Deep Throat cover blown
Washington Post still
By Greg Palast
Online Journal Guest
I've been gagging
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 of why the long, dry spell when I met Mark
Hosenball, "investigative" reporter for the Washington Post's
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
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 assistant 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.
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
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 Tthe New York Times and now has to write from the refuge of a fashion
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
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
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 assistant 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.