Second-guessing Deep Throat

Chuck Colson has become one of the elder statesmen of evangelical Protestantism since his conversion, his prison term for Watergate crimes and his long-term involvement with ministry among prisoners. Colson also has long shown a concern for Christian apologetics, whether through the books he’s written with various coauthors, his bimonthly column for Christianity Today, his BreakPoint radio commentaries or his other media appearances.

On Tuesday’s edition of NewsNight with Aaron Brown, Colson used the momentous news of Deep Throat’s newly revealed identity to make the case against ends-justify-the-means ethics, and the results were — how to put this? — cringe-inducing. This was not Colson as Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, but it was Colson with a blind spot for the important role that journalists play, sometimes through relying on anonymous sources, in holding government accountable. Brown tried to make the case that there was a heroic element to Mark Felt’s actions as Deep Throat, but Colson was hearing none of it.

Let’s go to the transcript:

Brown: If people make history, history also makes them, often in unexpected ways. And the history that was Watergate clearly changed Mr. Colson. And he joins us tonight from Naples, Florida. It’s nice to see you, sir. Are you buying that Mark Felt was Deep Throat?

Colson: I was shocked, because I knew Mark Felt well and did not believe — I thought he was a consummate professional, an FBI man who would take the most sensitive secrets, have everybody’s personal files in his control, deputy director. I talked to him often and trusted him with very sensitive materials. So did the president. To think that he was out going around in back alleys at night looking for flower pots, passing information to someone, it’s just so demeaning. It’s terribly disappointing. It’s not the image of the professional FBI that you would expect.

Brown: Why is it. . . .

Colson: It’s one more tragedy to chalk up to Watergate.

Brown: That’s an interesting way to look at it. Why is it not honorable? Why is it not — believing that an institution you’ve devoted your life to, care a lot about and is important to the country, is being used in an improper way, and the only way you have to solve it or to deal with that is to go outside that agency? Why isn’t that honorable?

Colson: That’s not the only way. He could have walked into Pat Gray’s office, the director of the FBI and said, here are things that are going on in the White House that need to be exposed; the president needs to know about this, needs to deal with this. Maybe you believe the president himself is involved.

We should confront him on this, because we represent law enforcement. And go into the president and tell him what you saw.

Now, let me tell you something. I knew Richard Nixon intimately. Richard Nixon was no paragon of moral virtue. He would not necessarily have said, oh, my goodness, let me get to the bottom of this, it’s terrible. But he would have known that the director of the FBI and his deputy knew these things. He of course would call an end to this kind of stuff. He could — Mark Felt could have stopped Watergate. He was in the position of that kind of influence. Instead, he goes out and basically undermines the administration. I don’t think that’s honorable at all.

Brown: So in the end — I mean, I wonder if there’s something generational here, honestly, that people my age — I’m 55 — I went through this when I was a kid, really, in the ’60s, in the 20s — I was 20 years old, late 20s. Saw Deep Throat as a hero of a sort, because we didn’t believe, honestly, that government was willing to investigate itself.

Colson: Well, I think government is willing to investigate itself, and I think we’ve seen it do it many, many times. Watergate clearly was out of control. Watergate — I’m writing memoirs at the moment, just about to publish them, that — in which I take my own full responsibility. I saw things ordered by Mr. Nixon that I should have stood up and said, no, stop, this is wrong.

But Mark Felt, with the responsibility of being the number two man in the FBI, I would feel much better about things had he tried to stop it any other way than just going out and giving scandalous kind of material to newspaper reporters, where it could never be checked, where you could never rebut the accusation.

We always forget, of course, what it was like being inside in those days. Many of those accusations that came firing our way were not true. So you were having a trial in the press, which was not a right way for this to be handled either. And the ends don’t justify the means, Aaron. I’m sure you’d agree, that this was not an appropriate way for the number two FBI official in America to act.

He easily could have come to the officials responsible. If they hadn’t acted then, he would resign, have a press conference, and that would be entirely honorable. That would be an honorable position for a whistle-blower to take.

Brown: I’ll tell you what, here’s the deal I’ll make you. When the memoirs come out, we’ll discuss it in more detail whether I agree that in this case the ends justify the means. It’s a really interesting question, and I’m glad you put it out there tonight. Thank you.

Colson: If you can make that case for me, I’d sure like to listen to it. I’d have a good time debating you.

Brown: I look forward to the discussion. It’s nice to see you, sir.

Colson: I went to prison — I went to prison for ends justifying the means.

Brown: Yes, you did. Thank you. Chuck Colson down in Florida tonight.

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  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd/essays.html Dan Berger

    “He easily could have come to the officials responsible. If they hadn’t acted then, he would resign, have a press conference, and that would be entirely honorable. That would be an honorable position for a whistle-blower to take.”

    Y’know, I am having problems seeing what is “cringe-inducing” about this. Protest is not supposed to be consequence-free, and we (rightly) mock those few practitioners of civil disobedience who express outrage at their own arrests.

    Or, as I said in a letter to Colin Powell at the beginning of the Clinton administration, “You’re a soldier. You should either shut up or resign.” Instead, Powell was permitted to have his cake and eat it, too.

  • tmatt

    Me too. I find myself totally in agreement with Colson.

    If the president knows that the top two FBI people know this, and then Felt calls a press conference to announce his resignation, there is no way that the scandal rolls on like it did. It might have been a different scandal, but that PUBLIC whistleblower act would have been far more honorable.

    Then when you consider the impact of the whole “Deep Throat” mystique on journalism in that day and on into our modern credibility crisis… Well, I think there are other shoes still to drop in this. Does Felt fit the whole Deep Throat profile in the book, or is that partially fiction? And, if so, what does that say?

  • http://kellneronline.blogspot.com Mark Kellner

    Colson is right — even if he may have told a whopper about “writing” his memoirs (who’s the ‘co-author’ and what level of credit shall they get?).

    Felt isn’t a blameless soul in all this; he is a political hack who was peeved at not becoming director of the FBI. For that, we lost Nixon, might have lost Israel, and certainly gave up the Panama Canal (now a subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China) because President Peanut followed in 1976.

    As Charles Krauthammer ably said on “Special Report” last night, James Garfield may not have been the only President ‘assassinated’ by a disgruntled office-seeker.

  • tmatt

    Another second thought … At what stage in his conversion did Colson call a press conference and come clean? That is one fact that I cannot remember at the moment.

    Journalists have a major role to play. I am not second-guessing reporter Woodward and his writer, Bernstein, on that act. Just count me among those who wish that Felt had chosen to act different, in a way that still would have sought justice — through honesty and public acts.

  • http://commongroundsonline.typepad.com Glenn

    Me three. Instead of having a cringe induced I thought Colson said appropriate things. Aaron Brown is guilty of a lack of imagination if he thinks the ‘only’ way for Felt to handle the situation was as Deep Throat. Absolutely he should have gone to his superior and if his superior would have dithered, then Felt should have taken other steps according to protocol.

  • http://blog.kevinbasil.com/ Basil

    I think Colson makes a very salient point about good ends not justifying unethical means. He asks for transparency and honesty rather than deceit and duplicity. His personal hurt is evident here, “I trusted this man. I’m not clean, but I was betrayed.”

    And really, what are the good ends to come out of Watergate? Do they outweigh the bad?

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    I agree, bob c.

    Nixon would have stopped Watergate himself? And the Easter Bunny brings the chocolate eggs, Santa Claus really exists, and the Tooth Fairy funds my 11 year old son’s mad money.

    PULEEESE!!

  • Erik Nelson

    I did cringe a bit when I read Colson’s remarks. And you have to understand the situation with the FBI at the time – Hoover had been gone for only a short time, and the FBI had engaged in some very questionable activities, so it’s not unreasonable to suspect that going to the head of the FBI would have been effective. And Felt certainly had an axe to grind.

    Colson, however, is not arguing that the information should not have gotten out, but that Felt chose a less than honorable method for doing so. I’m not sure this is completely fair to Felt, but I’m not sure Colson is completely wrong either. Let’s be honest here – Colson, for all his life has changed since then, is likely still bitter about it, and Felt certainly had mixed motives for choosing his methods.

  • Erik Nelson

    I meant, of course that “going to the head of teh FBI would NOT have been effective.”

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    After further reflection, I must say to Mr. Colson, “Bullsh*t”.

    Where was this honorable Nixon? Where was the person he knew who would “……call an end to this kind of stuff”?

    I don’t believe you, Mr. Colson.

    I grew up knowing that Nixon was a crook and a liar. My rock solid Republican mother called me in from playing outside on a beautiful summer day in Colorado to watch TV and witness “history”, as she called it. [She has since wondered why I have become a Democrat! The miracle is that I haven't shut off all politics forever as many in my generation have.]

    I watched Mr. Nixon resign the presidency when his back was against the wall and the only “honorable” thing to do was quit.

    I know what happened to my generation that now knew that our government was corrupt. Add to that knowledge the widespread insecurity of an escalating divorce rate and then wonder why my generation embraced the nihilism of punk rock.

    Mr. Colson, how dare you attempt to call Mr. Felt on the carpet for doing what YOU FAILED TO DO? How dare you trot out the word “honor” when you went – unrepentant – to prison for your role in the scandal that you now admit you could have stopped?

    I will admit that this is the voice of a ten year old girl watching her mother struggle with her own sense of honor. Mom could have left us outside to play in our innocence but instead chose to bring us inside to see what can happen when a person sets himself up to be outside common decency. I do not know what it cost my mother to sit us down and watch that newscast. I know precisely what it has cost me.

    I don’t belive you, Mr. Colson.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    I can certainly understand a sense of disappointment or personal betrayal on Colson’s part. Et tu, Brute, etc.

    That said, I cannot believe the rest of Colson’s comments. This is like saying that Catholic parents should take sex-abuse allegations to the bishop.

    We KNOW that Nixon was faced with a scenario where several top aides — Colson, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, et al — told him about Liddy et al and their knowledge of his activities. And what did he do? He went ahead and backed and abetted the continuing cover-up. Why should anyone believe that adding the deputy FBI director would have resulted in Nixon behaving any differently?

    And as someone else pointed out, the FBI had a long recent history of being used as a political tool and of undercover skullduggery in the service therein. It was quite reasonable for Felt to assume that going to his boss would not produce results and that even the attempt would result in only one set of consequences — against him.

    When a bureaucracy is corrupt or itself the problem or is faced with an issue of its own institutional interests, “following proper channels” is the one thing you absolutely do NOT do.

  • http://www.inshaw.com/blog Marie

    Not being of the Watergate generation maybe I am missing something, but there is one thing I know, the world is not kind to whistle blowers. The world doesn’t seem to apprieciate them until long after they have been fired/resigned and have become inconsequential, dismissed as sour grapes.
    Higher ups sometimes don’t listen up and find it easier to get rid of the whistle blower/headache than fix the problem.
    I would like to hear of when the last time A) a whistle blower came forward B) was not ignored and C) not immediately punished and how many of those folks stack up against those villified by former bosses.

  • Steve

    I’m wondering why the actual federal investigators get no mention. Did they have no part in Watergate? Was it just “The Media vs. The President” as pretty much all the members of the media (including, it seems, Douglas) represent it?

    I didn’t find Colson’s remarks cringe-inducing, but I think both sides are ignoring significant subtleties. Given Colson’s involvement, his short-sightedness can be excused. What isn’t excusable is the self-congratulatory pats on the backs of the media with itself. It should be more objective.

    Steve

  • http://peterseanesq.blogspot.com Peter Sean Bradley

    It seems that some attitudes here turn on whether Richard Nixon really was the incarnation of evil or not. I have no dog in that fight; I was too young to have any particular feelings about Nixon.

    Others equate Felt with Linda Tripp or the photos of Abu-graib, which is an “ends means” kind of reasoning that I can’t discount because I am a plaintiff’s employment attorney who has handled a number of “whistle-blower cases.”

    But I am troubled by Felt’s seniority and rank in the FBI. In the past, I’ve believed that it doesn’t count as “civil disobedience” when you’re the guy in charge. Whether it’s Justice Moore and the 10 Commandments or Mayor Newsome and marrying gays, if you’re in charge your failure to adhere to the law isn’t principle; it’s tyranny and lawlessness.

    Felt was the second rank guy in the FBI. He had resources that a lower level staffer didn’t have. As others have pointed out, Felt could have publicly resigned out of loyalty to his institution. It’s been done before and is quite healthy for the body politic. Instead he used his office to “shop” information to the press to undermine Nixon. That kind of conduct might be understandable for lower level employee without status, power or position. As I indicated before, I’ve handled whistle-blower cases, but never one for a President or Vice President of a company.

    On the whole, I found Colson’s points persuasive and salient.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    Peter:

    Actually, not necessarily — I’m usually to the right of Torquemada, but I think Nixon (while more sinned against than sinning in the grand scheme of things; liberals had hated him beyond reason since Alger Hiss) was the agent of his own undoing, making the fatal mistake of handing those liberal enemies a sword, which they drove up to the hilt.

    As an aside, and on the “personal stakes” matter, while I am just old enough to remember Nixon’s resignation, America was a foreign country to me at the time, so it was a few paragraphs on the way to the TV, comic strips and Sports listings for me.

    As for the rank issue, I think the analogy to Justice Moore and Mayor Newsom (smart rhetorical move bud; 1 from Column A and 1 from Column B) doesn’t work because they were committing illegal, public acts. Civil disobedience, if you will. So their “powerless” counterparts would be Rosa Parks (column A) and Operation Rescue (column B). Maybe if leaking and whistle-blowing are illegal outright, the analogy would hold. But I stand by my point that if the institution itself is covering up or complicit in crimes, then one simply must circumvent the institution.

  • Libertine

    I think it’s ludicrous for people to castigate Mark Felt for not following some notion of “professional ethics” or “honor” when it was Nixon himself who happily did away with both altogether. When the President of the United States refuses to play by the rule of law, the idea of “fair play” becomes meaningless. If Mark Felt had “played by the rules” in this instance, I doubt very much that there would have been a Watergate scandal at all. Which probably wouldn’t bother some of the commentators here.

  • Dan Crawford

    I’m 60 years old. Thirty-two years ago my blood ran cold when Nixon fired Archibald Cox and Elliot Richardson, and within a short time put all military forces on a 24 hour alert. I suspected and many others suspected that Mr. Nixon was about to engineer the kind of violent takeover of the government that he had countenanced in Chile.

    Colson’s remarks astound me – wasn’t he the guy who would sacrifice his mother for Nixon? And reading all these nostalgic meadow muffins in the comments astound me even more. Nixon and his men were the classic “end justifies the means” guys – they were the models for men like Ollie North who in the Reagan days took the same approach. Perjury for pure motives. And now we lionize these people.

    Colson has apparently rewritten not only the national history but his personal one. Not terribly surprising – when he began Prison Fellowship he publicly opposed the death penalty, but then learned to modify that view when ihe discovered it enabled PF to receive more money.

    I do not believe for one minute that Felt and the other whistle blowers and the reporters in the Watergate matter operated from the purest of motives. They were all CYAing as best they good. The irony is that God used all the manipulation and cynicism and self-interest to reveal something we all needed to learn about our government in those years. I’m grateful – it made me realize how truly fragile democracy is and how important it is that we hold those who have authority over us accountable.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    I suspected and many others suspected that Mr. Nixon was about to engineer the kind of violent takeover of the government that he had countenanced in Chile.

    This is tinfoil hat territory.

    Remember a few posts ago, when Some Prescient Genius wrote: “liberals had hated him beyond reason since Alger Hiss.” That was awesome.

  • Glen Hoffing

    I only cringed when you wrote that Colson has “a blind spot for the important role that journalists play”. Colson did not make a single comment about journalists in the entire transcript. He did make some appropriate comments about the behavior of a deputy director of the FBI.

  • Maureen

    Obviously, Nixon was a crook. But yes, Felt’s methods suggest that he had a great deal to hide himself, or that he had internalized Hoover’s sneakiness. If he had resigned, or if he had called a news conference and then resigned, that would have been more worthy of the number two FBI guy.

    Frankly, I wonder why the heck Woodward and Bernstein would believe the man. Especially given that they were on the left, to whom Hoover’s men were supposed to be Teh Evol. A top FBI guy claiming he didn’t dare come forward? Shyeah, right. I would have instantly suspected Hooverish dirty tricks and refused to have anything to do with the source (or smiled, nodded, gone home and then done my own investigation so as not to owe anything to this creep). But they heard what they wanted to hear, so they believed it. Viva the brave and shrewd journalistas.

    Speaking as someone just barely too young to remember Watergate, but old enough to have lived with the consequences, I can see that once again, all the people of the seventies have lived down to my expectations. What a pack of jackals and maroons.

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    This whole conversation is remarkable in its level of idiocy.

    “Frankly, I wonder why the heck Woodward and Bernstein would believe the man. Especially given that they were on the left, to whom Hoover’s men were supposed to be Teh Evol.”

    Why did they believe him? Because he never really told them anything, just whether they were digging in the right place. And, they checked and double-checked their sources. Then they checked them again.

    “Remember a few posts ago, when Some Prescient Genius wrote: ‘liberals had hated him beyond reason since Alger Hiss.’ That was awesome. ”

    No it’s not. You want to equate the vitriol that the left had towards Nixon to the vitriol the right had towards Clinton, and they’re not even close to being the same. The left was certainly not out to get Nixon, not the way the right was under Clinton. The eight years of Clinton investigations were a poorly-disguised fishing expedition. Nixon, OTOH, was an increasingly corrupt president that was exposed thanks to his hubris, a number of disaffected sorts who fell out with him and started talking, and the diligent work of two reporters. That there were a number of people on the left who wanted to see Nixon fall wasn’t a conspiracy but just good old fashioned schaudenfraude.

    And while I’m thinking about it, this whole “he was an honorable man who was brought down by mean evil liberals” tripe has got to stop. This was a man who employed people to, in effect, fix a presidential election. He compromised the very nature of this democratic republic, and he brought us this modern era of antagonism between people and their own government. None of this is honorable. Yes, give him credit for going to China, the EPA, wrapping up our foray into Indo-China, and other things, but you need to accept that he had warts and flaws that brought him down, just as Clinton did, and if you want to go on about how Nixon was slain by the sword he gave the evil liberals then you need to also accept that Clinton was an honorable man nearly slain by the daggers he handed the evil conservatives.

    “He easily could have come to the officials responsible. If they hadn’t acted then, he would resign, have a press conference, and that would be entirely honorable. That would be an honorable position for a whistle-blower to take.”

    And he well could have, but it’s hard to know the outcome. I mean, everyone goes on about Vince Foster and what he knew… could we be talking about what Felt knew in the same way now? And certainly he would have had trouble with believablity — the White House would have laid into him for the same things people are accusing him of today, being a disgruntled opportunist. Look at Paul O’Neill after his book; all we heard was how he stole documents and was disloyal to the party, as if the real issues O’Neill raised about how Cheney etc. were treating the economy weren’t salient. And there was the additional advantage of being a mole within the government — he always knew what was going on, where if he’d walked out in the fall of ’72 he would have had lost his direct connection.

    Thing is, Nixon suspected Felt all along, but he couldn’t fire him, because Felt knew too much, and rather than the small trickle they could manage one Felt press conference would have unleashed a flood of allegations. And yes, we know this — it’s on the tapes.

    As for Felt and this whole Deep Throat conversation, I keep coming back to a Steve Taylor lyric, of all things:

    Preacher on the corner, calling it a crime
    Says, ‘the ends don’t justify the means anytime’
    I stood up on my van, I yelled ‘Excuse me, sir!
    There ain’t nothing wrong with this country that a few plastic explosives won’t cure!’

    We lionize the Felts and Tripps of the world because they’re exposing what we secretly believe or fear — that the big bad really is bad and yet mortal. Should we be? Probably not. But a lot can be said about what Woodward and Bernstein did right back in those days. They checked and cross-checked and re-checked again. Modern media doesn’t do that. They don’t have time to. So, instead of checking, they go with what they have and use their stereotypes and prejudices to fill in the blanks. That’s not journalism.

  • Stephen A.

    It’s become clear in the reporting on this revelation that Felt had a political motive – potentially moving up to the top job at FBI if Nixon was removed – to want to see Nixon’s downfall.

    But Nixon’s behavior was breathtakingly self-destructive and the times must have seemed quite dangerous (I was barely out of toddlerhood at this point in history so I don’t remember it as well as you old folks do.) Facing a Director appointed by Nixon and a Justice Department under Nixon’s control, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have ignored the proper chain of command and leaked too, had I been in Felt’s position.

    That said, the point Pat Buchanan and others are making about someone in this position of trust leaking information about investigations to the press is a valid one.

    The inner turmoil this guy went through about the decision to leak must have been enourmous.

    The leaking itself certainly set up and legitimized the role of the anonymous whistleblower, good or bad, for the next 30 years. Sometimes anonymous sources are beneficial, but other times (just last month in Newsweek, for instance) they can go horribly awry.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    This whole conversation is remarkable in its level of idiocy.

    Something you are uniquely equipped to contribute to.

    The left was certainly not out to get Nixon

    Oh brother. This isn’t even worthy of comment beyond … look at the person above who (to this day apparently) says the Saturday Night Massacre led him to fear a violent military coup.

    The eight years of Clinton investigations were a poorly-disguised fishing expedition.

    Do you have any idea of how many people went to jail for Whitewater-related crimes? Judge Susan Webber Wright was part of the VRWC? Was the unanimous Supreme Court that let the Paula Jones case go ahead? The blue dress was made up? All those White House meetings and calls to Vernon Jordan? Come on … Clinton was a corrupt horndog who thought himself Master of the Universe, plain and simple. An increasingly corrupt president [who] was exposed thanks to his hubris, a number of disaffected sorts who fell out with him and started talking, and the diligent work of [a lot of] reporters.

    Ideological preferences are ideological preferences. But regardless of them, Nixon and Clinton were both corrupt fixers who thought themselves above the law and were brought down by their hubris … except that … actually Clinton wasn’t hounded out of office.

    This was a man who employed people to, in effect, fix a presidential election.

    Oh come off it. You’re just digging an intellectual hole and diminishing your standing with everyone who has any memory or knowledge of history. He engaged in some dirty tricks against his political opponents (as was common practice on both sides at the time, for better or worse) and suborned a coverup of a burglary at the DNC headquarters (not even close to “fix an election”; as if the 1972 presidential race needed “fixing”). Nothing like what Mayor Daley and LBJ and the Democratic machines in Chicago and Texas did to Nixon in 1960, which WAS to steal an election. (Well … maybe one they would have eked out anyway, particularly in Texas, depending on how you figure the numbers. But let’s just say they definitely left nothing to chance.)

    if you want to go on about how Nixon was slain by the sword he gave the evil liberals then you need to also accept that Clinton was an honorable man nearly slain by the daggers he handed the evil conservatives.

    Since neither I (presumably the “you” in your note) nor anyone else here has said Nixon was “honorable,” no, none of us have to accept that. Where would you have gotten the idea that anyone had used that construction? I think you’re having LSD flashbacks. Further, even if anyone had, what you say doesn’t follow. It only would in case of the batty proposition that said man’s “honor” resides in his having been linked to scandal and in the very act of handing to his enemies the sword used to slay him.

    But a lot can be said about what Woodward and Bernstein did right back in those days. They checked and cross-checked and re-checked again. Modern media doesn’t do that. They don’t have time to. So, instead of checking, they go with what they have and use their stereotypes and prejudices to fill in the blanks. That’s not journalism.

    Talk about stereotypes. To name just the first example I can recall, Juanita Broaddrick’s charge that Bill Clinton raped her was thoroughly checked out by NBC and her story fit with all the details independently verifiable in the absence of a hidden camera in the hotel room (i.e. exactly what “Woodstein” did).

    To name the second, the Washington Times’ reporting on Whitewater — about which you plainly know nothing — was not only checked out and based on first-hand witnesses and documents. It also was repeatedly vindicated in courts of law — more than a dozen convictions and guilty pleas have been entered. What, and please be specific as your knowledge lets you, charges made against the Clintons that received significant space in major journalistic outlets, were not “checked out” (which is different from “turned out to have been a dry hole” and … yeah, yeah, a tinfoil-hat crazy or two mentioned drug-smuggling at Mena, a Hillary-Vince affair, a Pinochet-like military coup…)

  • http://carsonversusdoe.com Joe

    I am a federal whistleblower. The systemic lawbreaking the government engages in to punish federal employees who, per law and regulation, reveal wrongdoing in federal government is, in my opinion, a clear and present threat to Republic, if not civilization as a whole.

    An FBI whistleblower sent this to me, I think it is relevant to this discussion.

    Joe Carson, P.E.
    Knoxville, TN

    **********************

    An open letter to W. Mark Felt :

    Dear Mr. Felt,

    You did the right thing in protecting the FBI from obstruction of justice by the White House. You did the right thing by bringing criminal behavior to light. All FBI Agents take an oath to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States, and you did just that, for which I salute you.

    Most FBI whistleblowers, in their desperate struggle to bring the truth to light, have taken their concerns and regards through the chain of command, right up to the top (I know I did). Usually what happens is that the FBI whistleblower suffers retaliation and reprisal which eventually leads to termination. This has been a consistent policy for FBI management: to distort, deny and destroy their whistleblowers. The trials and travails of FBI whistleblowers are public and consistently the same, and they carry names like Fred Whitehurst, Coleen Rowley, Sibel Edmonds, Mike German, Jane Turner, Robert Wright, Manny Johnson, and so on.

    Each and every FBI Whistleblower has had to suffer tremendous sacrifices and terrible financial pain. They have also had to suffer the separation from their beloved FBI family. It has been long known, since J. Edgar Hoover, that a FBI Agent must never embarrass the Bureau. That mantra covers FBI whistleblowers.

    You, Mr. Felt, as a second in command FBI administrator, had the ability and position to make the choices you did, and do it in private. I wonder if those “hundreds of FBI colleagues ” would have appeared outside a courthouse when you were arraigned in 1978, if they knew you had been a whistleblower?

    And that, Mr. Felt, is why I am conflicted about your role as a FBI whistleblower. You could have made a difference for any and all FBI whistleblowers that came after you. You had the ability and the position to change the insular culture of the FBI and the self imposed mantra of never embarrassing the Bureau. You could have stood on your oath of office, and taken the high moral ground, as we have, and suffered the consequences. Instead, your desire to remain inside the FBI “family” was stronger than your desire to make the FBI a better place.

    By hiding, and remaining silent when other FBI agents were vilified and retaliated against when they blew the whistle, you allowed the system to continue with business as usual. Where were you when Fred Whitehurst was being destroyed both inside and outside (the current and retired agents associations) the FBI ?

    By remaining silent, you received a substantial government pension, you were able to attend numerous local, regional and national retired agent FBI reunions (where FBI whistleblowers were demonized). You received accolades and commendations, monetary awards and the recognition of your peers. You had the status and all the colleageality that the FBI can give. You got to keep it all.

    However, by hiding in the shadows, and deliberately denying your whistleblowing role, you continued the FBI tradition of viewing FBI whistleblowers as “criminal” , unsavory, unstable or non team players. For whatever personal reasons, you did the right thing by keeping the Bureau from being used in a political manner, and keeping the White House from obstructing justice.

    You also, Mr. Felt, did a great disservice for those FBI whistleblowers who followed you. That which you feared the most, you also allowed to remain in place. That which you so treasured, remaining part of the FBI family, is the first thing that those FBI whistleblowers who followed you lost.

    Unlike you, having managed to keep it all, other FBI whistleblowers know what it is like to lose it all. That is why I am conflicted, Mr. Felt. You did the right thing, but by trying to hide your role as an FBI whistleblower, I fear you did it for the wrong reasons. You stated you were afraid of being called a “criminal”, but I guess you had no fear of being called a coward.

    Your life is your message, Mr. Felt, and you have written yours. I and other FBI whistleblowers, have written a different ending to our message. We were willing to pay the high price our whistleblowing activities cost, in order to uphold our oath of office, and protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. You had the ability and the position to make it better for those that followed you, who also wanted to do the right thing. For some reason, your concern was not with those who would follow you, but only for yourself. You stood by when other FBI whistleblowers were demonized, constructively discharged, and destroyed. You, Mr. Felt, were both a saint and a sinner.

    Sincerely,

    Jane Turner
    A Fellow FBI Whistleblower

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Glen writes:

    {Colson did not make a single comment about journalists in the entire transcript. He did make some appropriate comments about the behavior of a deputy director of the FBI.}

    I guess we read two different transcripts. Colson commented on the importance of Mark Felt’s interactions with Woodward when he said these things:

    1. “To think that he was out going around in back alleys at night looking for flower pots, passing information to someone, it’s just so demeaning.”

    2. “But Mark Felt, with the responsibility of being the number two man in the FBI, I would feel much better about things had he tried to stop it any other way than just going out and giving scandalous kind of material to newspaper reporters, where it could never be checked, where you could never rebut the accusation.”

    3. “So you were having a trial in the press, which was not a right way for this to be handled either.”

  • Dan Crawford

    Mr. Morton’s comment convinces me that there are people who never leave Wonderland.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Two points–Strange that this reminder of the “Glory Days” of anonymous sources comes out after a string of proofs that the system does far more harm than good. How many died in Watergate? How many died as a result of Newsweek’s abuse????
    Also, where are the reminders that JFK abused his position more than Nixon. This was found out after Watergate died down and the Liberal media has kept it primarily buried–even in the middle of today’s furor.

  • tmatt

    OK, I will try to post on this later — connecting to Peggy Noonan’s column today.

    Try, people, try to focus on the journalism angles of this and don’t re-fight the Nixon and Clinton eras.

    It also really helps if you read what people actually say.

    Felt was in a position to take the issue to the top of the FBI in one step or to resign — with massive press conference — in protest. Both put the Nixon White House AND CONGRESS in a put up or shut up position. Both would have been honorable actions to bring justice within the law. Both would have been ON THE RECORD.

    Nixon clean things up? No way. No one said that. Pentagon Papers? Let’s see — was the No. 2 person at the FBI involved in that case? Was there an option that would have led straight to a congressional investigation?

    Prison photos? Let’s see — was there another way to get that straight to Congress?

    Let me raise my hand for saying that Nixon deserved what he got. I didn’t really see Colson defending Nixon, per se. Colson merely believed that the TOP TWO PEOPLE at the FBI could have taken this through legal channels.

    In other words, as suggested by Jane Turner, Felt could have legally blown a whistle.

    Would have cost him his FBI job? Yes. Almost certainly. Would have been legal and courageous and effective? Yes.

    Oh, does anyone know if Felt smokes? Just asking.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Terry writes: “Try, people, try to focus on the journalism angles of this and don’t re-fight the Nixon and Clinton eras.”

    I should point out that these two sentences (both regarding journalism) were the heart of my post:

    This was not Colson as Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, but it was Colson with a blind spot for the important role that journalists play, sometimes through relying on anonymous sources, in holding government accountable. [Aaron] Brown tried to make the case that there was a heroic element to Mark Felt’s actions as Deep Throat, but Colson was hearing none of it.

    I wrote about Colson’s remarks only because he implied there was something inherently dishonorable about Felt feeding his information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. As a journalist, I find this argument troubling.

    I’m happy for our readers to pursue whatever angles they wish in discussing the post, though I do ask that people throttle back on calling each other idiots.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Howie Carr , a veteran reporter who started on the streets and has great street smarts– said on the radio today that all this canonization of Felt by the liberal media is a load of crap. He has yet to see an “idealistic” anonymous source. They are all out to get something or grind an axe. That is why elite journalists like Newsweek, and Dan Rather who have never really spent serious time in the trenches and got their “smarts”from journalism schools and college swells fall for so much garbage. And he claims 90% of anonymous stuff is garbage.
    Felt got his revenge for being passed over for FBI head and now his family has publicly said they hope to cash-in on the old man’s new found fame.

  • guitarist

    Colson rocks. It’s true that Felt should have gone to his #1 at FBI, then, if that didn’t work, he could have resigned and called the press. If I remember correctly, didn’t Linda Tripp go to the authorities with her information, and not the press, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm??

  • guitarist

    When I say “call the press” above, I mean IN THE OPEN, as in, make the charge and let the world go, not this unnecessary cloak and dagger stuff…

  • Erik Nelson

    It’s always easy to offer alternative courses of action which would have been more honorable. In the end, that doesn’t matter. Felt did what he did. But the legacy of Watergate for the press certainly must be a mixed one. The press have become obsessive about uncovering scandal. That’s fine, to a point. The press does have a significant role to play. But there are problems.

    I can hardly bear to watch local news here in DC. Have you seen the ridiculous scandal stories they run about just about every topic? Every story is framed as a scandal, with individuals selected to take the fall. It’s ridiculous. And it makes public debate more difficult. Rather than focusing on issues, politicians dig up scandals, even if they’re insignificant. Why? Because they know the press likes conflict and drama.

    Watergate changed the press, and not necessarily for the better. Rooting out scandal is only one of many press functions. Unfortunately, it seems to have colored the entire reporting process.

  • http://www.renewal-1.com Dale

    It is pretty interesting what people are calling “the moral high ground” in this affair. It was established in the war crime trials after WW II that the actions of governments and militaries had to be judged by a higher standard then, “it was the law.” As we all know, the “law” is routinely distorted to serve unethical proposes. A culture can maintai a constructive course only if persons will rise up and violate the law in the name of that higher moral standard. Thank God for Mark Felt. Will we see any “Mark Felts” step up to the plate in the current moral cris in Washington? . . . or have we manage to destroy all of the prophets amoung us?

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    “I can hardly bear to watch local news here in DC. Have you seen the ridiculous scandal stories they run about just about every topic? Every story is framed as a scandal, with individuals selected to take the fall. It’s ridiculous. And it makes public debate more difficult. Rather than focusing on issues, politicians dig up scandals, even if they’re insignificant. Why? Because they know the press likes conflict and drama.”

    Amen! And this breathless “breaking news” junk is everywhere in the country.

    I will make a sweeping generalization and say – again – that journalists since Watergate have all aspired to be the next Woodward and Bernstein. How else can one explain Geraldo Rivera? :)

    And Dale, I don’t think the prophets are gone; they are simply looking for a way to get the word out before the institutions shut them down.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    So Felt was inside-politics fighter not a whistleblower. That is one point that needs to be made. He also was not the “White House source” that he was claimed to be, if he was locked out of the White House (as it appears he was).

    But on the journalism thing: I guess, as a reporter, it has always irked me that, post-Watergate, stories were more important if they were based on anonymous sources than if they were on hard facts on the record. I have seen that over and over in newsrooms. It is part of the legacy of this story and this source and it is, I believe, quite dangerous FOR JOURNALISM. Note the NYTs reports on this last month.

    I have used, I think, two anonymous sources in my whole career. One gave me a document and the document could be verified. The other gave me info and then I was able to check the accuracy of that with a dozen other sources.

    How much of what Deep Throat gave Woodstein actually ended up being right? How much of it was crucial, as opposed to Carl’s amazing run of sources in the late-night door-knocking sessions detailed in the book? I still think Carl BROKE THE STORY, with his hard-edged reporting.

    Deep Throat is a movie character.

  • Erik Nelson

    Well, I have a gut-reaction against calling the media “prophets” of course. But that’s just me.

    Anonymous sources are generally trouble and should be avoided. Particularly in government, since most of them seem to have an axe to grind and tend to give incomplete information. That’s not to say they aren’t sometimes necessary. I think whistleblowers are better off coming forward and speaking the truth publicly–it allows the public to make their own judgment, rather than relying merely on the journalist.

    I am less and less convinced that the press is able to handle real scandals seriously and fairly. Not every scandal is Watergate. And most scandals are complicated enough that the sensationalism of modern journalism simply can’t do them justice (and can’t do the participants justice, either). When it comes to controversy, the press seems to have lost perspective.


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