Joe Hendren

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Could Watergate be uncovered today #2 - Palast reaches similar conclusions

Following the revelation that Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat', Bob Woodward now tells his side of the story in a fascinating article 'Deepest Secret' reprinted in this yesterdays Press.

It turns out that Woodward knew Felt a some time before he became a journalist, in a chance meeting in 1970 while Woodward was still a lieutenant in the Navy. One evening he was sent to deliver a package to the lower level of the West Wing of the White House. While in a waiting area near the Situation Room he introduced himself to the man sitting next to him. Mark Felt.

The autobiographical aspects of the article are also interesting. Woodward calls his chance meeting with Felt as a "crucial encounter - one the most important in my life - I see that my patter probably verged on the adolescent. Since he wasn't saying much about himself, I turned it into a career counseling session." Somehow, Woodward succeeded in obtaining Felt's phone number.

The picture Woodward paints of himself as a younger man is not entirely flattering - in a time of his life of "considerable anxiety about his future" he expended "a lot of energy trying to find things or people who were interesting". In other words, he sought people he thought had power, such as the volunteer work he undertook with the office of his local Republican congressman.

In my earlier post, I doubted whether modern commercial newspapers would today dedicate the same level of resources to a story like Watergate, especially if that story happened to threaten the powers that be. In his scoop column, Greg Palast reaches similar conclusions, and goes further. He provides an 'investigative reporter body count' - journalists who have found difficulty in their careers once they had broken a major investigative story.
"There's Bob Parry forced out of the Associated Press for the crime of uncovering Ollie North's arms-for-hostages game. And there's Gary Webb, hounded to suicide for documenting the long-known history of the CIA's love-affair with drug runners. The list goes on. Even the prize-laden Seymour Hersh was, he told me, exiled from the New York Times and now has to write from the refuge of a fashion magazine."

Palast says "access" is now a disease epidemic in US journalism, and not even the Washington Post's Bob Woodward is immune (Woodward is now managing editor).
In return for a supposedly "inside" connection to the powers that be, the journalists in fact become conduits for disinformation sewerage. And woe to any journalist who annoys the politicians and loses "access." Career-wise, they're DOA.
After the September 11 attack, when we needed an independent press to keep us from hysteria-driven fascism, Woodward was given "access" to the president, writing Bush at War,a fawning, puke-making fairy tale of a take-charge president brilliantly leading the war against Terror.

The issues with "access" go right to the heart of the highly partisan coverage of the continuing war in Iraq, where news organisations overly rely on so called 'embedded journalists' who accompany US soldiers on their missions. The military gain editorial input, discourage 'unhelpful' stories about civilian casualties and encourage journalists to adopt the dictionary of the occupier, dismissing the Iraqi opposition as terrorists, insurgents or militants, often with a 'helpful' suggestion of a possible connection to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

While the Defence Science Board report (Sept 04) contains some valuable analysis of America's relationships with the Muslim world, it says the use of embedded journalists in Iraq has won broad support in government and the media, as it “reduced the potential for Iraqi disinformation (e.g. on civilian casualties) that could have undermined political support in the U.S. and in other countries.‚”. But on the few occasions such journalists did report civilian casualties, their figures are implausibly low, especially when compared to more credible casualty surveys such as the Lancet report.

From a cynical PR perspective (and PR types are notorious for cynicism) it is in the interests of the US to keep things dangerous in Iraq in order to discourage real journalists from discovering what is really going on. It certainly seems to me that news organisations are more dependant on 'embeddeded journalism' now than at the start of the war, especially since the re-invasion of Fallujah.

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