40 years later, Watergate party honors Post investigation’s legacy

Monday night I attended Washington Post Live’s 40th anniversary celebration of Watergate, held in the Watergate office building on the 11th floor. For anyone with even a passing interest in the era, it was an opportunity to see a selection of its key players onstage as well as milling about the room — Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, John Dean, Egil “Bud” Krogh, Ben Bradlee, William Cohen, Fred Thompson. There were panel discussions. There was an open bar. And on the sixth floor, you could walk into the actual office burglarized on June 17, 1972, by people so inept their exploits are still reliable laugh lines four decades later. Herewith, an accounting of some of the evening’s highlights.

Bud Krogh stole the show. The former head of President Nixon’s secret “plumbers” squadron who approved the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office joked, “It’s a lot easier to get into this building with valet parking.” Krogh, the third person in the famous photos of Nixon meeting Elvis Presley, laid down a life lesson from that experience: Elvis wanted a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Nixon asked Krogh if he could get the King one, and Krogh, a huge Elvis fan, said he’d make it happen without thinking things through. You gotta watch out for the urge to please both Nixon and Elvis, he said.

Ben Bradlee is either a hero or a superhero. Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a minority counsel on the House of Representatives’ Watergate committee, called the scandal a drama and announced, “I think the hero of that drama is Benjamin C. Bradlee!” Jim Lehrer gave a valedictory speech about the former Washington Post editor, calling him a “superhero.” There was a video tribute to him:

Sally Quinn, a Post reporter and Bradlee’s wife, appeared on the conference’s many screens 14 times (by my count). It was a good night for us Quinn-watchers. And when William Cohen decried the culture of money in politics, one person I couldn’t see broke out in spontaneous applause. Was I deeply embedded among the target audience for Quinn’s recent column bemoaning the ascendance of money over old-fashioned clout?

A lot of people liked Woodward and Bernstein’s piece about Nixon for The Post this past weekend, including Bud Krogh and Charlie Rose, who both mentioned it.

There was a touch of the supernatural. At one point, while Woodward, Bernstein and Rose were discussing the identity of Deep Throat, the stage lights surged, dimmed then returned to normal. “Whoa, what was that?” exclaimed one of the conference tech guys I was sitting near. Freaky! (Related: When his microphone wasn’t working right, Woodward made a joke about G. Gordon Liddy.)

There was a substantive discussion of journalism. Woodward and Bernstein talked about their “serious error of attribution,” in an October 25, 1972, story that claimed a grand jury had heard testimony that Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman controlled a secret slush fund. The story was true, but the attribution was wrong, and Bradlee stood by them as they corrected it, they said. “We weren’t happy that we’d screwed up,” Woodward said. “But we were happy we didn’t get fired.”

When Rose asked how Watergate might play out today, Bernstein said he thought every word they wrote would be scraped for potential bias. Later, in a discussion of the Internet, Woodward again trotted out his “magic lantern” argument about the Internet, that young people think they could Google “secret fund” and find the answers. The Internet is great for databases and looking up stuff like phone numbers, Bernstein said. But “in terms of going out and getting the information, there’s no substitution,” he said, for shoe-leather reporting.

I’m certainly not gonna argue with these guys on that point, but I suspect they’re still operating with a conception of the Web as search-based rather than as a social tool that quickly lays bare the connections between people. I certainly use that functionality a lot when reporting, and I also appreciate how available many people you’re trying to reach are because they are shackled to their mobile devices.

I had two pretty excellent journo-nerd moments. 1) Walking behind Fred Thompson through the sixth-floor former headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, which had been turned into a pop-up gallery featuring Laurie Munn’s marvelous paintings of Watergate players. Thompson, very tall, has a Vandyke beard now. I was too chicken to take a photo. 2) Taking an elevator with Jim Lehrer. Ditto.

Related: “Watergate remembered four decades later at Washington Post party” (Daily Beast) | The Post’s photo gallery of the event | “At Post Watergate forum, scandal’s players tell their stories” (The Washington Post) | “Key players remember Watergate, at the Watergate” (ABC News)

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  • Anonymous

    I think Nixon did more than just go to China.  He ended the Vietnam War through Peace with Honour when most politicians just wanted out,  He initated SALT with the Soviet Union.  He passed the Federal Election Campaign Act, He introduced the new Federalism, the first Environmental Agency, desegregated schools in the south even though he was against bussing.  By doing all that he upset quite a few vested interests.
    He won his second term by 18 million votes, 60.7% of the votes, all the southern states and 49 out of 51 states in a single election and yet he resigned 2 years later. 
     
    For your info my book has to be fictional to avoid the legal mine-fields.

    Before you dismissed my thesis, why were the culprits arrested at the THIRD attempt at break in? Why did the dollar bills have consecutive serial numbers? and why was H.Hunt’s details in TWO of the arrested Cubans diaries? Why were these ex-CIA operative so amateurish?  Why did the evidence point in a certain direction. and since last week, why are circumstances of the watergate arrests classified and not in the Public Domain? Would Nixon have ordered a raid when he was already 26 points ahead.  He was not exacty a fool. What did the grand jury member tell the Watergate reporters? There is a 7 page memo of notes from that interview.

     I never supported Nixon, not even now.  I demonstrated against the incursions into Cambodia.  I even subscribe to the idea that the current financial crisis has its origins with Nixon’s dissociation of the dollar from gold.  (there just wasn’t enough gold in Fort Knox.  He created the first ever fait reserve currency! Altough I deplore the loss of some 45,000 US men and women, some 3 million Vietnamese died during the US War in Vietnam.  According to McNamara, a Democrat who became head of the World Bank, it costs only 50 cents to kill a Vietnamese.  Very cheap!

    All these anomalies have intrigued me for years.  I am perhaps foolhardy enough to question the premise and offer an alternative version of Watergate, which has become a national myth..

    I would encourage an open and enquiring mind, raather than a close mind accepting any old story.  It would be more constructive if you answered some of my questions.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rp509855 Rod Paul

    We really don’t care about your fictional deconstruction of the historical record. Those who lived through it and saw the evidence know Nixon was a self-serving slug. Doing one thing right doesn’t change that.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rp509855 Rod Paul

    We really don’t care about your fictional deconstruction of the historical record. Those who lived through it and saw the evidence know Nixon was a self-serving slug. Doing one thing right doesn’t change that.

  • Anonymous

    Poor Nixon
    was badly maligned by the press

    Nixon’s
    visit to China 40 years ago ‘changed the world’ and he has received universal acclaim
    for it.  Yet he was the first president
    to resign in office.

    Was
    Watergate any worse or out of character with the actions of Presidents before
    and after?

    The recent
    doubts, raised by J Himmelman’s biography of Ben Bradlee, the then Editor of
    the Washington Post, about the veracity of the book and film “All the President’s
    Men” are not the only problems.  We also
    know from last week’s report that much information pertaining to the Watergate
    arrests were kept from the public domain. 
    Why the secrecy?

    If we are to
    get at the truth we must have answers to the following questions:

    Why were the
    culprits arrested at the THIRD attempt to break into Watergate?

    Why did the
    $100 dollar bills have consecutive serial numbers?

    Why were
    Howard Hunt’s details in the address books of TWO of the four arrested Cubans?

    There was a
    coup attempt in China to prevent the rapprochement.  Could the same have happened in the US?

    What crucial
    information was leaked by the member of the grand jury to Carl Bernstein?

    What has
    Richard Dawkins’ memes got to do with Watergate? Once a meme that there was
    wrong doing at the Nixon White House had taken root, only the very foolhardy would
    dare to question its premise.

    Why would
    Nixon pass the FEC Act if he was such a bad egg?

    Why would
    Nixon order the Watergate raid when he was already 26 points ahead of Senator
    McGovern?

    Was
    Watergate a set-up?

    Is there
    another possibility that has never been investigated or suspected?

    Why was the
    press out to crucify him?

    The enormity
    of Nixon’s achievement indicates that it had to be a set-up by those who
    opposed his policy which had to be secret to succeed.

     

    Nixon’s
    sacrificial resignation was to preserve the Freedom of the Press and to prevent
    the country from splitting.  Read “The
    Six Crisis” to find out more about the man. 

     

    Read about
    all these in ‘Watergate – The Political Assassination’, ISBN 9780956911940.

    The
    eBook is available at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/132851 
    in many eBook formats.