Friday, June 15, 2012

The Post Won't Plug This Leak

Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon library, recently suggested that the Reagan library whitewashed the Iran-contra affair in the same way Pravda (the now-defunct USSR Communist Party newspaper) would have when covering some Soviet official's scandal.

In its coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, the Washington Post appears to be doing some airbrushing of its own. Today reporter Marc Fisher filed a long survey of the ways the Watergate narrative has changed or been challenged over the years. Bizarrely, he couldn't find room for a word about Max Holland's wide-praised Leak.

Holland argues persuasively that the Post's most famous source, Mark Felt, wanted to be FBI director and leaked investigators' secrets to the Post to undermine the acting director, Pat Gray. Every reporter's judgment is different. But Watergate was serious stuff, and a book that will have to be taken into account by all scholars of the scandal and era unquestionably deserved at least a paragraph in Fisher's article, which contained five about the movie "Dick."

Let's be clear. Holland doesn't absolve Nixon or his men of any of their crimes or errors. Much as Nixon's advocates may sometimes have hoped otherwise, criticizing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's reporting won't change much if anything about Watergate. As Holland and others have shown, by and large they were just reporting what the FBI was learning.

But Holland has added vital dimension and subtlety to the story of the greatest political scandal in modern U.S. history. Without especially helping Nixon, he shows that a reporter's source -- no hero; just another cynical operator with wingtips of clay -- had tried to use ambitious, sometimes credulous journalists to get even and get ahead. It's a quintessential Washington story -- but not in the Washington Post. Not this week.

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