Perhaps it’s because I was born after the events, and have some historical distance, but the whole Mark Felt case never meant that much to me. I was far more interested in the consequences it had on journalism, than in the man himself.
Brendan Miniter, assistant editor of OpinionJournal, weighs in with an essay chastising those on the Right who are being as unseemly as those on the Left trying to make Felt’s role into some sort of cause celébre and an object for hero worship.
But if Mr. Felt isn’t personally a hero, his actions look a lot more heroic than the actions of those who’ve had the most biting words for the now 91-year-old man who at the time was the No. 2 official at the FBI. Pat Buchanan, a former speechwriter for Richard Nixon, called Mr. Felt a “snake.” Charles Colson, another Nixon aide, who served seven months in prison for obstruction of justice, said Mr. Felt was “violating his oath to keep this nation’s secrets.” Watergate conspirator turned radio personality G. Gordon Liddy, who also served time, is quoted as saying bluntly that Mr. Felt “violated the ethics of the law enforcement profession.”
These are valid points, though they ring rather hollow coming from the defenders of a corrupt administration, two of whom spent time behind bars for their crimes. And in any case, even if Mr. Felt acted for the wrong reasons, his actions helped pull the nation out of a moral downward spiral.
Brendan even has a good note for Jimmy Carter, whose performance has been rather lackluster. The piece shows an ability to view history’s big picture, and thus is worth your attention.
[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]
11 thoughts on “Miniter on Felt”
I am a big fan of Nixon. He stabilized a totally disastrous war that the Democrats had started and botched. American cities were on fire when he came in. He ended the draft and got things calmed down. It was a disastrous period and he stepped into the breach.
I remember Nixon going down. I was ten. The liberals were elated. For them, it was payback, the culmination of 25 years of hatred. They got him because he didn’t cut some rogue subordinates loose to hang. He should have, instead of covering up.
The liberals got a trifecta — Nixon out, then denial of funding to South Vietnam and Cambodia, and turning over two countries to communist rule, which they applauded at the time. The Big Win, American defeat in the Cold War, eluded them.
Liddy got a sentence massively bigger than any first-time offender with no criminal record, because the Judge was determined to destroy the Nixon administration and everyone involved with it.
If Nixon by some miracle were to appear in my doorway today, I’d be proud to shake his hand.
I too, read Miniter column in the WSJ today and was struck by the author takes a shot at Colson and Liddy stating “These are valid points, though they ring rather hollow coming from the defenders of a corrupt administration, two of whom spent time behind bars for their crimes.” However, it takes Miniter another couple paragraphs to concede that the hero of the Left, Mark Felt, also served jail time.
It’s outrageous that a law-enforcement official, particularly one as senior as Felt was, would place his own petty bureaucratic agenda above the rule of law and his oath of office and allow himself to be used by hack journalists with a partisan politial agenda. Felt’s behavior in leaking to the press was at least as bad as was J. Edgar Hoover’s in surveiling Martin Luther King. Both men thought that they were doing the right thing so never mind the rules.
Actually, Felt’s motives were worse than Hoover’s. Hoover thought King was dangerous for the country, while Felt (as Mark Steyn points out) was helping to bring down an administration that had tried to reign in the out-of-control FBI. But Hoover gets no credit from the people who now lionize Felt.
As for Nixon, he was a lousy president but he was better than the alternatives. How would George McGovern have treated with the North Vietnamese? And the supposed anti-Semite Nixon saved Israel in 1973, by resupplying it with war materiel at a critical time and against the wishes of his Jewish Secretary of State.
I missed Corsair’s comment while I was writing mine. He makes a good point. The liberals’ gushing about the supposedly noble Felt, and their numerous by-the-ways about how corrupt the Nixon administration supposedly was, are a bit much to take. Where were these liberal champions of good government when Bill Clinton was being impeached for crimes that were at least as serious as any which Nixon may have committed?
Incidentally, I am stuck out in DC, and I have been getting the WaPo at my hotel. The WaPo had several days of coverage of this Felt business, and it consisted of literaly four solid newspaper pages of self-congratulation, not once but for several days. It had pictures of Woodward and Bernstein, who badly needed a haircut, and Bradlee and of course Robert Redford in the movie with that dopey earnest liberal look of his. These bags of dog droppings think they are the greatest thing that has ever come along. Literally nauseating, stomach-turning.
But Dude, the WaPo has killer restaurant reviews.
Look at the bright side: you’re not stuck in NYC.
Dude, NYC is OK. Try, maybe, Novi Michigan. Or East St. Louis. I’m certainly not complaining.
I can sympathize with demimasque’s detachment to the issue, being that I was only 4 when Nixon resigned. I became more interested when I read All The President’s Men and The Final Days a few years ago. I think the point that some people forget is that Felt wasn’t actually a direct source, but rather acted as someone who would tell Woodward that they were on the right track. It certainly appears that he was doing his best (from his point of view) to honor is job obligations/integrity and his own morals. It’s one thing to leak state secrets. It is another thing to confirm information obtained independently from other parties relating to criminal activities.
MP, you could say the same thing to justify J. Edgar Hoover’s abuses of power. For that matter you could say the same about malfeasance by any public official who thinks breaking rules he has sworn to follow is OK because “from his point of view” doing so serves some higher value. Would you be so tolerant of Felt if you learned he had been leaking (or confirming to a reporter, which is the same thing) secrets about MLK’s sex life? At one time there were people in the FBI who believed that such information was important to national security.
Does the post-Watergate culture, the media’s assumption that the next Watergate is around the corner and must be hunted down (and that the existence of such evil is not to be questioned) affect the way we view Felt?
Not to say that anyone is being inconsistent, but that perhaps the self-basking that the media has gotten to indulge in from Watergate makes it a lot easier (and necessary) to look negatively at someone like Felt, and to defend Nixon more vigorously than we might otherwise?
I was born 9 years AFTER Nixon resigned, so keep that in mind if my question sounds ridiculous.
James, I posted about that at Between Worlds, where I quoted a bit from a Wall Street Journal editorial:
Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein earned their fame, but the consequences for journalism have not always been salutary. In their zeal to be the next Woodstein, many in the press have developed a “gotcha” model of reporting that always assumes the worst about public officials. We’ve pointed this out recently about reporting on Iraq and the military, and the defensive reaction from our peers confirms to us that many recognize (even if they won’t publicly admit) that there is a problem. The unveiling of Deep Throat, and the rediscovery of Watergate’s history, will do some good if it reminds us that the Fourth Estate’s first duty is to report the facts.
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