41 years ago today, the Watergate break-in took place, which led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. Carl Bernstein, one of the journalists that broke the story, was in Dalkey last night to speak about how it changed America.
TODAY IS THE 41st anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate hotel in Washington.
Last night, the legendary journalist Carl Bernstein, who broke the story with his colleague Bob Woodward, was in Dalkey for the final event of the Dalkey Book Festival. St Patrick’s Church was packed to the rafters with fans who had come to hear the 69-year-old in conversation with David McWilliams.
Bernstein and his colleague Bob Woodward were only junior staffers when they investigated the Watergate scandal story for The Washington Post, which led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Speaking last night, the investigative journalist gave his opinion on a number of issues, from the role of investigative journalism to the Obama presidency.
When asked did he know whether the Watergate story was going to be as big as it was, Bernstein said he did not, but as more information came to light he said he remembered getting a coffee with Woodward at the vending machine just off the newsroom and turning to him and saying:
Oh my God, this president is going to be impeached.
He added that people often asked weren’t they afraid. “Yeah, we were afraid we were going to make a mistake,” he said.
“We are now in the digital age of journalism,” said Bernstein. He was critical about journalists relying on social media for sources and stories, while stating they can be great tools, he said “real reporting is about going to the people, knocking on doors, searching for documentation…”
He was critical of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, stating that “throwing documents” into the newspapers “without giving it context” is not journalism. He criticised how Assange’s actions put many lives ‘at risk’, adding “we have a responsibility as journalists”.
Woodward and Bernstein’s infamous source on the Watergate story, Deep Throat, was protected by them for many years. His identity as the former Federal Bureau of Investigation Associate Director Mark Felt was only revealed in 2005. Bernstein said:
We were smart enough not to even tell either of our now ex wives who Deep Throat was – we kept that secret for over 30 years.
When asked did he think something like Watergate could happen again, Bernstein said: “I would be amazed if a president was willing to conduct a criminal presidency again.”
Speaking about American politics, Bernstein said that the current US President Barack Obama has had many failings over his term in office, stating that he seems to be a reactionary president, acting very late when it comes to situations like Syria.
“It takes Clinton calling him a wuss [for him] to then outline his policy,” he said, adding “he is a very reactive president instead of leading first”.
Bernstein is also an expert on Hillary Clinton, having written her biography in 2007. When asked did he think she will run for the presidency, he said: “She should run for the presidency, if she is healthy”.
However, he added: “She hasn’t had a day off since 1990.”
Read: What was Watergate? Here are 14 facts that explain everything>
Read: After 40 years, the ‘what ifs’ of Watergate scandal are still tantalising>
Of all the charges against Bradley Manning, the most pernicious — and revealing — is “aiding the enemy.”
A blogger at The New Yorker, Amy Davidson, raised a pair of big questions that now loom over the courtroom at Fort Meade and over the entire country:
“In that case, who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”
When the deceptive operation of the warfare state can’t stand the light of day, truth-tellers are a constant hazard. And culpability must stay turned on its head.
That’s why accountability was upside-down when the U.S. Army prosecutor laid out the government’s case against Bradley Manning in an opening statement: “This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy — material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.”
If so, those fellow soldiers have all been notably lucky; the Pentagon has admitted that none died as a result of Manning’s leaks in 2010. But many of his fellow soldiers lost their limbs or their lives in U.S. warfare made possible by the kind of lies that the U.S. government is now prosecuting Bradley Manning for exposing.
In the real world, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, prosecution for leaks is extremely slanted. ” Let’s apply the government’s theory in the Manning case to one of the most revered journalists in Washington: Bob Woodward, who has become one of America’s richest reporters, if not the richest, by obtaining and publishing classified information far more sensitive than anything WikiLeaks has ever published,” Greenwald wrote in January.
He noted that “one of Woodward’s most enthusiastic readers was Osama bin Laden,” as a 2011 video from al-Qaeda made clear. And Greenwald added that “the same Bob Woodward book [Obama’s Wars] that Osama bin Laden obviously read and urged everyone else to read disclosed numerous vital national security secrets far more sensitive than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking. Doesn’t that necessarily mean that top-level government officials who served as Woodward’s sources, and the author himself, aided and abetted al-Qaida?”
But the prosecution of Manning is about carefully limiting the information that reaches the governed. Officials who run U.S. foreign policy choose exactly what classified info to dole out to the public. They leak like self-serving sieves to mainline journalists such as Woodward, who has divulged plenty of “Top Secret” information — a category of classification higher than anything Bradley Manning is accused of leaking.
While pick-and-choose secrecy is serving Washington’s top war-makers, the treatment of U.S. citizens is akin to the classic description of how to propagate mushrooms: keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.
In effect, for top managers of the warfare state, “the enemy” is democracy.
Let’s pursue the inquiry put forward by columnist Amy Davidson early this year. If it is aiding the enemy “to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government,” then in reality “who is aiding the enemy — the whistleblower or the perpetrators themselves?”
Candid answers to such questions are not only inadmissible in the military courtroom where Bradley Manning is on trial. Candor is also excluded from the national venues where the warfare state preens itself as virtue’s paragon.
Yet ongoing actions of the U.S. government have hugely boosted the propaganda impact and recruiting momentum of forces that Washington publicly describes as “the enemy.” Policies under the Bush and Obama administrations — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond, with hovering drones, missile strikes and night raids, at prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo and secret rendition torture sites — have “aided the enemy” on a scale so enormous that it makes the alleged (and fictitious) aid to named enemies from Manning’s leaks infinitesimal in comparison.
Blaming the humanist PFC messenger for “aiding the enemy” is an exercise in self-exculpation by an administration that cannot face up to its own vast war crimes.
While prosecuting Bradley Manning, the prosecution may name al-Qaeda, indigenous Iraqi forces, the Taliban or whoever. But the unnamed “enemy” — the real adversary that the Pentagon and the Obama White House are so eager to quash — is the incessant striving for democracy that requires informed consent of the governed.
The forces that top U.S. officials routinely denounce as “the enemy” will never threaten the power of the USA‘s dominant corporate-military elites. But the unnamed “enemy” aided by Bradley Manning’s courageous actions — the people at the grassroots who can bring democracy to life beyond rhetoric — are a real potential threat to that power.
Accusations of aid and comfort to the enemy were profuse after Martin Luther King Jr. moved forward to expose the Johnson administration’s deceptions and the U.S. military’s atrocities. Most profoundly, with his courageous stand against the war in Vietnam, King earned his Nobel Peace Prize during the years after he won it in 1964.
Bradley Manning may never win the Nobel Peace Prize, but he surely deserves it. Close to 60,000 people have already signed a petition urging the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the prize to Manning. To become a signer, click here.
Also, you can preview a kindred project on the “I Am Bradley Manning” site, where a just-released short video — the first stage of a longer film due out soon — features Daniel Ellsberg, Oliver Stone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Phil Donahue, Alice Walker, Peter Sarsgaard, Wallace Shawn, Russell Brand, Moby, Tom Morello, Michael Ratner, Molly Crabapple, Davey D, Tim DeChristopher, Josh Stieber, Lt. Dan Choi, Hakim Green, Matt Taibbi, Chris Hedges, Allan Nairn, Leslie Cagan, Ahdaf Soueif and Jeff Madrick.
From many walks of life, our messages will become louder and clearer as Bradley Manning’s trial continues. He is guilty of “aiding the enemy” only if the enemy is democracy.
In media mythology, the years from the mid-1960s to the mid-’70s were the classical age, a heroic time of moral clarity.
Mainstream journalism marinated in adversarialism. Little Southern newspapers infuriated their own readers by staring down segregation. Foreign correspondents forced upon an unwilling public the realities of a brutal war. Network news ignored official disdain and showed the bottomless suffering the war inflicted on the innocents it was supposed to save. With the Pentagon Papers, newspapers defied secrecy rules to expose government lies. With Watergate, reporters forced out a corrupt president.
True, that retelling is a bit of myth-spinning; the media never were quite that gutsy. But myths illuminate. They remind us of values and aspirations. What we’d like to think was true then reflects what we hope might still be true now.
And over the past decade or so, it’s as if that classical formula of defiance and struggle has been turned upside down. Instead of halting war, the news media helped lead the charge into battle, stoking jingoism and spreading half-truths. Instead of unmasking civilian suffering, the media have kept the thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan war dead off-screen, pandering to the idea that the only victims worth compassion wear U.S. uniforms.
Even Watergate is upended, with Bob Woodward, one of the two Washington Post reporters who exposed the scandal, now the target of scathing revisionism because of a trivial dustup with a thin-skinned White House.
And looming above those breathtaking role reversals is the media’s disgraceful abandonment of the boldest news source of his generation, Pvt. Bradley Manning, a soldier who in 2010 defied secrecy restrictions to feed the most influential media in the world with leaks they gratefully published, which exposed corruption and duplicity, identified torturers, energized the Arab spring, and embarrassed officialdom worldwide.
The ferocity of the Obama administration’s attack on Manning and on Wikileaks, the online anti-secrecy organization that brokered his leaks to the media, has been withering. Manning spent the better part of a year in solitary confinement, undergoing maltreatment plainly intended to get him to finger Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as not just a conduit, but a co-conspirator.
Manning, now 25, is before a court martial in Maryland. After 1,000 days behind bars, he recently pleaded guilty to charges that could leave him there for another 20 years.
So the trial could end now, with Manning facing two decades in prison. Instead, the government is pushing ahead with a charge of “aiding the enemy,” technically punishable by death, likely to bring him life without parole.
According to Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor who’s assisting his defense, this is the first time in 150 years that anybody has been charged with aiding the enemy for leaking information to the press for general publication. Benkler says that makes secrecy breaches — an indispensable routine of journalism in the national security realm — a capital offense, if they annoy the wrong people.
The government hasn’t said what harm, if any, Manning’s leaks did to this country. The military court has indicated it doesn’t care.
Manning’s own explanation of what motivated him to leak the thousands of dispatches and cables is what you’d expect from an idealistic, thinly educated young man, at the time barely into his 20s:
“The more I read, the more I was fascinated with the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations. I also began to think the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world . . . The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public.”
The world’s most powerful news media agreed, and turned Manning’s leaks into riveting stories. (Just this month The Guardian and the BBC broke a sensational 15-month story about sectarian death squads in Iraq; it was prompted by reports he provided in which shocked U.S. soldiers described seeing Iraqi detainees who’d been tortured by their countrymen.)
But still, the media leave Manning to face his accusers in a tribunal that is barely public, and by and large the media that were his beneficiaries can’t be bothered to staff the trial that will determine his fate.
He was a great source. His information was solid. The world’s best news organizations believed it was of immense public value. So now he goes to jail, perhaps for life, and the media stand in silence?
The columnist who looks back from 40 years hence will have to squint hard to find reason to be inspired by the courage of today’s media the way we still are by the media of that long-ago classical age.