Bob Schieffer Believes in Journalism That Happened 40 Years Ago

Bob SchiefferD R Tucker over at Political Animal brought my attention to the fact that Woodward and Bernstein were on Face the Nation to chat with Bob Schieffer about Watergate 40 years later. Tucker was impressed with it, which amazes me. I’ve come to think rather highly of his work, but he missed it on this one. I realize that everyone is having a great good time this week dumping on Nixon, but we don’t want to let that blind us to our modern reality.

Let’s start with the fact that Woodward and Bernstein were on CBS. Schieffer notes at the beginning that the dynamic duo’s two books All the President’s Men and The Final Days had just been reissued by Simon & Schuster. And they just happened to be owned by CBS. Gee, I wonder why the guys weren’t over talking to George Stephanopoulos?

Shieffer starts with a really stupid observation that people found Watergate so hard to believe because it was so stupid. But the whole scandal was never really about the Watergate break-in. That was simply want led to the plumbers and the CCREEP slush fund and all the stuff that did matter. The real reason people found Watergate so hard to believe is that most people are a bunch of sheep who never want to think that the power elite would act so badly. The president couldn’t possibly be doing this kind of stuff because he was the right kind of person. (For the record conservatives: there is a big difference between being open to malfeasance by the president and just assuming it whenever the other party is in power. Bill Clinton had Vince Foster killed? Really?!)

Some of the interview is rather good. But it’s strange. Woodward says that the piston of the Nixon administration was hate. But later, when talking in more depth, it is clear that this isn’t true. Paranoia and resentment is more what drove him. Later, Woodward talks about how the Republicans put nation over party. That’s not true at all. And that’s what gets to the core of Watergate: if it hadn’t been for the tapes, Nixon wouldn’t have been forced to resign. It was only because there was a smoking gun that the Republicans turned on him.

But what I most hate about this is how self-congratulatory the whole thing is. I don’t mean that about any of the participants especially, but about journalism itself. The truth is that what Woodward and Bernstein did was great work. But can you imagine the Washington Post allowing reporters that kind of latitude today? And look at the work that Woodward does today: he’s just a Republican hack, although admittedly, a careful one because he actually has a reputation to protect.

Shieffer’s last question is whether it could happen again. A better question is whether the corporate controlled media would ever allow it again. As we see today, Glenn Greenwald is hated by most establishment journalists. And if the journalists are like that, you can imagine what their employers think. I believe that if there hadn’t been the tapes, Shieffer wouldn’t have had the segment today. There would have been 40 years of Republican disinformation to convince everyone that Nixon was totally innocent. And Shieffer wouldn’t be certain.

So yeah, now 40 years later, CBS runs a segment talking about the great success of journalism. Shieffer is there to say, “Go team!” But when it comes Edward Snowden who has provided us such important information about what the government is doing to its own people, Shieffer has been incredibly harsh. When it has come to NSA spying generally, he has been nothing short of an apologist. But looking back 40 years, sure: fight the power!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on “Bob Schieffer Believes in Journalism That Happened 40 Years Ago

  1. One thing about the GOP turning on Nixon; remember, he’d pissed a lot of them off, too. Nixon was the last Republican president to pass any liberal legislation, and he paid for it. Reagan/Bush outright defied Congress with the Contra financing, but it was a Democratic Congress, so the right rallied the troops around Saint Ronnie. If I recall my timeline correctly, Iran/Contra investigations only heated up for real (1991 or so) after Bush pissed off the GOP by raising taxes.

    You are of course right about corporate ownership of the press, now. I don’t think the press will ever seriously investigate the government again. Just "gotcha" stories and "scandals" that look bad. The Wilson/Plame affair was the sign to me that the press is done. In the Watergate era, even right-wing columnists turned on Nixon once it came out that Nixon had been harassing establishment reporters. Bush the Younger took direct aim at an establishment reporter, and the press just took it.

  2. @JMF – Although I didn’t discuss it here, I have a deep fondness for Nixon. I think his bad aspects were signs of his deep seated feelings of inferiority. So given this, I didn’t want to get into his generally liberal domestic policy. And it wasn’t like his policies in Vietnam were substantially worse than Johnson’s. And he "went to China." There really is a lot to like about Nixon as president. (So he headed a criminal conspiracy? No one’s perfect!)

    I’m not sure about what Republicans thought about him at the time, though. The whole party was a lot more liberal and diverse then. But it is doubtless true that he wasn’t as well liked as others. I still think it is a miracle he ever got to be president. And that’s one of the reasons I have a soft spot for him: the only true loser who ever became president.

    Yeah, the Plame affair is a good example. I’m sure that went all the way to the top: Cheney. (That was a joke, but I’m serious.) I’m actually sure there [i]were[/i] young journalist hungry to go after that story. But they wouldn’t be supported the way W&B were. Even at the time, that was a remarkable commitment.

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