W. Joseph Campbell

‘Sigue el dinero’: That made-up Watergate line gets around

In Cinematic treatments, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on March 5, 2011 at 7:53 am

Follow the money” is pitch-perfect advice that’s found application in all sorts of contexts. It popped up the other day at  Spanish-language a blog in Castro’s Cuba , appearing as “sigue el dinero.”

And in Canada, the Globe and Mail newspaper invoked the phrase in a hockey story published yesterday.

Felt: Didn't say it

Without doubt, “follow the money” is the best-known line associated with the Washington Post and its reporting of the Watergate scandal.

Except that the Post never used the phrase in its articles or editorials about Watergate.

The passage was written into the script of All the President’s Men, the 1976 motion picture that dramatized the Watergate reporting of Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

“Follow the money” long ago crossed smoothly  from the silver screen to the vernacular — as suggested by the lead paragraph in an article posted the other day at the online site of an alternative newspaper in California. The lead declared:

“Watergate’s ‘Deep Throat,’ Mark Felt, advised investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to ‘follow the money’ to uncover the truth behind the Watergate scandal.”

Felt was a top FBI official whose identity as the stealthy “Deep Throat” source was kept secret until 2005. Periodically in 1972 and 1973, he conferred secretly with Woodward about the unfolding Watergate scandal. They sometimes met late at night in an underground parking garage in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington.

Felt, though, never spoke with Bernstein during the Watergate investigation. He was strictly Woodward’s source.

And Felt never counseled Woodward to “follow the money.”

That was actor Hal Holbrook’s line, spoken in All the President’s Men, the movie.

Holbrook, who turned 85 not long ago, was terrific in All the President’s Men, playing “Deep Throat” as a torn, twitchy, sometimes-irritable source.

In The Secret Man, his 2005 book about Felt, Woodward wrote of Holbrook’s portrayal of “Deep Throat”:

“It was a powerful performance, capturing the authoritative and seasoned intensity, cynicism and gruffness of the man in the underground garage.”

But of course there was much more to Watergate than Holbrook’s cinematic advice; there was more to it than following the money to “uncover the truth behind the … scandal.”

As I note in Getting It Wrong, my mythbusting book that came out last year, some 20 men associated with the presidency or reelection campaign of Richard Nixon went to jail for crimes linked to Watergate.

Rolling up a scandal of such dimension, I write in Getting It Wrong, “required the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.

“Even then,” I add, “Nixon likely would have served out his [second] term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House. Only when compelled by the Supreme Court did Nixon surrender those recordings, which captured him plotting the cover-up and authorizing payments of thousands of dollars in hush money.”

Those disclosures forced Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.

It’s clear that advice such as “follow the money” would have taken Woodward and Bernstein only so far. It would not have unlocked “the truth” about Watergate. For even now, Watergate still has not offered up all its secrets.

For example, we still don’t know what was said between Nixon and his top aide, H.R. Haldemann, on June 20, 1972; their conversation at the White House was recorded, but the portion of the discussion about Watergate was deliberately erased.

The conversation came just three days after the breakin at Democratic National Committee headquarters, the signal crime of Watergate. The deliberate erasure left a sound gap of 18 1/2 minutes — a gap that audio experts for the National Archives were unable to restore.

Follow the money” would have been advice useless in ferreting out decisive elements of Watergate. The existence of Nixon’s Oval Office tapes, for example, was disclosed not by Woodward and Bernstein; it was revealed in testimony in July 1973 given to the Senate select committee on Watergate.

But for a line that would have offered little guidance had it been spoken during Watergate, “follow the money” sure gets around.


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