How the Washington Post, not Nixon, covered up Watergate

News & Politics

As the 50th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s unprecedented resignation approaches, Americans would do well to re-examine the Watergate scandal before the Washington Post’sjournalistic fraud becomes inalterably ossified as historical fact.

Watergate involved a massive cover-up, to be sure, but it was a campaign of concealment by Washington’s paper of record, not by the Nixon administration, the true victim of Watergate.

So, who did order the break-in of DNC headquarters, and why? The Washington Post has long known but refused to report the truth.

We should recall that what had originally appeared in the aftermath of the arrests to have been a “rogue” burglary caper, bungled by bit players, eventually morphed, per sensational Post reporting, into a deliberately planned campaign scheme to influence an election through abuse of presidential power.

This transformation was achieved by seemingly credible accusations that the campaign’s chairman and longtime close advisor to Nixon, former Attorney General John Mitchell, had himself ordered the burglary. His involvement, triumphantly touted by the Post, confirmed earlier reporting, inspired by Deep Throat, that the break-in was but part of an overall “campaign of spying and sabotage” directed by the White House. Since the burglars were clearly connected to the campaign at least in the person of its “unguided missile” supervisor, lawyer G. Gordon Liddy, the putative involvement of his steely boss, Mitchell, became the operation’s key link to the White House and the president himself.

If, on the other hand, Mitchell was innocent and Liddy had taken his direction from elsewhere, the narrative of the entire scandal would have changed.

After all, the six other arrested defendants all had ties to the CIA and had worked together on the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. From a campaign standpoint, the Democratic National Committee would have been of no intelligence value prior to the Democratic convention in Miami later that summer.

In short, Mitchell’s involvement was always required to connect the event to Nixon. If not for Mitchell, smart observers would look elsewhere for the break-in’s criminal progenitors.

It is unsurprising that for more than 50 years the Post has done its best to ensure that society does not learn the truth about Mitchell’s innocence. It therefore should be of earthshaking significance that it has been recently recognized that John Mitchell did not order the break-in, as the paper had confidently reported for years and as testified to, questionably, by his deputy, Jeb Magruder.

Investigative reporter James Rosen in 2008 published “The Strong Man,” which convincingly argued that Mitchell was falsely accused. The Poststudiously ignored this well-supported conclusion. But, seemingly realizing its credibility was threatened, it recently tried a new tack. The paper coordinated with Gerard Groff on his 2023 book “Watergate: A New History.” The book came to the same conclusion as did Rosen, which was happily seconded, oddly it seemed, by Leonard Downie, the Washington Post’s retired executive editor emeritus, in a review published simultaneously with the book.

While the recognition of Mitchell’s innocence was long overdue, a curious byproduct of this collaboration was the pronouncement by Groff, praised by Downie, that it is useless at this point to try to assess who, if not Mitchell, actually ordered the burglary and why. After all, both parties say, it has been such a long time, and witnesses are dead! If deceased actors and witnesses prevented the writing of history, then it is inconsistent that there are still thousands of books being published about past wars, presidents, kings and crimes. But both Groff and Downie urge that the case stay closed.

But why would the Post, Downie’s principal, be so eager to leave the truth buried about the provenance of the burglary? Doesn’t this now present a gaping hole in the conventional Watergate story?

The celebrated work of Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein distorted the insights of a key source.

Simply put, an investigative exercise would uncover deeply fraudulent reporting by this Pulitzer Prize-winning paper. A devil’s bargain appeared to have been made: The Post would publicize and praise Groff’s effort while the author would urge that sleeping dogs lie as to the import of Mitchell’s non-involvement, a boon to the paper.

In fact, plenty of explanatory evidence was unearthed following Watergate that we now know had been there all along for the taking. But none of it ever managed to overcome the Post’s received version. “Secret Agenda,” former Atlantic Monthly Washington editor Jim Hougan’s 1984 masterpiece, brilliantly documented the CIA’s role in infiltrating Nixon’s White House and campaign, leading to the burglary for the agency’s own purposes. This was followed in 1991 by the uneven but nonetheless scintillating “Silent Coup” by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, who pointed to the wiretapping of a CIA-protected bordello to whom out-of-town DNC visitors made phone calls to arrange assignations.

Both books misunderstood Deep Throat and his motives for cooperating with Bob Woodward. What Colodny and Gettlin added to Hougan was strong circumstantial evidence of John Dean’s interest in the bordello. We can see, in short, that the Watergate burglaries were not about the campaign at all, even if campaign money funded them. If so, the question arises: What did the Postknow, and when did it know it?

In 2019, my book “Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism,” built upon “Secret Agenda” and “Silent Coup” while explaining Deep Throat and exposing the Post’s partisan misdirection in its reporting. Together with Hougan, Colodny, Gettlin, and Rosen, “Postgate”completes the story while fighting its active suppression by the Post of its journalistic fraud.

The Post was on site the morning of the burglary arrests. It quickly learned that the focus of the burglars was a secretarial desk in the portion of the DNC offices occupied by the Association of Democratic Chairmen, an affiliated group not part of the DNC that owned its own phone system. One burglar, “retired” CIA agent James McCord, admitted to a Metropolitan Police friend that morning that this caper had been a blown CIA operation. The eavesdropping monitor for prior weeks had been listening to “explicitly intimate” conversations between men and women. And supervisor Howard Hunt’s part-time employer, Mullen and Company, was a CIA front that provided cover to CIA agents worldwide.

The celebrated work of Postreporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein distorted the insights of a key source, the FBI’s head of the investigation Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat. Felt had been stymied in seeking a grand jury investigation into the “dirty tricks” campaign of young Nixon aide Donald Segretti, hypothesizing that the burglary was part of it and therefore directed by the White House.

After a lengthy garage meeting with Deep Throat, Woodward reported falsely that “The FBI has established” that the burglary was part of a campaign of “spying and sabotage” directed from the White House. Establishing a fact, as Felt knew and Woodward should have, was not the same as hypothesizing the fact.

While Woodward hyped the dirty tricks story as pointing to the White House, he later ignored in his reporting a dramatic meeting with Deep Throat, during which this solid source told the reporter that the CIA was threatening lives to keep hidden its role in the burglary and many other covert operations. While Woodward included this sensational meeting for effect in his book and movie, obscuring its meaning, he did not report at the time on the obvious implication of CIA sponsorship.

Once Mitchell’s dishonest aide Jeb Magruder pointed the finger at his boss to get a lenient deal, the Post’sfraud was covered up along with the burglary’s true purpose.

So who did order Magruder to send the burglars into DNC headquarters, and why? The Posthas long known but refused to report the truth.

With the true story remaining hidden, there will be much smugness among Postacolytes as the 50th anniversary of Nixon’s demise is soon “celebrated” among abundant comparisons to Donald Trump. There are some great analogies to be drawn between Nixon and Trump. But for those who understand the concealed truths of Watergate, the comparisons should be of the sickening journalistic deceit toward each sadly emblematic of today’s corrupt partisan media.

John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of “Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism and “The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened” (Post Hill Press).

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