4 out of 4 stars
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Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism is written by lawyer John O’Connor. It takes the accepted view of the Watergate scandal and shreds it. In the process, it rips apart the heroic status of the ‘Washington Post’ and its legendary reporters Woodward and Bernstein. Thought you knew the whole story about Watergate? Think again.
When news broke in June 1972 that five men had been arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee in Washington D.C., John O’Connor was a young lawyer starting his career in San Francisco. Like millions of others, he watched in fascination as the Watergate story unfolded over the next few years. The ‘Washington Post’ was central to this story. Its role in uncovering White House involvement in both the burglary itself and the subsequent cover-up led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. The Post was instrumental in fashioning what was to become the accepted narrative of Watergate, that the burglary was an attempt by some in the Nixon administration to get political intelligence on their Democratic rivals.
The Post’s star reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, became household names around the world, immortalized in the 1976 movie ‘All The President’s Men’ which featured Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. The movie was based on the book that Woodward and Bernstein themselves had published in 1974. Woodward was particularly prominent. He alone had access to the secret source who fed the duo much of their information and who brought a hint of undercover drama to their tale. He was the man who became known as ‘Deep Throat’. In this book, O’Connor argues that the ‘Washington Post’ and its reporters not only got the whole Watergate story wrong but that they did so knowingly for political reasons. In so doing, in O’Connor’s view, they buried the more shocking truth that Watergate was actually a bungled CIA operation.
O’Connor sets out the purpose of this book on page xv of his introduction: ‘I hope to set the Watergate/Deep Throat record straight through this book, but not to slay any victim, whether the ‘Washington Post’, Woodward, or Bernstein.’ Take that last bit with a pinch of salt. While the author’s tone throughout the book is analytical and dispassionate, there can be no concealing the fact that he goes after Bob Woodward and The Post. It’s no coincidence, surely, that he imitates the paper’s distinctive masthead font in his chapter headings, almost in mockery of the paper’s vaunted reputation for truth and integrity.
Much of this can be put down to a lawyer’s determination to put the record straight. There is also a personal element in it too, as O’Connor and The Post have history. O’Connor’s own role in the Watergate story includes acting as Mark Felt’s lawyer and being instrumental in persuading him to reveal himself as Deep Throat in 2005. Following on from that, the pair co-authored a book in 2006, a book O’Connor believes was deliberately sabotaged by The Post and its allies to stop the paper’s reputation from being tarnished by the publication of O’Connor’s version of the Watergate story.
Being something of a political nerd, there is nothing about this book that I disliked. That is not to say that it is an easy read. O’Connor lays out his arguments in meticulous detail. Every point he makes is rigorously sourced in footnotes. There is also a cast of characters and an index to help the reader pick a way through the claims and counterclaims, but it still requires concentration to keep hold of the various threads. It is good to note that the author is generous in acknowledging the debt he owes to other investigators, writers such as Jim Hougan and Len Colodny who were first to highlight that there could well be a different narrative to explain Watergate.
I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. It will appeal to students of modern history and political science. It should also interest anyone with a genuine interest in the US government and the actions of state agents such as the CIA. It contains no profanities or sexually explicit material and is exceptionally well-edited.
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