue it would be today. The idea of the Post reporting it is inconceivable, for one thing; the idea of the public taking umbrage; the fact of the President having a hate list and dirty tricks: all this seems like Tom Brown's Schooldays today.

I think you need to do a little more reading up on what the Watergate scandal was about. The fact that Nixon had an enemies list really wasn't the meat of the scandal. And, yes, it would absolutely be a scandal today if a President were to engage in the same criminal actions as Nixon. In fact it would be, if anything, a bigger scandal. We demand a much higher standard of ethical behavior from Presidents today than we did then. It's amusing how we have this permanent narrative of decline from the good old days when everyone was wonderfully incorruptible. There is actually a far higher level of scrutiny of the personal behavior of politicians now and far more explicit rules about what they can and cannot do than there were in the 60s and 70s. And back then the press routinely turned a blind eye to all kinds of peccadillos on the part of the political elite.
posted by yoink at 7:38 AM on April 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


Woodward's reaction to the possibility that Bradlee would question his sources made me wonder if there isn't more to question, and if Woodward wasn't afraid that someone would go down the rabbit hole and uncover something else.
posted by padraigin at 7:48 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh I forgot the Saturday Night Massacre. After John Mitchell left office, new Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, to investigate the Watergate conspiracy. Cox subpoenaed Nixon's Oval Office tapes. Nixon didn't want to release them on separation of powers grounds and because he claimed they involved national security issues.

Nixon proposed having Senator John Stennis review the tapes and provide a summary to the special prosecutor's office. Cox rejected the offer. Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox; Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox; Cox refused and resigned. Robert Bork, the Solicitor General and acting head of the Justice Department, then fired Cox.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:50 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cox refused and resigned

Ruckelshaus refused and resigned.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:53 AM on April 30, 2012


I should add, yeah, we (Americans) agreed 'Nixon did a bad thing' but there are a lot of details like 'did Ford do the right thing by pardoning him?' that are still open questions.

I think Ford unquestionably did the wrong thing. Pardoning Nixon led to a pattern of presidential crimes (usually by Republicans) going unpunished. Reagan and George H.W. Bush should have been impeached for Iran-Contra, and the George W. Bush administration led the US into invading Iraq on false pretenses.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:53 AM on April 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Okay, so how about this:
Nixon and his political organization had developed a private espionage and money laundering facility to further his personal and political objectives and the Watergate Scandal was about this being discovered and then protected through lying, perjury, and abuse of power.
Is that an accurate one-sentence summary?

Also, when I was a little kid the name "Spiro Agnew" reminded me of my Spirograph.
posted by XMLicious at 7:59 AM on April 30, 2012


Oh, and a callback to about 6.5 years ago:

It is pitch black in the Watergate Hotel. You are likely to be eaten by agnew.
posted by Malor at 8:03 AM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sidenote: It never ceases to amuse me that the '68 campaign biography of Agnew was titled Where He Stands: The Life and Convictions of Spiro T. Agnew.
posted by Bromius at 8:04 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


If Woodward didn't really go through all that subterfuge to meet with Felt, then surely there wasn't as big a risk to Felt from talking as made out? It kinda makes it look like such stories were made up to cover the fact that it was pretty open communication. But if they weren't worried about being monitored, does that mean others knew all along? CONSPIRACY THEORIES ARE GO.
posted by Jehan at 8:07 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Challenge to Robert Redford: "Will his new documentary explain whether Nixon ordered the Watergate break-in?"
Woodward and Bernstein were not alone: Neither the Senate Watergate Committee’s nor the House Impeachment Committee’s final reports determined who ordered the break-in, or—just as importantly—why, what it was for.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:22 AM on April 30, 2012


Yeah, we're still too close to Watergate to get a narrative out of it. We sort of have one about the Great Depression in the 30s, but given that we're still fighting over the politics of the government response to the Depression in 2012, we're going to be wrangling with Watergate for a long time.

Highly doubtful. No one born after Watergate cares about Watergate.

To people who were alive at the time, I'm sure it was completely mindblowing to see the President of the United States resign in disgrace, but for the rest of us, it's just a thing that happened. It's a juicy bit of history, but it affects us not at all.

People might mull over the details for another fifty years, tops. Then those people will be dead.

(As for "still fighting over the politics of the government response to the Depression," what's actually happening is that the people who remember it first hand are dying off, a fact that the Right is exploiting in order to recast the New Deal in a bad light.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:50 AM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq

I'm 24 and I very much care about Watergate. While I didn't persue a career in Journalism, it was learning about Watergate in High School that very much pushed me to consider it. Since then I've been extremely interested in Watergate and in particular Woodward and Burnstein's reporting on it.
posted by Twain Device at 9:03 AM on April 30, 2012


From the article:
I mean the crime itself was really not a great deal. Had it not been for the Nixon resignation it would be really a blip in history. The Iran-Contra hearing was a much more significant violation of the democratic ethic than anything in Watergate.
This is kind of my takeaway from the post-Watergate era; that Republican administrations can get away with so much more now; stuff that doesn't even get investigated, let alone prosecuted, no matter how obvious that there's something there. You could track the accountability fall-off on a chart: at least Iran-Contra got a high-profile hearing; shit's gone down since then that puts it into the shade and people are successfully branded lunatics and traitors for even bringing it up. And a roughly contemporary Dem president gets impeached for lying about consensual sex with an adult when an expensive witchhunt focused on an old land deal fizzles out.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:16 AM on April 30, 2012


Obviously, it is a very good thing that Nixon was pushed out of office.

That said, from the 1990s on, a set of clues-- mainly derived from the physical facts of the burglary and the wiretapping operation-- has emerged that suggests the Watergate scandal may have been, to some degree, a set up engineered by the CIA.

The interested can look into work by Jim Hougan and Len Colodny.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2012


What are you guys talking about? How it is that Woodward and Deep Throat and everyone coordinated might be mysterious, but the Watergate incident and cover-up are not.

Woodward's reporting isn't what got Nixon impeached, at least not directly. If it was flawed, or whatever, that doesn't mean he was innocent. Almost all of Nixon's discussions about this were on tape.

Clearly he was involved in the coverup of the break-in. He is on tape discussing it.

What would happen if something like this happened today? If not for the Watergate precedent, it wouldn't surprise me if the press today would be willing to write the whole thing off as a "prank". The problem is they all venerate Woodward and Bernstein and act like it was the Washington press corp's finest hour. While at the same time being completely slavish before the current batch of politicians.
posted by delmoi at 9:35 AM on April 30, 2012



What's so striking about Watergate is what a non-issue it would be today.


When I saw that I started composing a detailed refutation, but there have been a number of responses making some of the same points I wanted to make, so I will try to be brief. As a number of comments above alluded to it was about far more than a break-in at the offices of political opponents (which was a spectacularly boneheaded move, since almost no one expected McGovern to win in November anyway). It was about an administration riddled with arrogance and corruption throughout. In addition to the scandals mentioned above, Nixon (or his henchmen) did things like push the IRS to harass his enemies and burglarize a psychiatrist's office to try and steal Daniel Ellsberg's files in order to discredit him. This was all done against the backdrop of an increasingly unpopular Vietnam war that was being fought via various illegal incursions and war crimes. To some people, though, the thing that pushed them over the edge was that this upstanding Republican who stood for all that was right and good was revealed to be a foul-mouthed bigot. Ultimately the cumulative weight of all of this led to Nixon's resignation and the inauguration of America's only non-elected president. Ford was asked about a pardon for Nixon during his confirmation hearings and answered "I don't think the American people would stand for it." Of course that was one of his first acts as president. Ford went to his grave proclaiming there was no quid pro quo, but to many people it was the last corrupt act of a thoroughly corrupt administration.

In my case Watergate has held a fascination for me ever since it happened. In part that is because there is a local connection to the case, but more so because it happened when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I had just watched Nixon beat McGovern in a historic landslide, so he must be the best man for the job. In school we were learning about civics and government, and all the textbooks made our political leaders out to be larger-than-life heroes. After being indoctrinated to the American way of life and government all morning, I came home in the afternoon to find nothing on TV except those interminable hearings. I didn't entirely understand what was going on, but all the talk about hush money, burglaries, coverups, and so on made me start to question what I had learned earlier in the day. The around the dinner table my parents would often review the events of the day (the Saturday Night Massacre was particularly disturbing to them, if I remember correctly), furthering the disconnect between school and current events. Since that time I have remained deeply cynical about politics and look at anything a politician or government official says with a very skeptical eye. I suspect a lot of others of a similar age feel the same. Unlike, say, Teapot Dome, Watergate was the first political scandal in the US to unfold live and on TV, anticipating the 24 hour news cycle. It may seem trite, but one measure of its lasting influence is the way "-gate" is appended to any political scandal in the US (and sometimes elsewhere); you never saw scandals referred to as "Something Dome" in earlier times.
posted by TedW at 10:12 AM on April 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


It may seem trite, but one measure of its lasting influence is the way "-gate" is appended to any political scandal in the US (and sometimes elsewhere)

Watergategate
posted by Sys Rq at 10:18 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


...and the inauguration of America's only non-elected president.

At first I wondered what this meant, but I think you mean first president who never won an election for president.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:25 AM on April 30, 2012


At first I wondered what this meant, but I think you mean first president who never won an election for president.

Or Vice-President, only elections at the state level.

I also see I managed to recycle a comment from six years ago almost verbatim. So much for originality.
posted by TedW at 10:29 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


immlass: Yeah, we're still too close to Watergate to get a narrative out of it. We sort of have one about the Great Depression in the 30s, but given that we're still fighting over the politics of the government response to the Depression in 2012, we're going to be wrangling with Watergate for a long time.

I'm glad this material will be out there for future historians to make and revise the consensus narrative, though.


The little thing near the end of this article that really stood out to me as the point of putting this little flare-up out there in the first place was the implication that Woodward went back to the Post offices and nabbed that interview tape. That he's trying to cover up any doubt that what happened happened exactly like he said in the papers, in the book, in the movie. The news here is actually that the shaping of the narrative of Watergate is getting dicked around with by some punk kid, the author's prodigy no less. The authors of the Watergate scandal have had an opportunity perhaps not like any other in the history of politics—to literally write the history books about an incredible scandal and event. Mucking around with whether or not their editor was 100% behind them and/or whether their info from Deep Throat was scant compared to illegally-sourced interviews with grand jurors is a huge deal to them, and Woodward in particular is being jabbed by this little punk who couldn't "swing from the high vines" if he wanted to.

Thanks for the link, it was an interesting read.
posted by carsonb at 11:38 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


all this seems like Tom Brown's Schooldays today.

Interesting turn of phrase, considering that Tom Brown's Schooldays details an entrenched system of power supported by vicious bullying, one that is only resolved by expelling the biggest bully of all.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:50 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


At first I wondered what this meant, but I think you mean first president who never won an election for president.

There were several of those. (Assassination was once a popular pastime.)

Gerald Ford was appointed to the Vice Presidency after Nixon's original VP, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign due to a scandal of his own. (He was a longtime subscriber of Modern Bribe magazine.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:07 PM on April 30, 2012


(...and then, obviously, Ford became President when Nixon resigned.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:08 PM on April 30, 2012


Woodward and Bernstein respond to Himmelman regarding the grand juror.
posted by caddis at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2012


There were several of those. (Assassination was once a popular pastime.)

Oh. I had just assumed that what TedW was saying was that other VPs inaugurated because of the death of the sitting POTUS were later elected in a subsequent term. But if not, then his statement is even less true, unless you count the election for VP as an election for President. Since the pairing has been inseparable for about 200 years (although, technically, the electors could vote for someone else), VPs are not really elected, at least not by the public.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:44 PM on April 30, 2012


Highly doubtful. No one born after Watergate cares about Watergate.

Well they should. The class of Watergate has been and is still pretty influential in Republican politics... Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Perle - all still alive and kicking. Like political zombies the Nixon lovers didn't fade away or die - they licked their wounds and just got smarter and more aggressive about their dirty tricks.

"Rumsfeld, who is also an assistant to President Nixon, takes Cheney with him to morning and afternoon meetings in the White House. Cheney later says these meetings taught him “what [a president] has to do in the course of a day.”
posted by madamjujujive at 3:59 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


his statement is even less true

Naw, voters are quite conscious that the Vice-Presidential candidate of the ticket they elect may become president. It's valid to point out that Ford became President through appointment rather than election.
posted by XMLicious at 4:02 PM on April 30, 2012


> Daniel Schorr reading Nixon's enemies list live on the air and unexpectedly coming to his own name

Video here at 1:04
posted by morganw at 7:00 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh. I had just assumed that what TedW was saying was that other VPs inaugurated because of the death of the sitting POTUS were later elected in a subsequent term. But if not, then his statement is even less true, unless you count the election for VP as an election for President. Since the pairing has been inseparable for about 200 years (although, technically, the electors could vote for someone else), VPs are not really elected, at least not by the public.
Huh? First of all, it used to be that the person who got the second most votes for president got to be vice president. Obviously that doesn't work well in a two party duopoly. SO they changed it to a ticket with both president and Veep. So in '08 people voted for Obama/Biden rather then McCain/Pailn. Biden, Cheney, Gore, all of these people were elected to be vice president. It's just that people didn't have the choice of voting for Obama/Palin or McCain/Biden. Or some random 5th or 6th person.

(of course, technically it all goes to the electoral college, etc)
posted by delmoi at 7:04 PM on April 30, 2012




It's valid to point out that Ford became President through appointment rather than election.

Wasn't contesting that, just that he was the ONLY one to do so.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:04 AM on May 1, 2012


It's just that people didn't have the choice of voting for Obama/Palin or McCain/Biden.

Oddly enough, the electors do have that choice.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:05 AM on May 1, 2012


The hearings would have been only slightly more entertaining if there HAD been buglers.
posted by cookie-k at 9:27 AM on May 1, 2012


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