By: Alicia Mundy
Mundy Sets Record Straight On Watergate
Here’s a little heresy: There are some stories to which there is no other
side to the story.
This is not what is taught at j-schools. And, as a contrarian, I don’t want
to suggest that writers should not look at alternative interpretations of
events. But too many attempts by naive reporters to let people air their
versions of “the other side” is resulting in revisionist history that would
make Stalin smile.
What stories do I mean? Let’s start with references to the Holocaust:
There’s no reason for reporters to try to find an aged Nazi to furnish his
anti-Semitic views for “balance.” World War II: The Nazis were the
aggressors, it was a bad thing, we were the good guys. The Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor: See above. Pol Pot’s genocide in the Killing
Fields: No need to find an apologist to explain that we Westerners are
simplistic and culturally handicapped because we don’t condone slaying
millions of innocent Cambodians. The list gets longer and may someday
include the taking of furniture from the White House and the Marc Rich
pardon. But, right now, there’s one special story that has no other side:
I bring this up because I took a trip to the Twilight Zone recently, and, by
the time I was done, I wasn’t sure who scared me more: jurors
interviewed after a libel suit involving Watergate or The Washington
Post reporter who gamely reiterated the events afterward with perfect
Remember Watergate? President Richard Nixon resigned, and several
very highly placed officials in the U.S. government went to jail. It was a
big, bad event, and it shocked patriotic Americans who prayed that their
leaders weren’t involved.
But, in a federal courtroom in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago, jurors
heard that Watergate had zippo to do with subverting the Constitution
and undercutting an ongoing democratic presidential election. They were
told, by G. Gordon Liddy and a strange group of his supporters, that the
Watergate break-in and its related crimes were all about a prostitution
ring. For years, Liddy’s bitterness has permeated his talk show,
interviews, and at least two speeches. He hates John Dean, who, for
those of you too young to remember, was the key GOP official who
spilled the beans on the top White House guys. To the Senate Watergate
Committee, Dean was a hero. At the time he testified on Capitol Hill, the
camera tended to stray to his pretty wife, Maureen.
Liddy, you may recall, was unrepentant. He didn’t talk, and he didn’t like
those who did, even when the issue was the very integrity of the
government and the security of our rule of law. A few years ago, Liddy
suggested that Watergate was caused by Dean attempting to steal
pictures of Maureen, then his girlfriend, from a Democratic National
Committee secretary’s desk at the Watergate complex. Liddy implicated
this secretary, Ida Wells, in the alleged ring of call girls.
Dean, who’d had it with Liddy’s vengeful ways, sued. As did Wells. The Baltimore
trial resulted from her lawsuit. The jury heard (and then said) things that
rank right up there with the logic that the folks who followed the progress
of the Hale-Bopp comet might have used. Liddy’s star witness, other than
himself, was a dis-barred attorney with mental problems.
The jury deadlocked, and, afterward, one juror, described as “blushing,”
told the Post that Liddy was “‘quite impressive. … You couldn’t
help but be totally engaged.'” The juror also indicated that Liddy’s theory
of Watergate was believable.
Hey, there are lots of impressive scoundrels out there: Hitler was
mesmerizing. Mussolini was quite a ladies’ man. Marc Rich and Michael
Milken are fabulous dinner guests. Jim Jones impressed the hell out of
his followers in Jonestown, right up to the moment they drank the Kool-
Aid. And was there anyone more impressive than O.J. Simpson?
Heaven only knows what Bob Woodward thought when he saw the
Post’s calm take on the Twilight Zone trial. If you know how much
Nixon wanted to be president, you know that he didn’t resign over some
piddly call-girl operation. It was tempting to call the high school whence
came the Liddy-impressed juror to ask what, exactly, they teach in
“American History” these days. After reading some of the other jury
comments, I realized why George W. Bush is so worried about
But more worrisome was the Post’s story, which read like a report
on the budget debate. The reporter got quotes, recited the facts, but
somehow missed the truth. Luckily, someone else at the Post
came to the rescue two days later with an official editorial titled “The
Courts and History.”
Calling Liddy’s account of Watergate “false,” it stated that Liddy relied on
“a disbarred attorney with a history of mental illness.”
“The danger of such outcomes,” the editorial said of the jurors’ confusion,
“is that this sort of thinking spreads.” Whether Liddy legally defamed
Wells, it said, “We do know what happened at Watergate – and it had nothing to do
with prostitutes.” Case closed.
Alicia Mundy’s “Pack Rat” column appears monthly in E&P. Mundy (email@example.com) is Washington bureau chief for Mediaweek, a sister magazine.
Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.