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from Jack Shafer:

Ben Bradlee, the last giant standing

Ben Bradlee, a former Washington Post executive editor discusses about the Watergate Hotel burglary and stories for the Post at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda

One of the great payoffs of having lived a long life arrives on the day the newspapers publish your obituary. By out-lasting your competitors and foes, the storyline naturally bends your way. Time blurs precise recollection in favor of generous feelings, which we tend to bestow upon most famous survivors, no matter what sort of lives they lived.

This principle applies to both heroes, such as Benjamin C. Bradlee, and villains, such as Richard Nixon. By wisely dying in 1994 at the age of 81 instead of the late 1970s or early 1980s, Nixon reaped better death notices than he would have otherwise. The groundwork for Nixon’s first obituaries was first laid in the 1950s when he was vice president, when a plane crash or an assassin's bullet would have required a comprehensive obituary on deadline, with the immediate circumstances of his death tacked onto the lede. When Nixon died, many preliminary obituaries later, obituary writers did not whitewash Watergate and his other crimes, but decades of distance from those events moved them to paint death notices in a softer hue. Contemplation doth make saps of us all.

Like most journalists, Bradlee fretted about how his obituary would portray him, certain for many years that the shame of 1981's Janet Cooke scandal would scream from the second paragraph of his. He needn't have worried. The New York Times first touches the topic in the 26th paragraph in its obituary, the Washington Post in paragraph 18, and the Los Angeles Times in paragraph 15, a sour footnote in an otherwise outstanding life.

Bradlee was all the things his obituarists and essayists claim today. He graduated from Harvard, got married, and was commissioned in the Naval Reserve on the same summer day in 1942. A cultural aristocrat, he knew how to mix with the commoners. He was brave, staring down administration after administration, fighting libel cases to the end. He pulsed with charisma, making women and men faint by merely entering a room, an attribute more common in cult leaders than editors. He rewarded that adulation with his trust. Had he chosen the career of warlord instead of journalist, he would have conquered all of the states from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River by the time he hit 65. He hired well and fired well, once bragging of the plagiarists and fabulists he bounced from the paper for their transgressions. And he put out a pretty good newspaper for more than two decades.

from The Great Debate:

Why Nixon matters

mahurin 4watergate

Forty years ago, on August 8, Richard M. Nixon made unprecedented constitutional history when he resigned the presidency amid the disgrace and scandal of Watergate. He cannot escape that legacy -- for he left an indelible record of his deeds in a treasure trove of tapes and papers that continue to fascinate us with revelations.

Alas! Watergate is Nixon’s spot that will not out. The break-in, the ensuing revelation of what Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, called the “White House Horrors,” the congressional and prosecutorial investigations that considered those travesties and Nixon’s eventual resignation laid bare unprecedented instances of presidential abuses of power and yes, criminality.

from The Great Debate:

Benghazi: The zombie scandal

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the World Affairs Council in Portland, Oregon

We’re not making scandals the way we used to.

The House of Representatives has now voted, virtually along party lines, to create the Benghazi Select Committee that conservatives have long called for. The atmosphere of scandal that has surrounded Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades has gotten, at least temporarily, a renewed lease on life.

Will the committee produce enough news to revive the idea of the Clintons’ dubious past and inject the poison of illegitimacy into Hillary Clinton’s much-speculated 2016 presidential campaign?

from The Great Debate:

Christie: The scandal of hubris

The scandal involving New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, whose aides virtually shut down Fort Lee by throttling its access to the George Washington Bridge into New York City, reportedly to punish the city’s mayor for not endorsing their boss, is so classic that you could put it in a textbook on how a politician can make a developing political scandal much, much worse.

The model goes like this: aides to a governor, a rising political star, are looking to hurt the governor’s enemy. They engage in behavior that is definitely low, likely illegal, and possibly criminal. People start pointing fingers in the direction of the State House.  The governor ridicules the critics. But the state legislature, controlled by the opposing party, launches an investigation and subpoenas high officials. The testimony is embarrassing. Key gubernatorial appointees quit suddenly, one labeling the evolving scandal a “distraction.”  Then -- inevitably, it seems -- a smoking gun surfaces.

from The Great Debate:

D.C. scandals: They had Nixon ‘to kick around’

President Richard Nixon at a White House press conference during the Watergate scandal. REUTERS/Courtesy Nixon Library

The profusion of scandals bedeviling the Obama administration has evoked many comparisons with other presidencies -- particularly Richard M. Nixon. There is no evidence, however, of serious skulduggery by White House officials or members of the re-election campaign, as in the Nixon administration. More important, America’s over-excited and enticed puritanical conscience has not been mobilized to impute what Kafka called “nameless crimes” to the president as there was with Nixon.

from The Great Debate:

America noir: The biggest ‘gate’ of all

ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

It is scandal time again in Washington, with a triple-header to boot – Benghazi-gate, IRS-gate and AP-gate. The “gate” being the obligatory suffix ever since the biggest “gate” of them all: Watergate. How do they rate? Well, Carl Bernstein, the reporter who helped break the Watergate story, has gone so far as to compare AP-gate to the transgressions of President Richard M. Nixon.

But no matter how much the media may froth over them, none of these scandals has the heft, the cultural, political and social weight of Watergate. These are all skirmishes in an age of “gotcha” polarization. Watergate was no skirmish, even if some Republicans at the time and even today characterize it as such. It was a vast, complex metaphor for a country in extremis – which is why it still dwarfs every other aspiring “gate.”

from The Great Debate:

Party opinion usurps public opinion

We are witnessing the slow death of public opinion in this country.  It's being displaced by party opinion.

These days, more and more Americans are inclined to judge issues from a partisan viewpoint.  In March, according to a Pew Research Center survey, twice as many Republicans (53 percent) as Democrats (27 percent) said the economy was poor.  Yet, from everything we know, Republicans are not suffering more economic deprivation than Democrats.

from The Great Debate:

Watergate: Are we there yet?

President Barack Obama at a news conference in the White House press briefing room in Washington, March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

O.K., you know the one about the old guys sitting in the diner:

"When I was a boy, I had to walk five miles to school in the snow.”

“Snow?  I had to walk five miles in the snow with just newspapers on my feet.”

from Jack Shafer:

Aiming for Bradlee but missing

This review originally appeared in the Washington Post on May 6, 2012, and is being reprinted by permission of the Post.

Jeff Himmelman uses his new book, Yours in Truth, to take shots at Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and their 1974 book, All the President’s Men. But Himmelman’s fire does not come from the usual redoubt of Watergate revisionism. He is a former researcher for Woodward, one who worked so diligently on Maestro the reporter’s 2001 book about Alan Greenspan, that Woodward gushed about him in his author’s note.

from Jack Shafer:

What did Ben Bradlee know, and when did he know it?

In 1990, former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee told journalist Barbara Feinman, who was helping him on his memoir A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, that he had "a little problem with Deep Throat." Bradlee, who was then 69 years old, continued:

Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.

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