Thursday, June 09, 2005

Imagine if Nixon were president in this era

Jonathan Alter shares his nightmare:

Those of us who hoped [Watergate] would end differently knew we were in trouble when former Nixon media adviser Roger Ailes banned the word "Watergate" from Fox News's coverage and went with the logo "Assault on the Presidency" instead. By that time, the American people figured both sides were just spinning, and a tie always goes to the incumbent.

The big reason Nixon didn't have to resign: the rise of Conservative Media, which features Fox, talk radio and a bunch of noisy partisans on the Internet and best-sellers list who almost never admit their side does anything wrong. (Liberals, bycontrast, are always eating their own.)


Just as in the Valerie Plame case, the Justice Department subpoenaed Woodward and Bernstein to testify before the grand jury about their sources. When they declined, they were jailed for 18 months on contempt charges. and a few other liberal bloggers complained that it was hypocritical—top White House aides were suspected of shredding documents, suborning perjury and paying hush money to burglars—but to no avail. Public support for the media had hit rock bottom.

Whistle-blowers didn't fare much better. With Woodward and Bernstein out of business, the No. 2 man at the FBI, W. Mark Felt, held a press conference to air complaints that the White House and his own boss were impeding the FBI probe. Of course it was only a one-day story, with Ann Coulter predictably screaming that Felt was a "traitor." Rush Limbaugh dubbed Felt "Special Agent Sour Grapes" because he'd been passed over for the top FBI job. Within hours, the media had moved on to the tale of a runaway bride. And because both houses of Congress are controlled by the GOP, there were no "Watergate" hearings to keep the probe going. John Dean and other disgruntled former aides had no place to go.

For a while, I hoped that the Nixon tapes might bring some justice. But soon the tapes just became more fodder for those legal shows on cable. The Supreme Court split 5-4, along largely partisan lines, as it did in Bush vs. Gore. That allowed Nixon to keep control of the tapes. When he burned them, the bipartisan outcry you would have heard in the old days over destruction of evidence was muffled by a ferocious counterattack from the GOP's legion of spinners. A group calling itself "Watergate Burglars for Truth" set up a 527 to argue that Bill Clinton and other Democratic presidents had ordered more black-bag jobs than Nixon. There was nothing to prove them wrong. Reports of a tape showing that Nixon directly ordered the cover-up were just rumors, not anything that could be posted on


After Ralph Reed disclosed that Nixon and Henry Kissinger had been on their knees praying in the Oval Office, Nixon went up 15 points in the Gallup, double among "people of faith." Our long national nightmare was just beginning.