Monday, June 6, 2005

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What I got out of Mark Felt this week

The orgy of commentary and journalism produced by the revelation that W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat has been staggering -- and mostly unproductive. The revelation that a key source for Woodward and Bernstein was the number two man in the FBI and a J. Edgar Hoover loyalist has produced a lot of bullshit -- and in the case of Pat Buchanan, outright lies.

So has there been any commentary of value to be gleaned from this revelation? I've seen two things worth reading -- though both of them are only tangental to Felt's coming out party. Surprisingly enough, they're written by two people who probably don't get along very well -- David Brooks and Sasha Issenberg (click on this Noam Scheiber essay to find out why they don't get along).

Brooks does a great riff off of Bob Woodward's first person account of how he first met and got to know Felt. This allows him to talk about the topic he covers so well -- what aspiring young people do to get ahead:

Bob Woodward... was in the midst of the starting-gate frenzy.

Places like Washington and New York attract large numbers of ambitious young people who have spent their short lives engaged in highly structured striving: getting good grades, getting into college. Suddenly they are spit out into the vast, anarchic world of adulthood, surrounded by a teeming horde of scrambling peers, and a chaos of possibilities and pitfalls. They discover that though they are really good at manipulating the world of classrooms, they have no clue about how actual careers develop, how people move from post to post.

And all they have to do to find their way amid this confusion is to answer one little question: What is the meaning and purpose of my life?

....Entering the world of the Higher Shamelessness, they begin networking like mad, cultivating the fine art of false modesty and calculated friendships. The most nakedly ambitious - the blogging Junior Lippmanns - rarely win in the long run, but that doesn't mean you can't mass e-mail your essays for obscure online sites with little "Thought you might be interested" notes....

This is now a normal stage of life. And if Bob Woodward could get through something like it, perhaps they will too.

For that is the purpose of Watergate in today's culture. It isn't about Nixon and the cover-up anymore. It's about Woodward and Bernstein. Watergate has become a modern Horatio Alger story, a real-life fairy tale, an inspiring ode for mediacentric college types - about the two young men who found exciting and challenging jobs, who slew the dragon, who became rich and famous by doing good and who were played by Redford and Hoffman in the movie version.

As you would expect, one Junior Lippman takes the time to respond -- but if you ask me, Brooks' point has attracted too much attention for it to be dismissed lightly -- see Elizabeth Bumiller and Tim Noah for more on this theme.

Issenberg, meanwhile, has a great piece in Slate about how Felt's revelations bring to mind an excellent Watergate movie -- and it ain't All the President's Men:

Unlike the movie that made Woodward and Bernstein into matinee idols, the 1999 comedy Dick stripped Watergate of its cloak-and-dagger and left it in pigtails....

Superficially, Dick was a spoof on All the President's Men. In place of the earlier film's battle between two grand Washington institutions, Dick renders the White House and the Washington Post as sitcom offices. Heroic Woodward is played not by dashing Redford, but by Will Ferrell, with the halting inanity he brings to every role.

But Dick was really a riposte to Oliver Stone's 1991 epic JFK, which trolled every nook and cranny of Kennedy-assassination conspiracy. In exploring each little question raised by the events in Dallas (including many that are settled, in the eyes of every serious scholar), Stone seeks out the most abstrusely nefarious explanation possible....

Our disenchantment with Deep Throat follows a common American narrative: What begins as conspiracy is eventually reduced to camp. Dick sends up what Richard Hofstadter in 1964 identified as "the paranoid style in American politics." The movie doesn't make light of Watergate—the gravity of Nixon's crimes isn't questioned, and his young friends are shocked by his meanness, even if he doesn't come across as diabolical—as much as it spoofs the narrative impulses that drew us to Watergate as a tale. Both Dick and the recent Deep Throat unveiling leave us to reckon with the dissonance of Watergate's importance and its minor-league cast of characters. With JFK, Oliver Stone tried to invent a story that, in its sprawling scope, could be as big as the death of a president—a counterpoint to a Warren Commission version written in a language of narrowing: lone gunman, single-bullet theory. In Dick, both heroes and villains come only in size small: They are all central-casting buffoons.

Hmmm.... paranoid style in American politics infecting public commentary... yes, that sounds familiar. Well, at least Felt's revelations will put the conspiracy meme to rest on this question. Oh, wait....

posted by Dan on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM


What I got out of the Felt coverage is that Ben Stein is way more deranged than I had realized. Who knew that it was all about Israel?

posted by: Iggie on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Well said, Dan. What a truckload of hooey has been printed this week! But my initial impression (and I'm sticking by it) is that I'm GLAD to know it was an inside-the-beltway power struggle at heart (yeah, I know, Felt also had higher ideals, but those pretty obviously took a back seat to less noble sentiments). I don't want the fate of the Republic to require a saint or a superhero to intervene at the critical moment. Felt proves that the real checks and balances that protect our freedoms are the byzantine politics of power brokers in DC. Hooray! In a weird way, I rest easier now.

Second point worth making: at a graduation party on Sunday this whole subject came up and I--reviled by the entire family since "going over to the Dark Side" on Iraq and the WOT--pointed out that Woodward only made this valuable connection because he was a naval officer and Felt felt a connection and trust. This tied in pretty neatly with a slightly earlier debate I'd been having with my college-age niece and her buddies about ROTC being booted off so many campuses, and why this was stupid (reason one being, a college should open all doors, not close some deemed "offensive"; reason two being, the best career path for a young person interested in "helping the world" is, ironically, to enter the military; reason three being, it's an f**ing insult to our military to treat it as an unwelcome pariah).

Today's would-be Woodwards enter the newsroom via Columbia school of Journalism, not a military academy or officer training school. They will never ever gain the trust of the Felts of tomorrow. Chew on that one for a while.

posted by: Kelli on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Is "a lot of bullshit" supposed to link to Bergsten's book "The US & the World Economy"? I'm thinking 'no.'

posted by: Ali Soleimani on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

A self-consciously serious person with an instinct for looking at history like a historian might find it difficult to think about the idea that the salient points about Mark Felt are captured by a movie spoof and an Op-Ed columnist explaining that this story is all about young people today rather than about people in 1972 acting and thinking for their own reasons. Think about them, that is, without eyeballs rolled skyward. No one in particular in mind here, I'm just saying...

It occurs to me also that David Brooks' view of the blogosphere may be in the process of getting overtaken by events. There are plenty of "Junior Lippmans" out there, some talented and many not. There also seem to be an increasing number of people for whom Walter Lippman is not a model -- they do not aspire to comment on government but to serve in government. The new TPMCafe group blog, for example, has a stable of writers that would probably empty out within weeks of the election of the next Democratic President, if there is one. They blog now, perhaps and partly to get their names out but certainly because the alternatives for engagement with public policy on the national level are limited.

If they want to be like anyone "when they grow up" it isn't David Brooks. Or Walter Lippmann for that matter, whose reputation rested to a large degree on what other commentators thought of him. Dean Acheson, who did much more with public policy than just comment on it, thought Lippmann was an extravagantly praised blowhard.

posted by: Zathras on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Ali: thanks for picking up the erroneous URL -- it's been fixed.

Zathras: I certainly don't think Watergate is trivial, but I do think much of the coverage regarding Felt has been trivial. Kelli, however, actually makes some serious points about the sociological similarities and differences between what was happening in 1970 and what is happening now.

posted by: Dan Drezner on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Daniel Drezner wrote:

The revelation that a key source for Woodward and Bernstein was the number two man in the FBI and a J. Edgar Hoover loyalist has produced a lot of bullshit -- and in the case of Pat Buchanan, outright lies.

Uh, huh and what would those “outright lies” be exactly?

posted by: Thorley Winston on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

It may sound deranged today but there were many in the late 60's who feared an RFK presidency. Despite Sirhan Sirhan one of those countries turned out to be Israel. Nixon certainly catered to that segment of the population that put "ersatz Israel" above all else, including the US. It did seem as if Nixon continued to "prey upon those fears" in 1972. Although the Middle East beckoned his focus was still on the Vietnam war and the far east legacy he had inherited. However, Kissinger still found time to take care of the Cyprus crisis between NATO allies Greece and Turkey while bolstering the Shah's Iran as a hedge against both neighboring Russia and Arab nationalist states such as Egypt, Syria et al.

posted by: manoppello on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

I think that this must demonstrate my own obtuseness, but I really don't fully understand the point of David Brook's column. Is he targeting a criticism at someone? Is there a specific criticism of all the young polito-media types that go to Washington, or just a general observation? Is the criticism confined to the swipe about bloggers or is it more?

posted by: chris brandow on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

"Uh, huh and what would those “outright lies” be exactly?"

Buchanan's article is pure political hubris. Watergate was not about Liddy and his "pencil of death". It was about a president and his administration covering up, lying to congress and the American people about their obviously illegal and probably unconstitutional activities, when their incompetent stooges got caught. Last I looked JFK and LBJ were never "caught". The same cannot be said for Bill Clinton and now George WMD Bush.. :)

"When you look back at it, what was Watergate all about? A black-bag job at Larry O'Brien's place like the ones "hero" Felt used to run for Hoover. Liddy and Hunt on an escapade to get Daniel Ellsberg's file from his shrink, which probably would have been too heavy to carry anyway. And, oh yes, 200 pizzas Segretti sent with those 30 African ambassadors in native costume to Ed Muskie's D.C. fundraiser."

posted by: manoppello on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

The Nixon administration was Buchanan's Eden. Government run in secret by an elite group of scumbags who use the black bag to get anybody out of their way so they can run the nation by fiat. I dont care how reasonable the guy can sound from time to time, Buchanan has the scary ferret eyes. Call me a demagogue all you want, but this guy in his unguarded moments looks and sounds like a sociopath.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Still waiting for Daniel Drezner or anyone else to provide an actual example of the “outright lies” in the column by Pat Buchanan. So far no one has provided one.

posted by: Thorley Winston on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Actually, I see Daniel Drezner and Pat Buchanan as essentially identical. In
Pareto's classification, I would judge them as Class I residues on the outside trying
to get in . Like
any member of the governing elites --or desiring membership in Dan's case --
their writing is long on images and unsupported assurances vice hard facts.
Compare Dan's New Republic article "debunking" the "paranoia" about neocons
with Buchanan's American Conservative articles on the neocons.

That is because our elites in this country are far more interested in manipulating
voters' opinions -- by withholding majors pieces of information, by exaggerating
other aspects of reality, and by distracting voters with emotional rants about
unimportant matters -- than they are interested in telling the voters the real facts.
Telling the embarrassing truth is a quick way to end your career.

In Plato's analogy, our elites make shadows on the cave wall to keep the populace
ignorant of and distracted from the real world. Those shadows flicker across the
television broadcasts of ABC news just as much as across Fox News -- you see
them in the daily pages of the New York Times and in your mind when you listen
to Rush Limbaugh.

The fact that Pat Buchanan is using his hands to make a shadow of a barking dog
while Dan is projecting a quacking duck seems to me to be irrelevant.

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]


Buchanan's oozing of bile and pus is hard to call a lie because it is long on innuendo, and short on much that is concrete. But this fits the bill:

"And the Establishment was beside itself with hatred.

And so they resolved to finish him. He gave them a sword, and they ran it right through him. And when he went down, Southeast Asia and everything 58,000 Americans had bled and died for went down with him.

And that is upon the conscience of us all."

Why is this a lie? Because it assumes North Vietnam would never have acted the way it did had Nixon remained in power. Bluntly, there's no evidence for that.

"When you look back at it, what was Watergate all about? A black-bag job at Larry O'Brien's place like the ones "hero" Felt used to run for Hoover. Liddy and Hunt on an escapade to get Daniel Ellsberg's file from his shrink, which probably would have been too heavy to carry anyway. And, oh yes, 200 pizzas Segretti sent with those 30 African ambassadors in native costume to Ed Muskie's D.C. fundraiser."

This is a lie. Watergate was about getting the FBI to not investigate crimes about dirty tricks on campaign opponents that would embarass the commander in chief.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

To illustrate my point about how real information is suppressed by people in political careers, I
would cite an example. I recently sent a letter to Pat Buchanan's American Conservative in response to an article giving the Timeline for our involvment in Iraq. What bothered me is not that the letter was rejected for publication but that the American Conservative seemed uninterested in publishing the information. No one with a politically-related career or business seems interested in revealing the wealthy political and business interests that drive US policy making. The letter is below:
To: The American Conservative
From: Don Williams

You political philosophers at The American Conservative fail to realize that
US foreign policy
--and US politics in general -- are market driven. As a result,
your Timeline for "Iraq: How We Got There" left out the most significant
events-- of which the following are a small sample:

a) November 2000- 2002: The biggest campaign donor to the Democratic Party
is Israeli billionaire Haim Saban, who contributes $12.7 million in the
and 2002 campaign cycles. (His wife Cheryl's donations raises the total to
million) [1]

b) May 2002: Haim Saban funds the "Saban Center for Middle East Policy"
at the Brookings Institute. One of the four stated research areas is
"the implications of regime change in Iraq". Another task is providing
"future policymakers with a better understanding of the complexities of the
Middle East and the process of developing effective policies to deal with

c) June 30,2002: St Petersburg Times notes that "leading congressional
Democrats were concerned that Jewish voters and donors were reassessing
relationship "with the Democratic Party given Bush's strong pro-Israel
stance [3]

d) September 10, 2002: During a conference at the University of Virginia,
high level intelligence adviser to the White House, Philip Zelikow, states:
"Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us?
I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since
1990 -- it's the threat against Israel," [4]

e) December 19, 2002: In a Los Angeles Times op-ed "Lock and Load",
the Directors of Haim Saban's Center for Middle East Policy ,
Martin Indyk and Kenneth Pollack, state
"Saddam Hussein has failed to come clean. His denial of possessing any
weapons of mass destruction makes that clear ... As former U.S. government
officials who had access to the most sensitive U.S. intelligence on Iraq,
we are well aware of Iraq's continued efforts to retain and enhance its
They then advocate launching a war on Iraq.[5]

f) January 17, 2003: Atlanta Jewish Times notes that " pro-Israel interests
have contributed $41.3 million" in campaign donations over the past decade,
more than two thirds going to the Democrats. Article also notes that
are making a strong push to court those big donors. [6]

g) June 20, 2003: In a New York Times column, "Saddam's Bombs? We'll Find
Them", Saban Center Director Kenneth Pollack states "Where are Iraq's
weapons of
mass destruction? It's a good question, and unfortunately we don't yet have
good answer... In any event, the mystery will be solved in good time; the
search for Iraq's
nonconventional weapons program has only just begun." [7]

h) September 2004: John Kerry attempts to criticize the Bush war on Iraq
but can only make incoherent, strangled sounds.

i) November 2004: Instead of $12.7 million, Haim Saban's campaign donations
in the 2004
election only total $84,000 -- and $2,000 goes to George W Bush, in case
the Democrats don't get
the message.[8]

j) November 2000-2002: Another large Democratic donor is billionaire S
Daniel Abraham of West Palm Beach, Florida --who donates over $2.3 million
to the Democrats in 2000-2002. [9]
Mr Abraham has long been a strong advocate for Israel in US foreign policy
circles via his Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation [10]

k) March 18,2003: S Daniel Abraham donates $2,000 to Howard Dean's campaign

l) September 11, 2003: Howard Dean receives a storm of criticism from the
Democratic leadership after saying that the US needs to be evenhanded in
the Israel-Palestinian issue [12]

k) November 2003-Feb 2004: Howard Dean campaign is destroyed in Iowa
by barrage of attack ads from a mysterious group "Americans for Jobs and
Healthcare". Leader of
group refuses to disclose funding sources. Disclosure to FEC not required
until end of quarter. [13]

l) March 2004: FEC report indicates that attack group "Americans for Jobs"
received $1
million in funding, with the largest donation --$200,000 -- coming from S
Daniel Abraham.[13]

m) November 2004: Instead of $Millions, S Daniel Abraham only gives the
Democrats $81,500 in the 2004 election [11]

n) October 2004: John Kerry attempts to criticize Bush's invasion of Iraq
but can only make
incoherent, strangled sounds.

[1] , enter "Saban, Haim" and
select election cycles 2000,2002







[8] (enter "Saban, Haim" and
choose 2004 )

[9] , enter "Abraham, S Daniel"
and 2000,2002


[11] , enter "Abraham, S
Daniel" and 2004



posted by: Don the Greater on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Of course, sometimes the shadow of the barking dog eats the shadow of the quaking duck.
For example:

1) June 20, 2003: In a New York Times article "Saddam's Bombs? We'll
Them", the Director of Research at Haim Saban's Center for Middle East
-- Kenneth Pollack -- stated:

"before the war I heard
many complaints from friends still in government that some Bush officials
were mounting a ruthless campaign over intelligence estimates. I was told
that when government analysts wrote cautious assessments of Iraq's
capabilities, they were grilled and forced to go to unusual lengths to
defend their judgments, and some were chastized for failing to come to more
alarming conclusions. None of this is illegal, but it was perceived as an
attempt to browbeat analysts into either changing their estimates or
shutting up and ceding the field to their more hawkish colleagues."

2) Fast forward to the recent present (March 31, 2005): The Iraq WMD Commission reports to the President
" We conclude that the Intelligence Community was dead wrong in almost all
of its
pre-war judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This was a major
intelligence failure....
After a thorough review, the Commission found no indication that the
Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction. What
the intelligence professionals told you about Saddam Hussein's programs was
what they
believed. They were simply wrong."

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Given how major campaign donor S Daniel Abraham
blew Howard Dean's campaign out of the water, I would imagine Karl Rove wet his pants laughing when the Democratic grassroots elected Dean Party

Dean's future now depends upon in raising money from the few billionaires who largely fund the Democratic party -- wealthy men who have long been strong supporters of Israel. We will see
how long Dean feels like being "fair " to the Palestinians.

None of which is mentioned as context when the mainstream media reports that Dean's fundraising is not going well -- see

Nor is it mentioned in reports that senior Democratic leaders are distancing themselves from
Dean -- like caribou, politicans know when the wolves are closing in on a crippled member of the herd.

posted by: Don the Greater on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

"Outright lies" of Buchanan.

1) The whole blaming of Vietnam on Felt/Woodward/Bernstein/the Post is a lie. According to the White House tapes Nixon knew South Vietnam was likely to fall before the 72 elections. He also knew he had to start bringing troops home or he wouldn't be reelected. Nixon was the actor who set in motion the events that lead to the fall of South Vietnam, not Felt or the Washington Post, and the actions began well before Deep Throat came into the picture.

2)"Not one miscreancy committed by Nixon's men did not have its antecedent in the White Houses of JFK or LBJ," is a lie. Neither JFK nor LBJ ordered breaking into the offices of the Republican Party, nor did they order break ins to the offices of their political opponents, nor did they order operatives to "use any means" against their domestic political opponents.

posted by: Ray on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Satisfied yet, Thorley? (just being the tiny dog who hangs around behind, barking like mad - it's fun).

Or are we in the situation where it's hard to get somebody to acknowledge lies, when they believe in the cause, and support the lies?

"The Nixon administration was Buchanan's Eden. Government run in secret by an elite group of scumbags who use the black bag to get anybody out of their way so they can run the nation by fiat. I dont care how reasonable the guy can sound from time to time, Buchanan has the scary ferret eyes. Call me a demagogue all you want, but this guy in his unguarded moments looks and sounds like a sociopath."

Posted by Mark Buehner

Very, very true, Mark. I generally disagree with you, and (behing weak) it's a pleasure to see Buchanan frothing at the Bush administration. But he's really just mad because of disagreements over the goals - he doesn't have a problem with any of the methods, because he *likes* them. And to the extent that the goals are increased power for the adminisration, he really doesn't mind. If he were personally more in sympathy with the Bush family (and Cheney, probably) he'd be lying and spinning for them as hard as he could.

posted by: Barry on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

And let's not forget who got us into Vietnam in the first place. By the time Nixon got into the game it was well into the second half.

Nixon gets blamed for everything. He's an easy target. Find out how that came to be. You could start by Googling Alger Hiss. Then do a mountain of reading and, if your fair minded, you might find that the people who originally tried to demonize Nixon are not people you would care to be on the same side as.

posted by: Dr. Fager on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

"What I got out of the Felt coverage is that Ben Stein is way more deranged than I had realized. Who knew that it was all about Israel?"

Posted by Iggie

There is a bizarre cult of Israel in the US for the past couple of decades. It'd be fascinating if I were a historian in 2050 studying it. There are some jewish people who have an ethnic/religious sympathy for a Zionist state. Frankly, I can't blame them, considering that the game 'how many kicks does it take to kill a Jew?' has been so popular in so many countries over the centuries. I do condemn Ben Stein for choosing very bad things for the US, in hopes of possibly helping the state of Israel - it's simple disloyalty (ironically, it's the 'divided loyalty' that was a classical accusation against Jews).

But that's small - what's grown in the last few decades is the Rapturist movement, which has a odd cult-like relation to Israel, since it is supposed to play a part in the end of the world. It's a strange part, which reminds me of some descriptions of human sacrifice (think of a person with a beautiful body being bathed, groomed, perfumed, adorned with jewelry, dressed in gorgeous clothing, carried on a sedan chair with fans being waved, up to the altar where the person is sacrificed). These are people who love Israel, but can't wait for it's destruction, and the conversion or death-and-damnation of all Jews.

posted by: Barry on 06.06.05 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

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