Journalistiske myter

Diverse — Drokles on November 1, 2011 at 3:56 am

Jyllands-Posten henviser til en interessant blog, hvor historikeren Joseph Campbell har samlet nogle af de største myter i amerikanske medier. Mens Jyllands-Posten koncentrerer sig om den panik, som Orson Welles skulle skabt med sin dramatiske fortolkning af Klodernes Kamp, som blev genfortalt, som en live radioreportage så er journalistikkens kronhistorie, Watergate, alligevel mere interessant.

Watergate reporting by the Post did not expose the cover-up of crimes linked to the break-in or the payment of hush money to the burglars, either.

As I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which includes a chapter about the media myths of Watergate, Post reporter Bob Woodward was quoted as saying in 1973 that those crucial aspects of the scandal were “held too close. Too few people knew. We couldn’t get that high.”

Nor did Woodward and his Watergate reporting colleague Carl Bernstein uncover or disclose the existence of the White House audiotaping system, which was decisive to the outcome of Watergate.

Audiotapes secretly made by President Richard Nixon captured him approving a plan in June 1972 to impede the FBI in its investigation of the Watergate break-in.

That contents of that tape — the so-called “smoking gun” of Watergate — sealed Nixon’s fate and led to his resignation in August 1974.

The White House taping system had been disclosed 11 months before, by investigators of the Senate select committee on Watergate, which convened hearing in spring and summer 1973.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, Woodward and Bernstein later claimed to have had a solid lead about the existence of the taping system.

In All the President’s Men, the book he wrote with Bernstein, Woodward recalled having spoken with Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee about the lead. Bradlee advised, “I wouldn’t bust one on it.”

Had they followed that lead, Woodward and Bernstein may well have broken a pivotal story about Watergate.

But they didn’t.

So, clearly, the disclosures about the pivotal events that led to Nixon’s resignation in Watergate weren’t the work of the Post.

As I’ve noted in previous postings at Media Myth Alert, it’s intriguing to note how the Post from time to time has sought to emphasize that its reporting was not decisive in Nixon’s resignation.

In 2005, for example, Michael Getler, then the newspaper’s ombudsman, wrote:

“Ultimately, it was not The Post, but the FBI, a Congress acting in bipartisan fashion and the courts that brought down the Nixon administration. They saw Watergate and the attempt to cover it up as a vast abuse of power and attempted corruption of U.S. institutions.”

And Bradlee, the executive editor during Watergate, said on a “Meet the Press” interview show in 1997, 25 years after the break-in:

“[I]t must be remembered that Nixon got Nixon. The Post didn’t get Nixon.”

Watergate er givetvis den historie, som bedst har bekræftet journalistikkens selvbillede, som den fjerde statsmagt, samfundets vagthund og endda, som værende istand til at forandre samfundet til det bedre. Men myten har også forvandlet naturlig og sund skepsis til statsmagten til irrationel mistro og apati overfor det demokratiske system, der kun er et tyndt fernis, som skjuler en bestandig hegemoni af konspirativ magtudøvelse.

Men alle var netop ikke involveret. I disse News Of The World tider, hvor journalister og redaktører netop tror de kan tillade sig at lave deres egen hemmelige efterretningstjeneste (eller danske journalister, der roder i politikeres affaldsspande) i deres heroiske kamp mod et system, der må være råddent, kan det derfor også være på sin plads at minde om Washington Post’ egen journalistiske etik, hvad især angår Carl Bernstein (Bernsteins journalistiske etik antydes i filmen som liggende i det grå område). Carl Bernstein At It Again

It’s not often recalled these days, but Bernstein and his Washington Post colleague, Bob Woodward, sought out federal grand jurors in December 1972, inviting them to break their oaths of secrecy and discuss Watergate-related testimony that they had heard.

The reporters were that desperate for leads in what was a slowly unfolding scandal.

The private entreaties to grand jurors nearly landed Bernstein and Woodward in jail for contempt.

As recounted in All the President’s Men, Bernstein and Woodward’s book about their Watergate reporting, none of the grand jurors was cooperative and the overtures soon were made known to John J. Sirica, chief judge of U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

The judge was livid.

According to All the President’s Men, Edward Bennett Williams, the Post’s  lawyer and well-known Washington insider, went to lengths to persuade Sirica — known as “Maximum John” for the severe sentences he often imposed — not to punish Bernstein and Woodward.

“John Sirica is some kind of pissed at you fellas,” Williams was quoted as saying in the book. “We had to do a lot of convincing to keep your asses out of jail.”

The reporters wrote in All the President’s Men, which came out in 1974 just as Watergate was nearing its climax, that in seeking out grand jurors, they “had chosen expediency over principle and, caught in the act, their role had been covered up.” That is, they managed to dodge media scrutiny of their misconduct.

All the President’s Men also described how Bernstein sought, and obtained, information from private telephone records of Bernard Barker, one of the men who in June 1972 broke into headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, the signal crime of Watergate.

Seeking Barker’s records was another case of choosing “expediency over principle” — not to mention a bit of phone-hacking, 1970s style.

Eller, som det hedder i en anden artikel (med min fremhævning)

The Post city editor, Barry Sussman, was described in All the President’s Men as fearing “that one of them, probably Bernstein, would push too hard and find a way to violate the law.

“Woodward wondered whether there was ever justification for a reporter to entice someone across the line of legality while standing safely on the right side himself. Bernstein, who vaguely approved of selective civil disobedience, was not concerned about breaking the law in the abstract. It was a question of which law, and he believed that grand-jury proceedings should be inviolate.”

But they went ahead anyway, desperate for leads in the slowly unfolding scandal.

Bloggen indeholder en række links til en masse delhistorier, som kan anbefales. Campbell ødelægger desværre lidt af fornøjelsen ved at gense en af mine yndlingsfilm, Alan J Pakulas mesterværk fra 1976, Alle Præsidentens Mænd, lavet over Woodwards bog fra 1974 af samme navn. Den udhuler f.eks. også myten om whistleboweren over dem alle, Deep Throat.

Although the movie version of All the President’s Men portrays “Deep Throat” as crucial to Watergate’s outcome, his contributions weren’t so vital in real life, as the scandal slowly unfolded.

That assessment was offered the other day by Barry Sussman, who was the Watergate editor for the Washington Post. In an online essay at Huffington Post, Sussman wrote that “Deep Throat/Mark Felt was more myth than reality as a useful Watergate source.”

Sussman’s essay linked to a commentary he wrote in 2005, after the identity of “Deep Throat” was revealed — more than 30 years after Woodward and Bernstein had written about him in All the President’s Men, an immediate best-seller when it appeared in 1974.

“Deep Throat was nice to have around, but that’s about it,” Sussman wrote. “His role as a key Watergate source for the Post is a myth, created by a movie and sustained by hype for almost 30 years.”

That’s very intriguing, especially from someone as close to the Post’s Watergate reporting as Sussman was.

Nu skal det hel jo ikke være så mavesurt. Woodward blev engang spurgt af Larry King om hvorledes det havde været for ham at blive portræteret af Robert Redford, til hvilket han sagtmodigt svarede “I have disappointed a lot of women!

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