still gagging on unnamed sources
seen some horseshit in my time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever
seen anything quite like last week’s cover story on Deep
Throat, written by Evan Thomas of Newsweek.
blames H. Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, for 9/11.
Newsweek piece was remarkable on a number of levels,
not the least of which being its frank and undisguised hypocrisy—Evan
Thomas was one of the figures involved in the fleetingly
notorious Koran-toilet-unnamed-sources fuckup, and so an
article written by him which essentially denounces as unpatriotic
the “legacy” of America’s most famous unnamed source is
humorous from the outset.
also half-heartedly attempts a revisionist history of Watergate,
appearing to argue that the scandal was just an ordinary
power struggle—in which Nixon’s part was that of a Capra-esque
outsider president trying, quite reasonably, to assert his
independence from an entrenched Democratic Party bureaucracy
that was the Washington legacy of FDR. Thomas makes it sound
like all Nixon was trying to do was break big government
gridlock. This is hilarious stuff, but it pales in comparison
to the meat of the piece.
titled his piece, “The Meaning of Deep Throat,” Thomas actually
delivers his conclusion—the “meaning”—in the middle of the
did not just spell the end of the Nixon presidency. It started
a chain reaction of investigations and prosecutions that
eventually exposed all manner of secret wrongdoing by the
FBI and the CIA... the effect of these investigations by
the press, the courts, and congressional committees was
profound. Battered by failure in Vietnam and the exposure
of the CIA’s “crown jewels” (its most hidden and deniable
covert operations), the military and intelligence community
became deeply demoralized in the late 1970s. From the highest
levels to the lowliest commands, the watchword was caution.
as soon as I saw the bit about the intelligence community
being “deeply demoralized,” I thought I knew where this
piece was headed. But I could never have expected the passage
that came next:
unarmed Islamic militants poured into the U.S. Embassy in
Tehran in November, 1979, the Marine guards fired a few
cans of tear gas -- but otherwise held back and let the
“students” seize the embassy. Secretary of Defense Harold
Brown and national security advisor Zbignew Brzenzinski
wanted to avoid military action. A 444-day hostage crisis
here is saying exactly what you think he’s saying. Having
set up the idea that in the post-Deep Throat era, “caution
was the watchword” from the “highest levels to the lowliest
commands,” Thomas brings us to one of those “lowly commands”--
the Marine guard in Tehran. What he is saying is that seven
years after Watergate, Marines in Iran used tear gas instead
of bullets because they were afraid of... Deep Throat!
the lesson of Watergate was not that elected officials should
take care not to commit electoral fraud, burglary, perjury,
or other low-rent domestic felonies that might be construed
as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the election
process. Apparently the lesson was to avoid taking any action
at all. Don’t fire back when fired upon; wave bin Laden
through customs. Deep Throat might be watching! How Thomas
moves from Nixon getting caught stonewalling a criminal
investigation to Marines not defending themselves against
fundamentalist attackers is beyond me, but he does it, and
God bless him.
the Carter years he moves on to Reagan, whose presidency
he describes as a valiant attempt to countermand the unfortunate
legacy of Watergate and Deep Throat. Among Reagan’s accomplishments:
Reagan presidency saw a renewed buildup of the military
and an ‘unleashing’ of the CIA, as well as stirring rhetoric
about renewed American pride.
the parallel structure of this sentence the buildup of the
military, the ‘unleashing’ of the CIA, and the renewal of
American pride all go together. The implication of this
passage, of course, is that American pride had taken a hit
not only because of Watergate, but specifically because
of Deep Throat. Remember, the article is entitled, “The
Meaning of Deep Throat,” not “The Meaning of Watergate.”
When Thomas talks about the unfortunate legacy of Watergate,
he’s pinning something on Felt, not Nixon.
I read this the first time, I thought Thomas was kidding.
After all, what was Watergate? A situation in which five
grown and in some cases balding men, acting as agents of
the President of the United States, had been caught kneeling
on the floor in a darkened hotel suite like a bunch of glory-hole
closet cases—trained ex-CIA professionals who were caught,
I might add, not by seasoned detectives, but by hotel rent-a-cops.
These clowns were so stupid that they voluntarily admitted
that they were CIA veterans at their own very public, press-attended
burglary arraignment. Dick Nixon made people like this the
face of the American government. And Deep Throat was
the one responsible for the loss of American “pride”?
goes on to blame Deep Throat for Colin Powell’s “overwhelming
force doctrine” and his opposition to the first Gulf War
(“overwhelming force” being an idea borne of post-Deep-Throat
“caution”); for our failure to intervene militarily in the
Balkans in the early nineties; and finally for the relaxed
vigilance in intelligence in the spring and summer of 2001.
Only now, Thomas writes, is George Bush helping to “overturn
the legacy” of Watergate. “The sleeping giant is starting
to stir,” he writes.
Thomas warns, the specter of Deep Throat yet hangs heavy
on the frail neck of the War on Terrorism:
the same time, investigators who have examined the national
security establishment’s performance since 9/11 have seen
signs of the same inertia, the fear that a wrong move could
land an unlucky bureaucrat on the hot seat of a congressional
about this passage and the piece in general:
If Thomas is so concerned about secret unnamed sources,
why doesn’t he tell us which “investigators” opined, to
him, that the national security establishment is weighed
down by fear of being outed by the next Deep Throat and
dragged before congress? Why? Because they don’t exist,
that’s why. I’ll take a secret, unnamed source over a complete
bullshit, pulled-out-of-my-ass, made-up source any day.
Even if Thomas is only crediting “investigators” with seeing
“inertia,” and is inferring the “fear” on his own, this
is still a transparently lazy and rhetorically dishonest
piece of journalism—in an autopsy of the greatest and most
diligently researched scoop of all time, mind you.
Unless I’m missing something, Thomas’s argument seems to
be that unless the President of the United States is allowed
to commit all the domestic electoral crimes he wants, the
country will always be squeamish about using military force
and vulnerable to foreign invaders. Are you laughing yet?
If you’re going to blame Deep Throat for the Powell Doctrine,
why not blame Oliver North for the Monica Lewinsky scandal,
Donna Rice for the Faith-Based Initiative, and Led Zeppelin
IV for the war in Eritrea? While you’re on a roll, that
was not about the President bending the rules to protect
American citizens, or ignoring normal legal procedures to
pursue an aggressive military strategy (that’s more George
Bush territory, which makes one wonder about Newsweek’s
motives in pursuing this particular line of rhetoric). Watergate
was about a drunken paranoiac flouting the law to rig an
election and secure his own personal political survival—Nixon’s
own safety, not ours. Given that, who Deep Throat was and
why he did what he did is totally irrelevant. Either the
president should be allowed to get away with shit like that,
or he shouldn’t. If he shouldn’t—and he shouldn’t, right?—then
what the hell are we even talking about?