By Christopher B. Daly
The Boston Globe’s estimable, veteran political reporter Brian Mooney has a front-page story addressing the question: what has happened to the “Watergate reforms” in the 40 years since the Watergate break-in that began the fall of Republican President Richard Nixon.
Turns out, one of the great post-Watergate reforms — the public financing of elections — is all but dead.
Not only that, but the larger trend of political changes in recent years mark a move away from the lessons learned in Watergate.
One lesson was that power corrupts. Therefore, the power that comes from making big donations to a politician was limited by the caps placed on individual giving. The Supreme Court, however, decided to get rich people back into the business of financing elections, through the Citizens United ruling.
Another lesson was that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Therefore, Congress required all candidates for federal office to account publicly for every dollar raised and every dollar spent. Not so for the new Super-PACs.
Another lesson was that money corrupts. Therefore, Congress almost got up the courage to ban all private donations and institute a system of 100% publicly funded elections. But they blinked and created a hybrid by which politicians had to opt in or out. When the amounts available through public financing failed to keep pace with the amounts candidates could get through private fund-raising, almost every serious mainstream candidate rejected public financing and started holding fund-raisers with wealthy donors.
It appears that the past is prologue.
graphic/ Boston Globe
By Chris Daly
Disclaimer: I have not read the new biography of Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman, called Yours in Truth. I am merely passing on a review, by Jack Shafer.
Shafer, who is hardly a sentimentalist, makes an important point midway through the review about the Woodward&Bernstein’s book All The President’s Men, which is their version of their Watergate reporting.
Here is the take-away from Shafer’s recent piece for Reuters:
Say what you will about Woodward and his reportorial techniques—and many journalists and scholars have weighed in—All the President’s Men has withstood rigorous scrutiny over the past four decades. Entire books have been dedicated to its examination. While its treatment of Watergate is not complete or perfect, the book is a powerful document of the investigation.
One of the more appealing aspects of All the President’s Men is the authors’ willingness to portray themselves in a less-than-flattering light. Bernstein is shown trampling ethics and possibly breaking the law by asking an employee at a credit card company, and another at a telephone company, to lift records. Woodward repeatedly expands his agreement with Deep Throat, phoning him after promising to stay away from the phone and quoting him anonymously in the paper after vowing never to do so. And by quoting Deep Throat at length, All the President’s Men violates the sourcing arrangement completely.
It needs to be said: after more than three decades, no jealous journalist (or bitter conservative) has poked any serious holes in ATPM or done anything like a knock-down. The story stands.