Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nixon's Fall As An Unintended Consequence

Jack Shafer on Max Holland's Leak, to be published March 6:

Holland makes the persuasive case that [Washington Post source Mark] Felt, who died in 2008, used the classic techniques of counterintelligence he learned as an FBI agent to destabilize his main bureaucratic opponent inside the FBI (Acting Director L. Patrick Gray) with his leaks to Woodward (and other journalists). The goal of his leaks was to nudge President Richard Nixon in the direction of appointing him FBI director instead of Gray.

Leak overturns once and for all the romantic, popular interpretation of the Watergate saga of one inside source risking it all to save democracy. “Nixon’s downfall was an entirely unanticipated result of Felt’s true and only aim,” Holland writes. Although Holland never disparages the enterprise of Woodward and Bernstein, acknowledging the impact their reports had on Judge John J. Sirica and the senators who formed an investigative committee, neither does he bow to them. “Contrary to the widely held perception that the Washington Post ‘uncovered’ Watergate, the newspaper essentially tracked the progress of the FBI’s investigation, with a time delay ranging from weeks to days, and published elements of the prosecutors’ case well in advance of the trial.”

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