One morning, this summer in Washington DC, instead of walking from my hotel on M Street straight to the 16th street intersection in search of a place to eat breakfast, I turned left on to the 15th Street. A few meters ahead, I noticed a building on the opposite side with a "Washington Post" signboard. Although I pretended nonchalance but reverberating memories from the past slowed me down. I took out the cellphone from my pocket and clicked a picture of the yellowish building; the frame centering on the signboard.
Had the signpost not been there, the building would have been one of many inconspicuous structures lining both sides of the street. Without a second thought and with an uncharacteristic phlegmatic demeanor, I continued straight to go through my day in the town. It was only in the evening, during the playback of my ramblings of the day, that I started reliving those days of the early to mid-1970s. I would be ecstatic to see myself in front of the Washington Post building in some distant past that still had an idyllic tone and when world would not seem to be straddling an abyss even on dark days. I had sobered enough to know and understand that a year earlier, Jeff Bezos, a modern day mogul and the owner of the Amazon enterprise, had bought Washington Post for a pittance of 250 million dollars from the Graham family. That would be the newspaper where once a fable was created; the dogged investigation by the journalists operating from that very building had crumbled the Presidency of Richard Milhous Nixon. Compare that to the surreal world of our times where Facebook is worth 200 billion dollars and dropout entrepreneurs create companies to be sold for billions, traipsing the gullible generation into awe.
The era when Ed Murrow volunteered to cover the revenue his employers lost in the television shows, where he tore into the evil of Joe McCarthy and scared advertisers, is unlikely to repeat. McCarthy had wrecked too many lives through a relentless fear instillation, repeated over and over, to create disasters of abominable magnitudes and tragic consequences. Today, those espousing fear, through well-orchestrated and premeditated tactics passed off as exhilarating societal progression, have come to acquire an unflinching grip on all forms of media through ownerships and intimidations.
In a total reversal of epistle, fear has been institutionalized and fear mongering has attained status of a much sort after vocation. Without fear, it would be hard to demystify gainful employment of so many that call themselves anchors, hosts and even journalists. Otherwise, a bunch of imbecile terrorists' acquisition of three old airplanes would not have network anchors grasping for their breaths or cases of sporadic Ebola patients have them clamoring for quarantining of poor African people, even though there are more people with influenza viruses mingling with crowds in almost in all parts of the world.
If one were to recount the era in which Nixon was forced to resign from office and any scandal thereafter would acquire the perfunctory '-gate' as a suffix, has much to do with the hard and down-to-the-earth journalism practiced at the Washington Post and other newspapers. The perception that the Watergate began with a burglary by Nixon operatives at the Democratic headquarters located in a huge Washington building complex, named Watergate, is an over simplification of a labyrinthine enterprise operating from the Nixon White House.
Much before Watergate burglary happened, the Nixon operatives, through shadowy trailing of private lives of potential Democratic rivals, ensured nomination of a weak candidate in the form of George McGovern as a challenger to Richard Nixon in 1972 presidential elections. The then two unknown reporters from Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, stumbled on the muck behind that apparently petty theft that gave birth to the term Watergate Scandal. That story itself has been told so many times by the reporters themselves and others and even adopted by Hollywood.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, collectively called Woodstein, succeeded because Ben Bradlee, the then no nonsense executive editor at the Washington Post, pushed them to their limits while demanding facts. Bradlee remained steadfast in his belief in them and truth, even when others in the trade, in politics and elsewhere, harbored doubts about the entire story. Bradlee and his reporters were vindicated through their ultimate triumph. A huge part of reporting by the Washington Post reporters was based on information from an anonymous source cultivated by Woodward nicknamed "Deep Throat". That source revealed itself in 2005 and he was Mark Felt, a lifelong Republican disenchanted with Nixon, and the deputy director of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during that period. Washington Post, Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee, Woodstein, Deep Throat, all became part of Watergate folklore and an undiminished longing for return to that era.
As one of the universal truths together with permanence of elements is the fact that real stories have more hidden nuances and subtleties than in the narratives that are made to appear in the public domain. The recent discovery of notes from Watergate period discovered from the papers of the filmmaker who directed "All the Presidents Men" reveal that Bob Woodward had more sources available to him than just the "Deep Throat" who stuck in imaginations. That under no circumstance diminishes what Woodstein achieved under Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham. It becomes difficult to fathom when one ruminates over the criminal complicity of the media in the fraud perpetrated by George W Bush in the form of attack on Iraq.
Bradlee died on October 21. I did go back to the Washington Post building next day, only to be told that there were no public tours.