I had to do it. It’s been decades since I’d seen the movie the first time. I’ve seen it several times since. When the book it was based on came out, I started reading it as fast as I could get my hands on it.
The news the last couple of years has been getting me down. I have to take little breaks of a day, maybe two, sometimes three from the New York Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Democracy Now!, CNN, the BBC, NPR, social media, and all the rest of the bearers of the info that this holy land’s president is…, well, what he is — a grifting, unprepared, incurious, insulting, thin-skinned, anti-intellectual, philosophically barren greed monkey. Who, BTW, is pushing us as close as he humanly can to becoming a corporate monarchy, he and his coat-holders and lick-spittlers in the House, the Senate, and two-thirds of the statehouses of this nation. They’re all culpable but the current President of the United States is their standard-bearer.
The president’s very name makes me want to retch.
So Sunday night I watched the movie version of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s 1974 bestseller recounting their part in the then-dynamic and vigorous news media’s investigation into the hundreds — even thousands — of small and large criminal capers we now bunch together under the rubric, Watergate.
There was a “cancer growing on the presidency,” White House Counsel John Dean told the conspirator-in-chief, and he was right. And, as in many cancers, the patient (we, us) really didn’t know about the spreading tumor until it was almost too late. But countless journalists and activists dug and poked and prodded and uncovered until the malignancy was revealed and excised. Bernstein and Woodward only happened to be the most celebrated of the politic-oncologists so they got the big book deal and then the 1976 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford playing them.
I had to watch it because I needed a happy ending.
Reporters all over the country slogged through interviews, reports, documents, testimonies, and any and every other conceivable type of journalistic resource, working late into the night, banging on doors, sticking microphones under officials’ noses, filling up their notebooks, getting swollen ears from spending hours and days on the telephone, in short, trying to get at the truth.
And, don’t kid yourself, the American people, by and large, had little interest at first in hearing the truth. Remember, Richard M. Nixon was reelected five months after the initial Watergate break-in by one of the greatest landslides in American history. A newspaper clipping exists somewhere in my files (I’m too lazy to dig it up at this moment) with the headline exclaiming a significant majority of American voters believed Nixon was “more trustworthy” — that’s the term used — than his 1972 opponent, George McGovern. Nixon, of course, was long known by the sobriquet “Tricky Dick” while McGovern had long been perceived as a wholly honest, if ultimately hapless, kind of a guy. Nevertheless, Americans trusted Nixon, for some ungodly reason, more than the South Dakota senator.
But thanks to all those reporters, the electorate and even Nixon’s own fellow Republicans came to demand that he get the hell out of the White House. It was a time when people, to a certain extent, listened to reason, when they could be swayed by cogent argument, when they could change their minds when confronted with the facts.
That time was long ago. By the calendar, it’s only been 45 years since Nixon was forced out of office. It may as well have been 4500 years ago. Was the Egyptian pharaoh Nyuserre Ini accused of presiding over a lawless Fifth Dynasty in 2474 BCE? Would it have mattered to the common Egyptian, scraping out a living near the banks of the Nile? We late 20th Century Americans purportedly were Aware and Informed and we Participated. Yet in the summer of ’72 we sat back in our recliners, pointed the clicker at our new Zenith Chromacolor IIs, and vegged out on reruns of Marcus Welby, MD, thoroughly uninterested in the news that the Committee to Re-elect the President (dubbed the perfectly appropriate acronym CREEP) and high officials up to and including the president himself were engaging in illegal conspiracies, obstructing justice, using the FBI and CIA for political purposes, and all the rest of the sins, mortal and venial, of Watergate.
Would we — could we — get a significant majority of American’s today to demand Donald Trump vacate the Oval Office even if reporters produced incontrovertible evidence that he, to use his own imagery, stood in the middle of 5th Avenue and shot somebody?
Are Too! Am Not!
A note: My original intention was to use the above piece as preamble to making the point that nobody can be swayed by argument anymore in this nation and this phenomenon has extended even to the smaller potatoes contretemps that we engage in locally. The sad tale of Amanda Barge, for instance. The internet started heating up in reaction to Saturday’s Herald-Times headliner (paywall) about the county releasing a gazillion pages of documents regarding the affair and so I’d wanted to say even here people have dug in with their heels and no amount of evidence or attempts at persuasion can move a soul off their dime.
So, okay, I’ve said that. And, BTW, that’s all I’ll say about the Barge thing from now on. The spat has turned into a shitstorm and lots of folks are turning it into a mean little playground bullyfest. Both sides.
Well, I’m out of it. I said my piece when the story first broke. I needn’t say another word.