A few obscure heroes

The names Elliott Richardson, William Ruckelshaus and Archibald Cox do not conjure up physical bravery, but they are heroes nonetheless. Their honor and duty to their oaths of office gave them the conviction to stand up against the President of the United States. We did not know it at the time, but President Richard Nixon had sanctioned illegal activities and would later resign before he would have been impeached.

What did these gentlemen do that was heroic? Cox refused to back off his pursuit of the truth as the Special Prosecutor of the Watergate hearings. He was asked to do a job and he pursued it with a passion to uphold his oath to the constitution. When the President did not get his wish, he asked Richardson, the US Attorney General to fire Cox. Richardson declined to do so and resigned. Ruckelshaus, his Deputy, also refused and resigned

It came to a head and eventual Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork ended up firing Cox over a weekend in October known as the Saturday Night Massacre.  These resignations and firing may have been the tipping point for Nixon’s demise as the press realized something was indeed wrong. Shortly after the massacre, Nixon released the first set of secret tapes with 18 minutes deleted, which had been requested by Cox and the Senate Commission after learning that Nixon taped all his meetings in the Oval Office. So, Nixon’s own paranoia did him in as he recorded his illegal activity.

Many know the names Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post and their huge roles in reporting on Nixon and all of his henchmen. Yet, we should pay homage to three additional American heroes in Elliott Richardson, William Ruckelshaus  and Archibald Cox.

They were our Men for All Seasons.

Death of an American hero – a real journalist

As many know, Ben Bradlee, the famous editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate story and Pentagon Papers passed away. His funeral service was held yesterday and attended by a who’s who list of journalists and others. Bradlee was amply played by Jason Robards in the movie “All the President’s Men,” which many folks said captured the essence of the man. He wanted to be the first with a story, but he also wanted to be accurate.

He gave the freedom to be reporters to his staff, but unceasingly challenged them to get it right. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were about to accuse the President of the United States with being a crook. So, they better make sure the story was correct. Bradlee asking them to continually verify the facts is what makes the movie version of what they did so compelling. If they got it wrong, it would have been a disaster. But, the fact that about fifty people, including Richard Nixon’s key lieutenants, went to jail showed they got it right. But, the other key was Bradlee backed up his reporters in the face of a mountain of criticism.

We should all have bosses like that. Watching Woodward and Bernstein speak with Charlie Rose about Bradlee, a telling comment came out of which we should remind all journalists and pseudo-journalists. Woodward said Bradlee was often known to say “slow down” encouraging the reporters to take their time to do the homework, do the reporting and tell the story to the public. We need this more than ever, as too many want a quick sound bite report, sometimes on a Twitter feed, which leaves context, depth and accuracy at the train station.

So, we citizens, voters, and readers/ watchers of news need to challenge ourselves to get news from sources that are more trustworthy and offer more in-depth news reporting. We need to avoid the sensational and question things. We need to slow down. We need to be truth seekers. We need to hold our elected officials accountable and ask more questions of them. Truth be told, with so much money in politics, the hypocrisies, poor decisions, and conflicts in interest are rampant and the stories abound. We just need to slow down and pay attention. Thanks Ben Bradlee. *

 

* More on Bradlee can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Bradlee#Other_work

 

Don’t equate Obama with Nixon

I have witnessed at least one pundit and several letters to the editor make reference to Obama being like Nixon. The pundit, George Will, should know better and I would hope the others would, too. We should do a quick history lesson to refresh, but first we may want to wait until all the information is in before people lay Obama over the coals. More on that later. Nixon said often, “I am not a crook.” He was wrong. Let me tell you why:

– Nixon created a burglary group in the White House called The Plumbers, designed to plug leaks and exploit information about their political adversaries. Members of the group broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg to steal his reporting on classified issues known as “The Pentagon Papers” which indicated a conspiratorial Nixon presidency. Members also broke into the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex. They got caught which led to the Nixon’s Waterloo known as Watergate.

– Nixon Committee to Reelect the President, interestingly named CREEP, did childish and criminal disruption tactics to discredit Democratic adversaries. They did not want to run against Senator Edmund Muskie; so they made it their mission to get him to drop out of the race. They ran against Senator George McGovern, who was their choice opponent. Nixon won easily over McGovern.

– Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, went to jail. His Assistant for Domestic Affairs, John Ehrlichman, went to jail. His Attorney General, John Mitchell, went to jail. So, did White House Special Counsel, Charles Colson, White House Council, John Dean as well as several of the burglars, Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt and others and Donald Segretti, one of the CREEP tricksters.

– John Dean’s testimony was the most damaging, but it was the existence of tapes of all conversations in the Oval Office that were the smoking gun. Nixon was ordered by the Independent Prosecutor to turn the tapes over, but he asked the new Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the Independent Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. The Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus refused as well and was fired. Cox was finally fired by Robert Bork (who had a later claim to fame, being denied as a Supreme Court Justice nominee). This was called the Saturday Night Massacre and was the beginning of the end for Nixon. He finally was ordered to turn the tapes over.

– Nixon was about to be impeached before he resigned on August 9, 1974. The Congressional Committees approved three articles of impeachment – Obstruction of Justice, Misuse of Power and Contempt of Congress for Defying a Subpoena. Congress was about to take action, but gave the President some time to think about it.

– Nixon could have gone to jail, but President Gerald Ford gave him a full pardon which angered many.

– While this was one of the worst moments in our history, it was also one of best. The president did and condoned criminal activity and tried to cover it up. The heroes are many: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post, Mark Felt (an undercover source known as Deep Throat), Richardson, Cox and Ruckelshaus for standing up to the President, Senator Sam Ervin of NC who chaired the Congressional Committee and Judge John Sirica, to name only a few.

– If you want a summary of the key characters, please click on this link or rent “All the President’s Men” starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

http://www.historyteacher.net/HistoryThroughFilm/FilmReadings/WatergateCastOfCharacters.pdf

My wife laughs at me when I say the next statement, but “I did not make this stuff up.” Do not let anyone tell you what Nixon did was not that bad. Nixon was a crook. Yes, he did do some good things as President – opening China markets, creating the Environmental Protection Agency and ending the war in Vietnam – but his Presidency should be remembered for all of the above.

Getting back to President Obama. I have shared before the Benghazi scandal is on its last legs and if people read the report prepared by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullens back in December, they would not have carried it this far. Both Pickering and Mullens have offered to testify in front of Congressman Darrel Issa’s committee, but have not been asked to do so. Issa did want Pickering to testify with only the Republican committee members behind closed doors, but he declined. They obviously wanted to manage the message. He said he would be delighted to testify in front of the whole committee. Plus, the emails released by the President seem to corroborate the story that the CIA was editing talking points to protect their mission. So, unless something major happens or if  the IRS issue fizzles out, my guess is this will die soon.

The IRS scandal looks like it amounts to over-worked bureaucrats who were attempting to make their jobs easier by having the same people look at the same kinds of filings. The dilemma is there were tons of groups wanting tax exempt status. Yet, per pundit David Brooks, they are guilty of being oblivious to how this might be perceived. And, the managers that should have known better should have made changes. There may be more to it, but we should let the investigations run their course. And, unlike Nixon, Obama is outraged and trying to get to the bottom of it.

The one that gives me pause is the wiretapping for national security issues. I personally do not like what was done to these AP and Fox News reporters and there should have been more procedures followed in my mind. I want to see more on this. Yet, like the above two issues, let the investigations be completed before we rake people over the coals. And, do one more thing – let’s remember what really happened with Nixon.

The Legacy of Watergate Lingers On

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a movie I had not seen in a while, so I decided to watch it again. “Nixon” starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role was made in 1995 and directed by Oliver Stone. Hopkins had a little trouble looking the part, but he more than made up for it with his terrific version of President Richard Nixon. Joan Allen played his wife Pat Nixon and does a splendid job as well. Seeing the President’s wife role played behind the scene was illuminating as we only got to see a stoic supporter of her husband in real life.

As you watch the film, you have to remind yourself you are seeing an Oliver Stone directed version of the facts. Setting that aside, having lived through Watergate, President Nixon did authorize and cover-up some very bad things, so he resigned before he would have become the first president to be impeached. There a few moments in my life where I can remember where I was when a major event happened. Nixon’s resigning was one of those moments. I was actually attending the very first football game of the newly created World Football League. They actually broadcast his speech as the start of the game was delayed.

I have read several books about Watergate and the peripheral actions: “Blind Ambition” by former White House Counsel John Dean and “Will” by one of the Nixon ‘plumbers’ Gordon Liddy  and watched three movies – “All the President’s Men” about the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who broke the story (must see), “Blind Ambition” a mini-series starring Martin Sheen as Dean, and “Nixon.” And, like millions around the world, I watched the Watergate Senate hearings which were run by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina.

Yet, seeing “Nixon” after several years left me disturbed all over again. However, in addition to being disturbed by the crimes committed by Nixon, his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, Dean’s predecessor and Nixon confidante John Ehrlichman, Attorney General John Mitchell and several others, I had an unfortunate illumination into contemporary politics that is disturbing. You see the legacy of Watergate lives on in certain places and we need to continue to shine a bright light on actions that are not conducive to fairness and good governance. What do I mean by this statement?

As context, Nixon is a prime example of how power can corrupt. While he did oversee some good things – passage of the Environmental Protection Agency, opening markets to China and the Soviet Union and overseeing job growth while he was president –  he sold his soul to the devil to get there. He was beholden to some huge oil/ gas industry funders and the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, who was actually far worse than Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the movie “J Edgar.” Nixon was also extremely paranoid and went out of his way to squash his enemies and do one thing that eventually led to his undoing. He taped his conversations in the oval office.

Where the movie haunts me looking at today’s events through its lens are in two areas. First, the decisions made by our Supreme Court and other actions that allow wealthy donors to exorbitantly fund election campaigns with little repercussion is very alarming. When you see examples of the pressure put on Nixon and his predecessors by wealthy business interests, it shows how easily the office can be used to their advantage. This past election season we saw a group of funders literally trying to buy an election. Whether you agree or disagree with the positions of the Koch Brothers, the fact they can pony up hundreds of millions of dollars to promote a campaign goes well beyond believing in a particular cause. They are buying a center of influence and that is not right. There are several points in “Nixon” where you see an earlier version of people like the Koch Brothers telling Nixon what they wanted him to do. We must modify this type of funding for the next election process.

Second, I saw too many similarities to today’s Republican Party in this movie. I saw the moral majority being referenced in different ways as the only way to combat the liberal eastern establishment. I saw references to the religious right as the only way to defeat the demonistic protestors who did not want to fight a war where we were bombing innocent people in Cambodia and Vietnam. I saw references to the people who disagreed with his version of America as communists, which held additional  importance given Nixon’s role in crucifying Alger Hiss and others before he became Vice President to Eisenhower. And, still fresh in my mind, I saw the purposeful manufacturing of evidence against people to game the election. It was so severe that one of the impeachable crimes listed was defrauding the election process in 1972.

You see Watergate was only part of the crime against Nixon. Nixon created a White House based spy agency that was called the “plumbers” so they could plug leaks to the press. They also bugged and broke into the National Democratic Party Headquarters based at the Watergate Hotel complex. But, they did more than that. Under the guidance of Jeb Magruder, they disrupted their adversaries’ campaigns. In particular, Senator Edmund Muskie was a target, as Nixon did not want to run against Muskie. He wanted to run against the more liberal Senator George McGovern. Their antics got Muskie to drop out of the race.

To me this equates to the fairly recent action of President George W. Bush to manufacture evidence (the infamous weapons of mass destruction) to lead us into an invasion of Iraq. And, to make the story complete, one of George’s men, Scooter Libby took the fall for the distortion of evidence and discrediting of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame (check out the fairly recent movie “Fair Game” starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn). Libby worked for Karl Rove, a name we all know these days. Libby’s falling on the sword ended the affair, but speculation by smarter people than me abound about further culpability.

Yet, the more troubling resemblance is the blatant manufacturing of stories and data to discredit the opposition deployed by the current Republican Party. I like to add both parties do their fair share of perfuming pigs, yet with the puppeteering of a news agency to distribute calculated messages, the GOP has this down to an art form. I left the GOP to become an Independent for three reasons – their stance on global warming, their unhealthy embrace of the evangelical right, and their higher preponderance to fabricate information. This last point is not said without due consideration as it is extremely important to my thought process. You may not agree with me, but this is how I feel.

Our country needs good dialogue around the issues using good information and not someone’s version of the facts. I see a political system that needs to change to weed out the problem areas. I agree, in part, with my friend Mrs. N who says the wealthy never had it so good in our country. We need to assure the American people they do not become the Robber Barons of the 21st century. I don’t want the “haves” gaming the system to a degree they can spread misinformation and disinformation to get what they want. I have said it several times before, given the weakness of the GOP platform and candidate they put forth as contrasted with an imperfect President who had done a better job than given credit for, this election should not have been as close as it was and the President should have won in a landslide. The monied interests made it close.

I want the GOP to return to legitimacy as our country needs them to be so. Many in our country are like me, socially liberal, but economically conservative. I want us to help people climb ladders out of poverty, but I want us to invest in them and not just give them money. In the long run, that helps no one. We need thinkers and leaders with good hearts and good heads. We do not need monied interests calling the shots telling people how to think. And, we need to squelch the legacy of Nixon and get rid of disinformation and misinformation tactics.

I will leave you with Nixon’s line which he repeated often trying to convince the American people as much as himself. “I am not a crook,” he would say. Unfortunately for us, yes you were President Nixon.