I was in high school when Watergate broke out. Years before and after, my parents always made it a point to finish supper in time to watch Walter Cronkite. I knew enough not to disturb them during that half hour and usually hid in my bedroom to read, do homework and listen to Melanie, Neil Young or some other album I owned from my collection. Often, I'd raise the volume in order to drown out my father yelling at the television--not at the reporter, but at the story being told. It was certainly no different when Watergate was making the headlines, except my father was yelling at the democrats, the reporters, at anyone who dared smudge Nixon's name. He was sure that Nixon, whom he believed was upright and moral, was being sabotaged with lies by those against him. However, as time went on, my father stopped defending the president. I suppose as the truth was unfolding, it was difficult to do so. I'm sure, too, my father felt as betrayed as much of the country did.
I was brought back to those days while reading Mark Feldstein's Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture (Farrar, Straus, Giroux). Unlike my father, who had to watch as the facts came to light, I had the opportunity of looking at it in hindsight, as criminality was revealed from the highest office in the land. It took many years later before I actually started to pay more attention to what was happening to our country by those in power and I made it my business to learn more about those in office. I relied on journalists to provide the facts so that I could make an informed decision, but as I continued reading Poisoning the Press, I realized that investigative reporter Jack Anderson eventually led the way for compromise in a field that has gotten off track, which is making it impossible to know just who to believe, even though the Preamble to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics states:
The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility.
Back in the day, this code seemed to be adhered to by most reputable journalists and caused problems for politicians and corporations who had shady dealings. Feldstein makes this point in his prologue:
In turn, the President's fierce campaign against Anderson proved to be the forerunner of the modern White House political attack machine. Not only did Nixon set the combative tone that would resonate in the "war rooms" of future election campaigns and administrations, he also helped launch the careers of many powerful personalities--Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Patrick Buchanan, Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, Lucianne Goldberg--who would achieve notoriety for their own abilities to manipulate the media on behalf of Nixon's presidential successors. (pg. 6)
As I kept reading this disturbing book, I couldn't help but think of what is happening with WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange and agreed with a quote attributed to Anderson:
"If this nation were ever to decide that the government should have the power to silence the press in the name of national security, we will have defeated the very purpose of national security."
The thing is, in this era we often can't trust the press, since many of those running the news are indebted to their self-interests. In turn, because it's difficult to trust anyone, where rumor becomes fact without proof, or actual need-to-know stories get swept under the rug, I realize that I'm paying little mind to the news these days. It's certainly not from apathy, but frustration. Quite likely, I'll end up doing what my father did and discover much of the truth in hindsight--after it's too late to do anything about it. But, I suppose, that is what they're counting on and democracy becomes a thing of the past.
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