W. Joseph Campbell

‘Immortal advice’ given only in a movie

In Debunking, Media myths, Watergate myth on November 23, 2011 at 8:06 am

Add the New Yorker blog “Rational Irrationality” to the lineup of news organizations and outlets that have invoked Watergate’s most famous made-up line — “follow the money” — as if it were genuine.

Felt: Didn't say it

As if the Washington Post’s stealthy “Deep Throat” source really spoke the line “follow the money” as guidance to unraveling the Watergate scandal.

Which he didn’t.

The “Rational Irrationality” blog the other day joined the likes of the Financial Times, Fox News, the Huffington Post, Minnesota Public Radio, the Providence Journal, media critic Eric Alterman, the Hindu newspaper in India, among others, in invoking the line as if it had been advice earnestly offered by “Deep Throat.”

“Rational Irrationality” referred to the line as “immortal advice,” stating:

“There are two ways to figure out what is really happening in Washington politics. One is to interview Administration officials, congressmen, Capitol Hill staffers, think-tank wonks, and so on, and write down what they say. The other journalistic technique is to heed Deep Throat’s immortal advice to Bob Woodward and follow the money trail. When it comes to budgets and the deficit, the Deep Throat methodology is usually the more informative.”

The line certainly may be timeless. Even “immortal.”  But “Deep Throat” never told Woodward, he of the Washington Post, to “follow the money.”

That line appears nowhere in All the President’s Men, the book Woodward wrote with Post colleague Carl Bernstein about their Watergate reporting — reporting that did not, as I discuss in my latest work, Getting It Wrong, bring down Nixon’s corrupt presidency.

Moreover, “follow the money” appeared in no Watergate-related article or editorial published in the Post  before 1981 — which was years after Nixon quit the presidency in disgrace.

Follow the money” was a line made for the movies: It was written into the screenplay of the cinematic version of All the President’s Men.

The line was memorably uttered not by the real-life “Deep Throat” — who in 2005 was self-revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, formerly a top official at the FBI — but by Hal Holbrook, the actor who played “Deep Throat” in the movie.

Holbrook turned in an outstanding performance as a conflicted, tormented “Deep Throat.”

And he delivered his “follow the money” lines with such grave assurance and certainty that it seemed to offer a way to understand the intricacies of the Watergate scandal.

But as I’ve noted at Media Myth Alert, even if Woodward had been counseled to “follow the money,” the advice would have taken him only so far.

It wouldn’t have led him to Nixon.

What forced Nixon from office in 1974 was not the misuse of campaign funds but the president’s active role in attempting to obstruct justice by covering up the signal crime of the Watergate scandal, the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972.

Rolling up the scandal of Watergate’s complexity and dimension was scarcely as straightforward as pursuing misused campaign contributions.

As I write in Getting It Wrong, unraveling Watergate 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 argue, “Nixon likely would have served out his 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” that cost him the presidency.


Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post

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