Monday, July 24, 2017
The power of a typewriter and unencumbered thought
Hollywood is great for designating heroes and villains. A common fault of Hollywood is to caricature these people, lest their (stupid) audience has a hard time delineating. Remember "Mr. Potter" of "It's a Wonderful Life?" A prime example. Also, that British army officer in "The Patriot." By the tine that officer got killed, my only thought was "why did we have to wait so long?"
"It's a Wonderful Life" would not be considered such a classic today - maybe not a classic at all - if it hadn't been in the public domain at a time when rapidly proliferating TV channels were looking for material to run.
"All the President's Men" with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman mesmerized me. Yeah, I ended up as a newspaper writer myself. I was amazed at the power a person could wield with a typewriter, a newspaper job and the freedom to think unencumbered about what was right and what was wrong.
Echoes from a previous time
Memories of Watergate come rushing back because of what we are seeing with the Trump administration today. Trump's supporters say the public really doesn't care about the Russia stuff. They say it's a narrow obsession of certain elements within the media. But deep into Watergate, polls showed the public didn't much care about that either. These polls make sense because in the day to day lives of ordinary people, such matters appear to have little impact. However, the powers that be in Washington D.C. need to be held to rules. Along with that, we absolutely need the free press in spite of how Trump rants about that: "fake news!"
Nixon and his people tried to quarantine the Washington Post as if Watergate was limited to the narrow interests of that paper. The Washington Post could have gotten cowed. Why didn't that happen? We think of the Washington Post as a paper with a national constituency, but its soul is invested in Washington D.C. or that "Beltway" as it's called. As such it feels called upon to keep the reputation of its immediate community sound and intact. It's in the interests of the Beltway for established rules to survive and be applied. So the Washington Post with "Woodward and Bernstein" was persistent.
Bad guys and good guys? In reality so much falls into a shade of gray. The key to Watergate and its accelerating revelations was the disgruntled FBI person, Mark Felt, who was doing nothing more than back-biting and revenge-seeking, the kind of motivations we are all familiar with. Felt funneled that information to those salivating reporters. The rest is history.
Nixon governed from the middle and did some arguably good things, like creating the EPA. I would fault him primarily for staying stuck in Viet Nam. It's an unforgivable sin. It was LBJ's war that was oh so stubborn to stomp out. The war headlines were endless as I grew up. We had a friend of the family from Brainerd who was killed by friendly fire in Viet Nam. I cannot rule out "fragging."
My first summer out of high school was the peak of Watergate revelations, creating that rolling snowball that culminated with Nixon's resignation in August of 1974.
A waltz inspired by Watergate
Should a new Watergate movie be made? I would say no because it's too painful to have to reflect on the sheer stupidity that was the mother's milk of the scandal. The late Walt Sarlette of Morris wrote a waltz for our Tempo Kings dance group - we called it "The Watergate Waltz." Del Sarlette and I had some fun beyond that. Del wrote "I Didn't Want To Do It" in parenthesis under the title - this was a takeoff on the old Harry James tune "You Made Me Love You." "I Didn't Want To Do It" was inserted under that title. I suggested that "fast 4" be noted as the rhythm which was ridiculous because it was a waltz. Del wrote "fast 4" with the additional words: "(possible parole after 2").
Del put down some credits, including "Arranged by G. Gordon Liddy." We had "Music by H.R. Haldeman" and "Lyrics by John Dean (deleted)." It was a fun-sounding waltz and had the sax players grab their clarinets for a part. It was fun thinking of all the wearisome machinations of Watergate while hearing this lively waltz. Kudos to the late Mr. Sarlette who ought to be viewed as an iconic figure from this community's history.
The focus now is on Russia. It was because of the Soviet Union and the Cold War that us schoolkids were pushed so bad when we were in school. We had to "beat the Russians." We suspected the Russian people really weren't that different from us. This was a message we took away from the movie "The Russians Are Coming." Remember that classic with Alan Arkin as a Russian? Del says this is one of the movies that could never be re-made. (I say the same thing about "The Dirty Dozen." Lee Marvin's role could never be reprised.)
So, I sat through two shows of "All the President's Men" at the twin cinema theaters next to Crossroads Shopping Center, St. Cloud, during the disco '70s. My own approach as a writer was probably shaped by all that. It's not a philosophy that works well in today's news media. Today's writers tend to defer to authority at the local level. It's knee-jerk and sometimes rather fallible. But at the macro level we still need the crusaders. How on earth are the Trump family issues going to turn out? Heaven only knows. The key as always will be the maintenance of the free press.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org