Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Watergate revisited

I was born in Washington D.C. in 1954 and lived there until I went away to college in 1972 and my folks retired to Cape Cod a year later. I was just a few years too young to be of the Vietnam generation. If any one national event characterized my coming of age, it wasn't the war -- it was Watergate.

I grew up in a family of federal employees. My father was an official in the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration. An agency of the visionary Kennedy-Johnson era, N.A.S.A. was considered a costly frippery by the Nixon White House, a group never known for setting its sights high. My mother was a systems analyst with the National Bureau of Standards, and she saw her star rise when she was assigned to the Nixon White House to work on system to track the administration's controversial wage-price freeze. When her team received a commendation from vice president Spiro Agnew, my (increasingly left-wing) father was appalled. At about this time his brother, a senior official with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, retired and devoted himself to volunteer work with a number of liberal organizations, including Common Cause.

When Watergate (the scandal was named after the upscale Watergate office complex where the initial illegal break-in masterminded by the Nixon gang took place) unfolded right in the pages of our local newspaper, my father and my uncle were avid followers of the story. I always imagined that Watergate source the Washington Post had nicknamed "Deep Throat" was someone much like my uncle -- a bright man who had grown cynical about government and who decided to have his fun by using what he knew to orchestrate the downfall of Nixon and his gang of thugs. I wondered if my dad or my uncle knew him.

When W. Mark Felt, a former top official at the FBI, revealed today that he'd been Deep Throat, I was delighted. Now 91, Felt was exactly of my father and uncle's generation. A handsome, slim man, he even looked like them. His witty, understated way of speaking reminded me of them, as well.

Too bad they didn't live to see Deep Throat's identity revealed. Felt's motives were his own but, where they intersected with those of Woodward and Bernstein, they made history, elevating journalism and exposing corruption at the highest level of government. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way (decreasing scrutiny of the government, and revelations of corruption in journalism) but it's heartening to be reminded of the heady days of Watergate.

This 1992 article from The Atlantic sets Felt's story in context.

No comments:

Post a Comment