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Friday, October 24, 2014

Washington Post on 15th Street

One morning, this summer in Washington DC, instead of continuing straight from my hotel on M street to the 16th street intersection, in search of a place serving palatable breakfast, I turned left on to the 15th Street. A few meters into the street 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 my phone from pocket and took a picture of that yellowish building with frame centered on the signboard. If it were not for that signpost, the building would be one of many inconspicuous structures lining both sides of that street. Without a second thought 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 I started reliving those days of the early to mid 1970s. I would be ecstatic to had been in front of the Washington Post building is 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 that a year earlier, Jeff Bezos, a modern day mogul, 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 brought crumbling down the Presidency of Richard Milhous Nixon. Reckon 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 lost revenue for his employers, the television shows in which he tore into the evil of Joe McCarthy wouldn’t attract advertisers, is not likely to happen again. McCarthy had wrecked too many lives through a relentless fear instillation, repeated over and over to create disasters of abominable magnitudes and tragic consequences. Those espousing fear through well orchestrated and premeditated tactics, made to appear as exhilarating societal progression, have come to acquire an unflinching grip on all forms of media through ownerships and intimidations. In total reversal of epistle, fear has been institutionalized and fear mongering attained status of a much sort after vocation. Without that 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 nations. Even though there are more souls with influenza viruses mingling crowds in almost in all parts of the world.

If one were to recount the era in which Nixon was forced to resign from the office and any scandal thereafter would acquire perfunctory  -gate suffix has much to do with hard and down to the earth journalism practiced in hard to imagine days 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 the term Watergate scandal. That story itself has been told so many times by the reporters themselves and others; even translated into a movie. 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 remained steadfast in his belief in them and truth. Even when 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 that was nicknamed “Deep Throat”. That source revealed itself in 2005 and he was Mark Felt, a lifelong Republican disenchanted with Nixon, was during that period deputy director of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Washington Post, Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee, Woodstein, Deep Throat all became part of Watergate folk-lore and an undiminished longing for return to that era that persists. 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 comes to 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 to imaginations. And other informants that included prosecutors and even jurors would have been as much consequential and unraveling of the Nixon criminal enterprise was more multifarious than it had been believed to be. That under no manner diminishes what Woodstein achieved under Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham. That becomes difficult to fathom when one ruminates the criminal complicity of the media in the fraud perpetrated by George W. Bush in the form of attack on Iraq.   

I did go back to the Washington Post building next day, only to be told that there were no public tours.

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