Skip to comments.Tales from Dark Side don't live up to hype - (Steyn on Revenge of the Sith; "Darth Throat")
Posted on 06/06/2005 8:50:37 AM PDT by CHARLITE
One by one, the landmark epics of the 1970s are tying up the loose ends -- alas, not always in ways that quite support the great mythic power invested in them. In ''Revenge of the Sith,'' George Lucas brings the ''Star Wars'' cycle to a close by revealing how Anakin Skywalker went over to the Dark Side, transformed himself into Darth Vader, destroyed the Republic and consigned it to the mad imperial ambitions of Chancellor Palpatine -- all because, er, he was a bit worried his beloved Senator Padme might die in childbirth. If Senator Padme had been like Senator Rodham and had a socialized health care reform bill ready to roll, history might have been very different.
But ''Revenge of the Sith'' is a marvel of motivational integrity compared to ''Revenge of the Felt,'' the concluding chapter in that other '70s saga, Watergate. Before the final denouement last week, there were a gazillion guesses at the identity of ''Deep Throat,'' but all subscribed to the basic contours of the Woodward and Bernstein myth: that he was someone deep in the bowels of the administration who could no longer in good conscience stand by as a corrupt president did deep damage to the nation. So Darth Throat, a fully paid-up Dark Lord of the Milhous, saved the Republic from the imperial paranoia of Chancellor Nixotine by transforming himself into Anakin Slytalker and telling what he knew to the Bradli knights of the Washington Post.
Now we learn that Deep Throat was not, in fact, Alexander Haig, David Gergen, Pat Buchanan or Len Garment, but a disaffected sidekick of J. Edgar Hoover, an old-school G-man embittered at being passed over for the director's job when the big guy keeled over after half-a-century in harness.
Hmm. Like the ''Star Wars'' wrap-up, ''How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat'' feels small and mean after three decades of the awesome dramatic burden placed upon it. The nobility of the Watergate myth -- in which media boomers and generations of journalism school ethics bores have sunk so much -- seems cheapened and tarnished by this last plot twist.
The best thing I read on the subject in the last few days was a 1992 piece by James Mann from the Atlantic Monthly. He doesn't identify Deep Throat, though he mentions Mark Felt in an important context. But get a load of this remarkably shrewd paragraph from 13 years ago:
''By coincidence, the Watergate break-in occurred on June 17, less than seven weeks after Hoover's death and [FBI outsider] Gray's appointment [as acting director]. The FBI took charge of the federal investigation at the same time that the administration was trying to limit its scope.
''Therein lies the origin of Deep Throat.''
Bingo! Mann also adds: ''Rarely is it asked whether White House aides like Haig, Ziegler, and Garment were the sort of people willing to hold 2 a.m. meetings in a parking garage, or whether they were able to arrange the circling of the page number 20 of Bob Woodward's copy of the New York Times, which was delivered to his apartment by 7 a.m. -- the signal that Deep Throat wanted a meeting.''
With the benefit of hindsight, Mann's observation seems obvious. That's what the spy novelists call ''tradecraft.'' It's the sort of thing spooks and feds do, not White House aides. Why then was it not so obvious for the last three decades?
The answer is that, thanks to All The President's Men, the media took it for granted they were America's plucky heroic crusaders, and there's no point being plucky heroic crusaders unless you've got the dark sinister forces of an all-powerful government to pluckily crusade against. Think how many conspiracy movies there've been where White House aides are the sort of chaps who think nothing of meeting you at 2 a.m. in parking garages, usually as a prelude to having you whacked. In films like Clint Eastwood's ''Absolute Power'' or Kevin Costner's ''No Way Out,'' political appointees carry on like that routinely. That image of government derives principally from the Nixon era.
Yet, as the unveiling of Deep Throat confirms, Tricky Dick's downfall was mostly an accumulation of trivial errors. Earlier this year, I chanced to look at both the transcripts of the original Nixon tapes, typed up by his long-time secretary Rose Mary Woods, and the later material released in the '90s, typed up by researchers and scholars who understood the historical significance of what they were dealing with. The latter fellows left in the ''ers'' and ''ums,'' the stumbles and mumbles; when you read the conversations, the sense is of an administration floundering to stay on top of things. Unfortunately, when Miss Woods typed up the first Nixon tapes, she approached it as any good secretary would: She cleaned up the stumbles and ''ers'' and put everything into proper complete sentences. That's what you want in a secretary if you're dictating a letter to the chairman of the Rotary Club. But it was a disaster for Nixon: The cool clinical precision of the language makes the president's inner circle sound far more conspiratorial, ruthless and viciously forensic than the incoherent burble of the actual conversation.
The marking-page-numbers-in-the-morning-paper stuff cemented that impression: of the national government as one huge out-of-control rogue spook operation. Now it turns out that Deep Throat was merely a career law enforcement official leaking information about the target of an investigation. Nothing very unusual about that -- around the world, rinky-dink police departments and local prosecutors do it every day of the week -- and, being so routine, there's nothing very heroic about it either. Especially when the man doing it is driven by personal pique and loyalty to J. Edgar Hoover, a figure whose place in liberal demonology comes only just below Nixon. If Rose Mary Woods had been less of a bowdlerizer, if Hoover had lived another year, history might have been very different.
Heigh-ho. If the bloom's belatedly off the rose, Woodward, Bernstein and a pompous, self-regarding U.S. media got a grand three-decade run out of Deep Throat and Watergate. As it is, the best take on Deep Throat comes not from the Washington Post but from LBJ's old aphorism on Mark Felt's boss J. Edgar Hoover: It's better to have him inside the tent, ah, leaking out than outside the tent leaking in. If only Nixon had kept Mark Felt inside the tent .
pinging myself for what could be interesting
The only people who didn't know it were the listeners of PBS. This has got to be the most uninteresting news story of the last 30 years.
And you should listen to As It Happens over the internet. You really should. It's embarrasing to be scooped like this.
Well, perhaps because Woodward denied that it was anyone in the intelligence community, which would tend to take you off the scent of "spies" and agents. And he and Bernstein always implied that Deep Throat was an admistration official.
Or perhaps because there was so much misleading or contradictory information put out over the years by the principles that one is forced to conclude that (1) what Woodward and Bernstein was telling us was intentionally obscured with falsehoods in order to protect their source or (2) Deepthroat was a composite of many sources, and hence there was a grain of truth in all the apparant contradictions, or (3) Deepthroat was made up. I think Felt's emergence eliminates that last one.
I still subscribe to theory 2, as Felt would have access to all the facts of the investigation but not access to the inner workings and motivations within the oval office. He could tell what happened after it happened, perhaps who did it. But the why part of it ... that took an insider. And Felt was not an insider, as evidenced both by his not getting the top job at FBI and in his loathing of Nixon.
On October 19th 1972 Haldeman told Nixon that the main leaker to the Washington Post was Felt who was at the time the number 2 man at the FBI. Haldeman did not guess. According to the Nixon tapes Haldeman stated it as fact and Nixon accepted it as fact. The tape clearly shows Haldeman naming Felt as the leaker. Nixon did not question the statement at all. There was no "How do you know?" Or "Are you certain?" question from Nixon. Nixon proceeded as if what Haldeman said about Felt was a known fact... a certainty.. Nixon acted as if it were a fact not a conclusion drawn from analysis.
How do you suppose Haldeman knew with certainty that Felt was the person leaking. From what was published in the Post it was clear that someone was leaking the results of the FBI investigation of Watergate. The members of the FBI investigating team knew every thing that Felt knew. Felt only knew what that team was reporting to him. How could Haldeman know that Felt was the source and not some other member of the investigating team? How could Nixon instantly assume that Haldeman was right?
Both Nixon and Haldeman has to know something that was not on the tape.. They both had to know how Haldeman knew the leaker was Felt!!
There are only two posibilities.. The Nixon administration had a mole or bug in the FBI or they had a bug or mole inside the the Washington Post or both.