History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Watergate gave media damaging delusions

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford played heroes of their time: newspaper reporters!

Watergate didn't last that long in the scheme of things. One legacy is the word "gate" as a suffix. When we sense something is untoward on the national stage, we attach "gate."
It can be subjective as when climate change deniers say "climategate." The real alleged "climategate" has been debunked. We heard during the recent Rush Limbaugh controversy that the rotund source of sheep dip was keeping it alive. Heaven knows I don't actually listen to the show.
How would the conservative media, at least the behemoth type of conservative media we have today, have behaved during Watergate? Richard Nixon was arguably not a conservative.
Nixon pulled strings in the most cynical way imaginable, becoming a shadowy and seemingly dangerous figure looming over the unraveling Watergate mess. We all knew something untoward had happened. Peeling away the cover-up was a drawn-out and irritating procedure.
Much irritation was from the empowerment the news media increasingly felt. The old media were quite in their prime.
How was civilization possible without all the new media tools? We really did get by, you young folks. We deferred to newspapers. If we wanted a voice we might write a letter to the editor. It was up to the newspaper gods if it got published.
By the time Watergate was done, having been dragged out ad nauseum, the Fourth Estate was self-righteous indeed. Lest there be any doubt, we got a "major motion picture." I don't think Robert Redford really cared if newspapers were a beacon of whatever. He just knew a good story. Americans might have been weary of Watergate but there was movie drama to be mined from this.
We got "All the President's Men," inspired by the book written by the (purported) true beacons of truth and purity, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Woodward and Bernstein were journalistic practitioners in the manual typewriter days. We have forgotten how exclusive the writing craft was in those days. The average person considered typing a chore. It was considered a feminine skill. Many people never bothered learning keyboard skills.
I just happened to be interested in writing and typing. Thus I was allowed past that velvet rope into "journalism" for a long time, until that building earthquake of self-empowerment caused by the tech revolution made me realize my skills and interests were plain-jane. Poking around and wanting to do "interviews" for stories in the "press" made me feel rather like an odd intrusion. A throwback.
Woodward and Bernstein were in the right place at the right time. Such can be said of many figures in history. Watergate served them well just like the O.J. Simpson trial launched Greta Van Susteren into media prominence.
Bernstein was quoted a couple years ago saying "the system worked" in Watergate. I would like to argue the exact opposite. The fact that press people became anointed as heroes reflected dysfunction. I think the legal profession was aghast. Lawyers were essentially upstaged by "journalists" who don't even require a special education and degrees to do what they do.
Wrongdoing was committed. Such matters should be adjudicated in reliable channels of law and politics. It appears these channels by themselves would never have resolved Watergate.
In the wreckage of Watergate, I think the legal and political professions resolved "never again." Press people could do their thing but not be true movers and shakers.
This is all for the better because the press is so fallible and hit-and-miss.
It is a pretentious bit of bluster that the press exists to extinguish corruption and promote all that's good. Are press people more inherently good or virtuous? Lawyers would gag on that one. The legal field which pretty well seeps into politics wants to have its own checks and balances.
The law exists by definition to promote what's good, i.e. the Judeo-Christian set of ethics. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Woodward and Bernstein wrote in the Washington Post which was not your typical newspaper any more than Washington D.C. was your typical big city. Washington and its "Beltway" are a company town. It's the hub of government and its byzantine arms.
The Washington Post unleashed its reporters not because there was a direct commercial benefit for the Post, but to ensure the community at large could keep its credibility. It sure worked.
There wasn't as much genius behind what Woodward and Bernstein did as we may have thought at the time. The "sleuths" with their notepads were really just "stenographers," the term used by Pat Buchanan in a recent critique.
I'm not sure I'm really comfortable with how the name of Mark Felt came out. The man whose moniker was inspired by a porn movie ("Deep Throat") was a typical disgruntled insider, which all institutions have. He greased the wheels of Watergate, his identity only to be known decades later. Oh, the Nixon people had their suspicions about him, but it was felt that if they moved on him, he'd simply call a press conference and reveal everything he knew.
Woodward visited Felt many years later when Felt was definitely showing the kind of disintegration caused by old age. I felt all of that was unnecessary. I did check out the new book by Woodward from our Morris Public Library. Yes, Woodward was not above exploiting this.
The time had come for us to get to know "Deep Throat," I guess. What would Felt, an FBI man, have thought of this in his prime? Well, he didn't shy away from revealing in a highly surreptitious way his knowledge of things that would literally crush a presidency.
Again, the legal profession was gnashing its teeth. The lawyers (and by extension politicians) were being upstaged by newspaper writers. You could argue this perversion did nothing for newspapers in the broadest sense. This is exactly the argument made by contemporary media writer Paul Gillin.
Gillin created the Newspaper Death Watch website. He argues that Watergate is the worst thing to ever happen to newspapers because it made reporters feel like they should be celebrities. A lot of crazy things happened in the 1970s - see Comet Kohoutek - and I guess this was just one of them.
We are coming up on a Watergate anniversary. On June 17 it will have been 40 years since the mess first became public. We even have a new book about Watergate, a historical novel. I am very much a fan of the historical novel genre.
"Watergate: A Novel" is written by Thomas Mallon. George Will wrote a column helping introduce us to the work. Will writes that "the festering mess of 1972-74 becomes almost fun, actually funny, and instructive about how history can be knocked sideways by small mediocrities."
Indeed, many people danced across the national stage who didn't deserve to be there. Do we even know 40 years later who ordered the break-in and why? Do we know the extent of Nixon's real culpability? Can we be certain he was "sick" the way his sympathizers have pleaded?
Mallon believes that John Mitchell, the former attorney general who was running Nixon's re-election campaign, was distracted by family problems - OK it was his alcoholic wife Martha - and allowed things to become untidy.
Columnist Will informs us that the new book - could we get another movie? - is "a tale of floundering, frightened people unsure of what had happened or what others were telling investigators."
Or the press, I might add. The prominence of the press was a defining feature of Watergate. There were no blogs, no Facebook, no "tweets," no ipads etc.
The media were a distant and aloof entity that we consumed and feared, feared because we seemed at the mercy of their judgments. My, what a top-down system that was.
The recent transformation has been especially fascinating in that the new model is bottom-up - yes, the complete opposite - and upsets the applecart in a traumatic way for the old and now largely irrelevant practitioners.
George Will is a survivor because he does great work. Dan Rather is exhibit "A" of a casualty. One is reminded of the change from silent movies to "talkies" and about how some actors couldn't cut it. Same with radio entertainment getting transplanted to television.
The new meritocracy of journalism ensures that the very best work gets rewarded, not the individuals who partly through luck would get past that "velvet rope."
Would the media of today have simply shot down Watergate, nipping it in the bud essentially? The culture of today is so different, people wouldn't even be inclined to have the same temptations, I would suggest.
Watergate was an episode of fools. George Will tells us that author Mallon "uses his literary sensibility and mordant wit to give humanity to characters who in their confusions and delusions staggered across the national stage, utterly unqualified for the prominence they enjoyed until it devoured them."
All this was on the heels of the Viet Nam War debacle. Then we got inflation and "stagflation." And disco. What a time to be young and impressionable.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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