By Billmon, June 03, 2005
There was a time when the exposure of Deep Throat's identity would have grabbed my attention in a big way: At last!
The answer to all those boozy guessing games at all those journalistic watering holes of my younger days. Al Haig? John Dean? Martha Mitchell . . . no wait, wasn't she dead by then?
But it doesn't really matter any more. Anonymous whistleblowers have become little more than curious anachronisms, as likely to turn out to be bumbling fools or cynical disinformation artists (paging Michael Isikoff) as dedicated civil servants wiling to risk their careers to save the Republic.
The Republic is rather obviously beyond saving now -- even George Lucas understands that. Which is why the self-outing of Mark Felt had about as much relevance to our current slow motion coup d'�tat as a late-night cable rerun of All the President's Men.
It was, however, a very contemporary story in that it was clearly less about filling in the historical record and more about about cashing in on it. Felt and his family get a shot at a book/movie deal; the Washington Post gets to recall past glory (and use all that material it thought it would have to sit on until Deep Throat died) and various Watergate has-beens get to pontificate (or in Pat Buchanan's case, foam at the mouth) in front of a camera, thereby shoring up their honorarium value on the lecture circuit.
Like everything else these days, Deep Throat had become a media commodity. And things being as they are, I can't blame Felt and his family for deciding it was time to bring it to market.
But reading all the liberal pundits and bloggers moaning and groaning about the death of investigative reporting, and the pusillanimity of the corporate media, and the pure Nixonian evil of the Bush administration, and the crying need for more hero-patriots like Mark Felt, made me feel like screaming Buster Keaton's anti-nostalgia line from Limelight: "If one more person tells me this is just like ol' times, I swear I'll jump out the window."
The truth is that we do have heroic whistleblowers such as Mark Felt today. Their names are Richard Clarke and Sibel Edmonds and Ray McGovern and Scott Ritter -- and even Paul O'Neill, the former Treasury Secretary.
You want well-placed anonymous sources? How about the military officers who fed CBS and Sy Hersh their Abu Ghraib scoops, or the lawyers in the Judge Advocate General's office who spilled the beans on the torture memos, or whoever leaked the Downing Street memo.
You want ordinary Joes and Janes willing to risk the wrath of the powers to do what's right? How about the enlisted man who walked into the Army IG's office in Baghdad and told them the Marquis de Sade was making house calls at Abu Ghraib prison, or the Pentagon auditors who refused to sign off on the Haliburton payola, or the former detainees and the families in Afghanistan who risked their lives -- not just their careers -- by talking to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
You say we need indefatigable investigators, willing to follow the truth no matter where it leads? How about General Taguba or the International Red Cross or the ACLU lawyers who've been using the Freedom of Information Act to pry out far more information than I thought we would ever know about the inner workings of the Guantanamo gulag. you could even thow in David Kay -- the WMD true believer who tried mightly to prove Bush's case, but finally accepted and admitted that the primary rationale for the Iraq invasion was completely false.
Even the corporate media, for all its fawning cowardice, hasn't been as derelict as blog rhetoric would paint it. The Watergates of our time have been covered -- yes, timidly and halfheartedly, not to mention incompetently, but not nearly as timid and halfhearted and incompetent as the Nixon-era media establishment, which left the Post hanging out there, almost entirely alone, for almost a year before reluctantly accepting that the original Watergate was a real story that had to be covered.
And they didn't have Fox News, a Republican puppet Congress and a mob of crypto-fascist bloggers breathing down their necks.
No, as I wrote quite early in the Abu Ghraib saga, what's remarkable about our current situation is that
unlike past scandals such as Watergate and Iran-Contra, we already know the essential details of the crime - the who, what, where, when and how - even though there hasn't been anything that remotely qualifies as a serious official investigation.
And yet, as this week's nostalgic caterwauling over Deep Throat indicates, justice has not been done, and isn't likely to be done in our lifetimes.
I can think of some specific, institutional reasons for that failure:
Bush's crimes are more deeply embedded in his presidential war powers than Nixon's were (although heaven knows Nixon also tried to hide behind those same powers.)
One party rule has choked off investigations armed with the subpoena power to go where journalists and the ACLU cannot tread.
The administration's cunning use of extra-territoriality and military secrecy has made it vastly harder for any would-be Judge Siricas to pierce the veil of executive privilege.
Last but hardly least, the weapons of information warfare in the Bush White House propaganda armory are infinitely more subtle, powerful and effective than the Nixon stonewall. Or, as Salon puts it:
The Bush administration has developed so many ways of manipulating information that anonymous sourcing would now be of little use. Secret "military" tribunals, indefinite detention without charge, torture, kidnapping, dressing up official press releases as news stories for complicit publishers -- these all make the Watergate coverup seem quaint.
All this may just be a long-winded way of saying that 9/11 changed everything. But it's still hard to escape the conclusion that the American people have had, generally speaking, plenty of opportunities to learn the filthy truth about this administration and this war -- that is, if they were actually interested in the truth, which many of them (up to 51%, judging from the last election) apparently are not.
What the health of the Republic requires, in other words, may not be a new crop of leakers and whistleblowers, or a fresh young generation of Woodwards and Bernsteins -- or even a more independent, aggressive media. What it may need is a new population (or half of a population, anyway), one that hasn't been stupified or brainwashed into blind submission, that won't look upon sadistic corruption and call it patriotism, and that will refuse to trade the Bill of Rights for a plastic Jesus and a wholly false sense of security.
That's a much taller order than asking the Gods to send us another Deep Throat -- or even a Luke Skywalker. It's also not an easy thing for liberals, with their old-fashioned faith in democracy, to face: That the Evil Emperor might have a majority (a narrow one, but still a majority) on his side. But a truth isn't any less true for being politically unpalatable.
Which is why right now it's easy for me to imagine Richard Nixon, looking up from the inner circle of hell and lamenting his immense bad luck in being elected to the presidency 30 years too soon.
Posted by billmon at June 3, 2005 01:19 AM
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