Friday, September 14, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt eighteen)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Even today, some people think the whole thing was a minor peccadillo, the sort of thing engaged in by lots of politicians. I believe Watergate was an unprecedented effort to subvert the political process. It was a pervasive, indiscriminate use of power and authority from an administration with a passion for secrecy and deception and an astounding lack of regard for the normal constraints of democratic politics. To my mind, the whole thing was a very real perversion of the democratic system—from firing people who were good Republicans but who might have disagreed with Nixon in the slightest, to the wiretappings, to the breaking and entering of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, to the myriad dirty tricks, to the attempts to discredit and curb the media. As I said in a speech at the time, “It was a conspiracy not of greed but of arrogance and fear by men who came to equate their own political well-being with the nation’s very survival and security.”

The role of the Post in all of this was simply to report the news. We set out to pursue a story that unfolded before our eyes in ways that made us as incredulous as the rest of the public. The Post was never out to “get” Nixon, or, as was often alleged, to “bring down the president.” It always seemed to me outrageous to accuse the Post of pursuing the Watergate story because of the Democratic bias of the paper. A highly unusual burglary at the headquarters of a national political party is an important story, and we would have given it the same treatment regardless of which party was in power or who was running for election. I was often asked why we didn’t cover Ted Kennedy’s debacle at Chappaquiddick as fully as we were covering Watergate. The point is, we did, and the further point is that the Kennedys were probably as angry at us then as the Nixon administration was. Throughout Watergate, I was amazed at the regular allegations that somehow we had created the agony of Watergate by recklessly pursuing certain stories and thereby causing the turmoil that the president was in. How could anyone make this argument in light of the fact that the stories we reported turned out to be true?

In the end, Nixon was his own worst enemy. The Post had no enemies list; the president did. Nixon seemed to regard the Post as incurably liberal and ceaselessly antiadministration. In fact, the Post supported a great many of his policies and programs, but his paranoia, his hatred of the press, his scheming, all contributed to bringing him down—helped along by the appropriate constitutional processed, including the grand juries, courts, and Congress. Woodward and Bernstein were critical figures in seeing that the truth was eventually told, but others were at least as important: Judge Sirica; Senator Sam Ervin and the Senate Watergate Committee; Special Prosecutors Cox and Jaworski; the House Impeachment Committee under Representative Peter Rodino. The Post was an important part—but only a part—of the Watergate story.

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