Book Saloon: A FOX Look at Watergate

Watergate was undoubtedly the first time I paid attention to politics, mainly because it was suddenly so interesting for a change.  Had it played out on the comics pages, or even Perry Mason, I wouldn’t have believed it.  I was only a kid at the time, but I was utterly fascinated and delighted when our clammy, boring President turned out to be running a wacky cloak and dagger operation and then busting up spectacularly in a titillating disaster replete with multiple double-crossing, expletives deleted, tons of misbehaving cocktailhags, a person named Bebe Rebezo, and best of all, a taping system.  I bought an old recording machine at a garage sale the next summer, and with the addition of a few little trinkets from Radio Shack, I had my own Plumber’s operation going….  it was not until many years later that I really got interested in finding out what happened, and how important it was.

Watergate has the rather dubious distinction of being the first big political scandal to unfold in the modern media landscape, wherein everyone and his dog even peripherally involved expected to get a book deal out of it, so if you want to read about it, there are literally dozens of bestselling books flooding the used book market, each one self-serving in its own way, but still revealing even on those terms.  Perhaps because in those days high government officers still feared, and even sometimes got,  jail terms, the string of betrayals amongst the co-conspirators in their sensational trials led to many recollections that flatly contradict each other and often cast blame on everyone but the author, setting up a style that continues to this day.   Buckets of ink may be spilled, but who you believe depends on, well, who you believe, and the revisionist histories will probably never end.  Thanks, American Journalism, for nothing.

Because of the declassification schedule of many of Nixon’s papers and recordings, a lot of excellent attempts have been made to analyze Watergate in the late 80′s and early 90′s with new source materials, and I of course snapped up these as well, sometimes going back to read the person who had evidently been debunked afterward.  Naturally, when I spied James Rosen’s 2008 book, The Strong Man:  John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate, I coveted it, but balked at its $35 price, especially after reading on the jacket flap that Rosen works for FOX.  Well, it went down to $25, so I bought it, and I wasn’t, well, disappointed.  Unsurprisingly, FOX has a new take on Watergate, and it did produce a few chuckles to read what it was.

At first, The Strong Man seemed factual enough; it was after all, over 600 pages with a hundred or more of notes (all endnotes, natch, ala Ann Coulter…), but the heroes and villains had been a bit rearranged, and even with all those notes the only sources Rosen appears to believe unquestioningly are G. Gordon Liddy’s laughably cuckoo book, Will, and Len Colodny, who with Robert Gettlin wrote the roundly discredited fantasy, Silent Coup, which posited the theory that John Dean singlehandedly created Watergate to cover up the fact that his wife was a hooker.  ”James, you ought to get out more,” I was thinking, as I then read on to find out that another big source was Deborah Gore Dean, Reagan-era HUD chiseler, whose mother ol’ john the strong man hooked up with after Martha tipped over and he got out of jail.  Mitchell at the time was selling military equipment to Saddam Hussein, easing back into this rehabilitation thing pretty slowly, and decided to toss some scratch around his new “family,” but over at FOX this is a perfectly viable sob story, kind of like Linda Lay “struggling for liquidity.”   I had never thought John Mitchell was even close to being the worst offender in Watergate, but Rosen’s attempts to rehabilitate him only end up showing him to be another unprincipled, money-grubbing sleazebag who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, repeatedly.

I guess that’s what’s so ironic about the book; in Rosen’s analysis, only John Mitchell’s trial, jail time, and post Watergate career seem to matter to him when assessing what happened and why, and in this Mitchell’s experiences are probably the least revealing.  Rosen rightly disdains Chuck Colson and find cynical opportunism in his very public religious conversion, but fails to note which Watergate alums really either redeemed themselves or just continued to display their true colors in the many years hence.  Liddy, in whom Rosen places such trust, has turned out to be just the cuckoo fascist he looked like back then, only worse, and the weird, macho code of omerta for which Rosen giddily praises him has long been replaced by decades of oral diarrhea for money.  Will, indeed.  The villain in FOX-land is of course John Dean, that slippery blabbermouth who spoiled the whole thing; never mind that he went on to a successful career, has been married to that supposed former hooker for almost 40 years, and has been quite vocal in opposing Bush’s Nixonian behavior for ten years.  What matters is that he contradicted Jeb Magruder. OK, Fox, have it your way.

Laugh out loud parts, like when Rosen scornfully berates Martha Mitchell, another villainess in the piece, for, get this… promoting racial animosities, make the book worth the price; I bet FOX can’t wait until Kindle makes it possible to get the Memory Hole going in real time.  That’s, in the end, what The Strong Man is meant to be; a FOXian recasting of Watergate wherein those who agree with its ideology today were the heroes and those who don’t, were not.  A more honest biography that didn’t cling to this priority so slavishly might have made a better case, and would certainly have made a more fitting tribute to the real but flawed man that was John Mitchell.  It also might have sold at full price.

25 Comments

  1. mikeinportc says:

    Dean at least was willing to castigate himself for not finding his scruples sooner, and being an ambitious toady, willing to do just about anything to be in the club.

  2. cocktailhag says:

    Exactly. Reading “Blind Ambition,” but particularly “Lost Honor,” and his Bush-era work, I got the impression that he figured things out, rightly. Better late than never.

  3. nailheadtom says:

    You might be qualified to wash Liddy’s car, perhaps with written instructions.

  4. timothy3 says:

    I can’t say that I’m terribly familiar with the personalities in Watergate but your review of Rosen’s book reminds me of the recent efforts via the Texas schoolbook stuff at rehabilitating (truly an inappropriate word, in this case) McCarthy’s reputation (link@ sig).
    One of the righto members on the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy said of McCarthy

    [Just] “read the latest on McCarthy — he was basically vindicated.”

    I suppose he’s referring to RedState and other such places where truth is ferociously ferreted out and proclaimed on the highest mount.

    Here’s another example of this Professor of Herstory’s vast, deep and probing intellect:

    “The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation. But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan–he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”

    Glaucoma affects not only the eyes but the heart, mind and soul as well.
    http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/01/the_rehabilitation_of_joseph_mccarthy_texas_textbo.php

    • cocktailhag says:

      It is remarkable that conservatism, for all its bluster, is unable to ever admit a mistake, no matter how long ago. Seems like well-earned insecurity to me, given that for the last fifty years it can point to no triumphs except dubious or purloined ones, and many scandals and disasters.

  5. mikeinportc says:

    “You might be qualified to wash Liddy’s car, perhaps with written instructions.”

    It’d at least be a more honorable position than a fanatical ( & insane?) bagman/dirty-trickster for corrupt politicians.[ I know, I know - redundant ;) ]

    “I suppose he’s referring to RedState and other such places where truth is ferociously ferreted out “

    Yep , I got banned for that, on the second post. :) ( + Eric’s watchdog, Moe Lane, seems a barely literate idiot) They were trying to peddle the if-you’ve-done-nothing-wrong-you-have-nothing-to-fear line of bs about the surveillance state , but even most of the devoted RedState True Believers weren’t buying it . As I was about to rip ‘em a new one, somebody else posted a very good argument. Rather than reiterate the same points, I just said that I agreed with that poster, and added one more. On comes Moe “Sure you want stick with that , sparky? He’s calling everybody here a racist.” Then he threatened to tell on me, and get me banned. I went back and read every post by that guy. What he said was that something BushCo was doing was a “radical” departure from past practice. Couldn’t respond though. I was already banned.Me too slow, eh? I guess checking facts, before posting, isn’t normally a consideration there.

    Billo may have “borrowed” my first post there .(LO-freakin’-L!) Some of the Malkanite-types were in a tizzy because “Juan” McCain supported Bush’s immigration “reform”, including some limited amnesty. ( 17yrs for citizenship seemed a tad excessive, IMHO.) They were calling him a traitor,in usual fashion, but didn’t have the stones to actually use the “T” word on the war hero. I went with the straight, serious, argument in McSame’s defense, but just in case that didn’t get through, I poked ‘em a bit. Suggested thinking of it(illegaling) as a test. Those that are good enough, or lucky enough, to not get caught, after a certain period (5yrs?)seem like people we should want here.They should be welcomed to Team USA, asap.
    Shortly thereafter, (3-4days?) I happened to flip to Billo’s show , as he was ripping on Hillary. Sarcastically said she probably thinks…….. yep- except for slight difference in tense….-exactly what I wrote.Might have gotten it third hand (or not), but the thought of him quoting me was &$#@$^%^!!! hilarious. Damn near choked . :)

    • cocktailhag says:

      The righties are always so busy looking for canned lines, I bet it’s easy to toss out a false one; too bad I never thought of it. The bad thing is this (for them, anyway), as they all try to outdo each other on hatin’ on the brown, demographics continue to march. They’ll end up with that 8/92 of the Latino vote that they now enjoy with blacks, just as the FOX audience starts to tip over.
      Even Karl Rove knew that path led to electoral irrelevance.

  6. Len Colodny says:

    Len Colodny’s exclusive interview with John Dean.

    Link:http://www.watergate.com/blind_aversion.asp

    • cocktailhag says:

      I never stated that everything in either of Dean’s Watergate books, nor any of the rest of them, was accurate; in fact I opened my piece by stating the opposite. I did state, however, that your book was widely discredited, and Dean beat you in court, to boot. One gotcha interview doesn’t change this. Further, this ideological approach to history, which attempts to gloss over rank authoritarianism that endangered democracy, and still does, with niggling points about court testimony and kiss and tell books is deliberately beside the point, and you and I know it. What repulsed America about Watergate and Nixon are the same impulses that drive conservative ideologues (and the “journalists” who love them to this day. Liddy and Dean are perfect examples of this, and the fact that Mitchell dropped dead while continuing to live off the government in numerous smelly ways proves my point, not yours.
      It’s a bummer for Nixon that “historians” like you and “journalists” like those FOX employs weren’t around during Watergate, but they weren’t.
      Tough luck.

  7. mikeinportc says:

    OT, Joe Bageant (Deer Hunting With Jesus) lays the wood to the MSM, Anderson Cooper in particular .
    Anderson Cooper and Class Solidarity
    You cannot man the barricades with a mouth full of Cheetos
    http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2010/04/anderson-cooper.html#more

    :)

  8. retzilian says:

    Well, Hag, you and the promoters of rehashed Watergate fiction are the only people who care about it anymore. My favorite book about Watergate was the late, great Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s “Jailbird.” It’s a hoot. The protagonist is in prison with the Watergate bums.

    I remember when Colson became an uber-Christian and all my Christian family and friends were ga-ga over his ministries. He has (had?) a prison ministry. HA! Perfect.

    As far as Texas changing the history books, I know from having a whole shoe full of children that they don’t remember squat about history five minutes after the test. That slop won’t play in the college years when one takes real history and political science with those librul professors, you know.

    Everything I learned about Watergate I learned on my own in my 30s.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, as you may have noticed, some of the revisionists are still ardent enough about it to drop in here, which to me makes it worth still caring about. Like Iran/Contra, and on and on, the right is busy covering for itself, like cats in a litter box, and I find that fascinating, and disturbing.
      I actually got much more into Watergate when Bush came along; so much seemed so familiar, and some of the same people were even back.

      • retzilian says:

        Yes they were. Luckily, old age will get most of them in the next decade.

        • cocktailhag says:

          I don’t know about that… This Rosen character looks like he still gets carded, and ol’ Colodny is busily self-googling all the live-long day. I’m guessing the battle will really heat up when the good guys are all gone.

  9. I was 30 during the Watergate hearings, and like most of my friends on the left, watched them the way a bird watches a snake. Everything we always knew made manifest in slow motion, like a bad dream you couldn’t wake up from.

    The worst part was the hypocrisy, and the scramble to get on the right side of a history people had spent their entire careers ignoring, or more lucrative still, denying. Then, as now, people were shocked, shocked that Nixon turned out to be what he always was, and everyone always knew he was. People eager to exonerate themselves glibly assured one another that no one could have known, and expected us, their victims, to believe them.

    And may I say, having watched John Dean’s entire testimony live, that he was a weasel then, and in my opinion remains one to this day. More elegant then Charles Colson he may be, but he’s no less transparent, and no less eager to escape the consequences of his own immoral ambition. Still, he’s a little weasel, not a big one, and Colodny is a fabulist who misses what fabulists always miss — the amazing richness of the mundane.

    Ah well, as you say, who at this point cares except the liars and revisionists of the right? It’s true. I don’t even care. The sad truth is that what goes on today is to Watergate as Reservoir Dogs is to The Big Sleep. Good luck with the newer, flashier evils of today, and may you live long enough to be told decades from now that no one alive remembers or cares what went down so long ago.

    • timothy3 says:

      The sad truth is that what goes on today is to Watergate as Reservoir Dogs is to The Big Sleep.

      Excellent visual.

      Good luck with the newer, flashier evils of today, and may you live long enough to be told decades from now that no one alive remembers or cares what went down so long ago.

      And, these days, it happens so quickly that one need not even live a long life to be so told. Many, many commenters here and there, from site to site, will essentially state–as they defend Obama’s continuation and/or expansion of Bush policies–”that’s in the past,” as they rework “look forward not backward.”

  10. cocktailhag says:

    In a sense, Democrats wanting to look forward, not back, while Republicans endlessly look back to rearrange the past is part of the problem we face today. Look how many Iran/Contra criminals slithered right back into government under George W, and look at Dick Cheney, veteran of both scandals, still tormenting the world. Dean’s saving grace was that, in the end, he learned the right lessons; so few others did.

    • Well, I’ll reserve judgment on what he learned, but then, as his contemporary, I’m bound to be harsher in my view of him than those who come after us. It’s human nature, I suppose.

      The problem for me is that lessons he claims to have learned are those which most of my contemporaries learned at age six or seven, before they reached the age of reason. My mom would have said that he wasn’t brought up right, and she may have had a point.

      As for right-wing revisionists, what amazes me is their decades-long hysteria. When I was a kid, we imagined free love as a perpetual bliss, always just out of reach, but perhaps possible. It seems to me that Republicans have placed the same hope in something very like free hate. Your Tom is a perfect, if minor example. He may lack the inspiration of a Glenn Beck, but he believes just as completely in the method.

      If eventually we learned the truth of Triste est omne animal post coitum, praeter mulierem gallumque, (After sex, every animal except women and roosters is afflicted with melancholy), you have to wonder how it is that the right haven’t learned the same thing about violence — or to be fair, about violent emotions.

      Perhaps the bubble is about to be pricked — so to speak — and soon 30% of our population will be afflicted with chronic depression. Perhaps. If so, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of animals.

  11. It’s good to last but not least uncover a site exactly where the blogger understands what they’re talking about.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Oh, I only sometimes understand…. today was a good day because I’m a Watergate geek. Many days I’m quite clueless. Thanks for reading, and do come back.

  12. dirigo says:

    chimney, have you met Tom?

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