Deep Throat Cover Blown: Washington Post Still Sucks
Greg Palast reminds the Washington Post what investigative journalism is.
I've been gagging all morning on the Washington Post's self-congratulatory preening about its glory days of the Watergate investigation.
Think about it. It's been 33 years since cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein pulled down the pants of the Nixon operation and exposed its tie-in to the Watergate burglary. That marks a third of a century since the Washington Post has broken a major investigative story. I got a hint why there's been such a dry spell after I met Mark Hosenball, investigative reporter for the Washington Post's magazine, Newsweek.
It was in the summer of 2001. A few months earlier, for the Guardian papers of Britain, I'd discovered that Katherine Harris and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida had removed tens of thousands of African-Americans from voter registries before the 2000 election, thereby fixing the race for George Bush. Hosenball said the Post-Newsweek team "looked into it and couldn't find anything."
Nothing at all? What I found noteworthy about the Post's investigation was that "looking into it" involved their reporters chatting with Florida officials -- but not bothering to look at the voter purge list itself.
Yes, I admit the Washington Post ran my story -- seven months after the election -- but with the key info siphoned out, such as the Bush crew's destruction of evidence and the salient fact that almost all those purged were Democrats. In other words, the story was drained of anything which might discomfit the new residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Let's not pick on the Post alone. Viacom Corporation's CBS News also spiked the story. Why? "We called Jeb Bush's office," a CBS producer told me, and Jeb's office denied Jeb did wrong. End of story.
During the Clinton years, the Washington Post and Newsweek allowed reporter Mike Isikoff to sniff at the President's zipper and write about our Commander-in-Chief's Lewinsky. But when it came to a big story about dirty energy industry money for Clinton's campaigns, Mike told me his editors didn't "give a sh--" and so he passed the material for me to print in England.
Today, Bob Woodward, rules as the Post's Managing Editor. And how is he "managing" the news? 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.
Woodward's news-oid story is a symptom of a disease epidemic in US journalism. The illness is called, "access." 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.
Here's a good place to tote up part of the investigative reporter body count. 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.
And notice someone missing in the Deep Throat extravaganza? Carl Bernstein, the brains and soul of the All-the-President's-Men duo, is notably absent from the staff of the Post or any other US newspaper.
But before we get too weepy about the glory days of investigative journalism gone by, we should remember that the golden era was not pure gold.
Newspapers are part of the power elite and have never in US history gone out of their way to rock the clubhouse. Let's go back to Hersh's stellar story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
The massacre was first uncovered by the greatest investigative reporter of our era, the late Ron Ridenhour. Then a soldier conducting the investigation on his own, Ridenhour turned over his findings to Hersh, hoping to give it a chance for exposure. That wasn't so easy.
Ridenhour told me that he and Hersh pushed the story -- with photos! -- at dozens of newspapers. No one would touch it until Ridenhour threatened to read the story from the steps of the Pentagon.
It's only gotten worse. After all, Hersh's latest big story, about Abu Ghraib prison, was buried by CBS and other news outlets before Hersh put it in the New Yorker.
The Washington Post has no monopoly on journalistic evil. If anything, the Post is probably better than most of the bilge contaminating our news outlets. This is about the death-march of investigative journalism in America; or, at least, its dearth under the "mainstream" mastheads.
Why don't we read more "Watergate" investigative stories in the US press? Given that the Woodwards of today dance on their hind legs begging officialdom for "access", news without official blessing doesn't stand a chance.
The Post follows current American news industry practice of killing any story based on evidence from a confidential source if a government honcho privately denies it. A flat-out "we didn't do it" is enough to kill an investigation in its cradle. And by that rule, there is no chance that the Managing Editor of the Washington Post, Bob Woodward, would today run Deep Throat's story of the Watergate break-in.
And that sucks.
Greg Palast's reports for Britain's Guardian newspapers and Harper's Magazine can be found at www.GregPalast.com. Palast won this year's George Orwell Courage in Journalism award at the Sundance Freedom Cinema Festival for his investigations of the Bush family for BBC Television.
contribute to this article
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion