All The Presidents Men The title says it all about the era, the event, the man who fell down and all the men who couldn’t put him, or the presidency, back together again.
On these cold, foggy summer nights, we’ve been taking our time watching the Alan J. Pakula film, produced by and starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. It’s a lot slower than our family favorite: Dick, which is a must see for anyone who loves Will Ferrell and might enjoy the thought of Henry Kissinger get high on hash brownies.
Watching ATPM again, I was reminded of how slowly, painfully slowly, Woodward and Bernstein worked that story. The gum-shoe reporting, the drudgery of knocking on doors of a long list of people who might possibly know who might have authorized whom to make payments of whatever amount of money to people who might have been connected to some guys who happened to get caught breaking into a swank apartment complex one weekend night. It was a small story made up of messy loose ends with notes written on scraps of paper and a few columns at first in the Metro section, begrudgingly delegated by grumpy middle manager editors saying the paper couldn’t afford to lose its shirt on such nonsense.
These now famous reporters were green city desk neophytes at The Washington Post, fresh on the job, and, in Bernstein’s case, nearly out on his ass. They didn’t always get along and weren’t necessarily good at what they did.
But they never gave up. Woodward and Bernstein pestered and badgered people and when it seemed they’d gone too far, their hands shook when people told them off on the phone.
Why did they pursue the story to the level they did? Ben Bradlee, as portrayed by Jason Robards in the movie (I haven’t read the book in decades) stayed on his reporters’ case until they could prove every last thing.
They had three names? They needed all five. They had two sources? They needed three. The GAO audit on CReeP was coming out? The paper wouldn’t run the result until the report was out – not that it was due to be released.
Watching the film, when “Woodstein” figure out that Mitchell authorized the payments to the burglars, I got goose bumps. Imagine the overwhelming sense these guys must have had suspecting that this odd break in and these even odder amounts of money might then be traced all the way up to Nixon. That attempts to discredit Muskie had been going on for more than a year. That there might in fact be a connection between the White House and the Democratic candidate the Republicans wanted Nixon to face for re-election.
And then there’s Deep Throat in the parking garage saying everyone in the FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department knew full well what’s going on. WTF we might mutter today.
So, when Spiro Agnew delivered that first “non-denial denial”, I had a sense of déjà vu in the present tense. Seeing the real news clip of him in the movie, followed by Redford asking, “What did he just say?” I recognized that Palin is merely the latest and greatest incarnation of this entire scenario.
Many of you have theorized that the plan to put her in place started with the starbursts cruise and the king crab lunch in Juneau. Some of you even believe that the Down syndrome baby as a political ploy surfaced as far back as then.
Certainly, we know from The New Yorker that the rumors of her daughter’s pregnancy and Palin’s cover-up were alive and well in Juneau and Anchorage in early spring 2008. And reporters on the scene then wrote of the Gasp! Shock! Surprise! of learning their fearless leader was so pregnant - yet so darn svelt - not long after.
The baby arrived one convenient month later, accompanied by a bizarre story that should have strained anyone’s bullshit meter. But as one long-time journalist in Alaska told me, the focus was by then on the Branchflower report. No one thought Palin could survive that. Besides, she was never around. A dubious tale of tight abs was not really on any reporter’s radar.
But let’s say it had been – and no, I don’t mean that lame ass excuse of a story that the Anchorage Daily News supposedly was working up, and the even sorrier display of “beat me master because I like it” blogging that the paper’s top editor did. Let’s say that a couple of reporters had said to Dougherty, “What did she just say?” about any number of the odd, non-denial denials that Palin proffered about her vaginal fluids and restful plane flights.
If history is any indication – and evidently Ben Bradlee knew what he was doing - a couple of reporters might have been knocking on doors. Behind those doors would have been nurses or technicians or office workers or friends and foes of Palin who might have gone on deep background and said something. The very same people who feared for their jobs, feared they were being followed, were deathly afraid to talk and who might not have added to the narrative anyway. Woodward and Bernstein kept trying. Every name on that ever-lasting CReeP list got checked off, one by one.
Or, as the ignominy around this absurd fish picker tale, which if true loudly displayed what a careless, risky moron this woman was, mounted, they would press the doctor, over and over, to make a public statement in front of a bank of cameras (all two TV stations) a few radio microphones and a few print reporters' tape recorders.
But it appears no one did press for that. Why? Because Bill McAllister was now her press go-to-guy and was this one the mother of all stories, pardon the pun, that he couldn’t report on, so he’d make darn sure no one else did either?
I am told that he was as surprised as the next person to find out Palin was pregnant. So, McAllister didn’t know? Did he press to find out? Or did he not engage any press who asked to find out?
Did any one single reporter up there bother to say “You know, I was just going back over my notes and…” to anyone in power up there?
(Maybe there were a couple of Woodsteins in Alaska, and we just don’t know that they never got to the point where they could write the story and have it pass the legal department.)
Or was my source right: Branchflower gave way to McRogue, and the clown car of kids, a pregnant unwed teen mother, a special needs baby, redneck grandparents, and an uneducated father figuring out how to knot a tie. Think about it. That campaign bus was a cluster fuck of the highest order. And bodily fluids conveniently receded into the distance.
This is a long-winded way of answering what someone asked me in a comment. If reporters like McGinniss, Sullivan and me say that there is a piece missing, and that piece is a “Bradlee level” lack of proof allowing anyone to report that she didn’t give birth to Trig, then what about the pieces that are not missing: that is, that there is no proof that she did give birth to this baby.
I hear your question, yet I see it the other way around. There is no proof that she didn’t. And the presumption of innocence prevails.
No, I know that the March 14th photo defies all possible belief. I understand that the grey museum photo, replete with very odd crotch and white square under the shirt is a form of evidence. But it’s not proof. Not in the Ben Bradlee world. In that world, three people would have to present evidence of the hoax or the cover-up. There would have to be some paper trail of plane tickets or money that changed hands for a birth certificate or adoption paper.
I know that Sarah had Todd toddle off to Dallas with her. That she got rid of security right around the time she would have to adjust her prosthetic every day in the car. I get all that.
But what I also get is that she doesn’t have to prove that she gave birth. She has a baby that she pokes her finger at, coos toward, and then routinely walks away from. That’s all she needs for the general population to believe her.
Just as President Obama doesn’t have to prove he went to Columbia University. Someone else has to prove he didn’t. And they can’t do that. Why? Because either the university has confirmed that he did. Or because Obama’s records are private and no one will verify that he did.
And that is where CBJ and the Daily News come in. What is an appropriate story, and I’ve said this before, is the “why do the hoax rumors persist?” story. That is what the Daily News started on, that’s what they should have finished. That the doctor would not confirm on the record that Sarah Palin gave birth to Trig is indeed part of the story. My only conclusion as to why Dougherty chose instead to play a game of “spank me very much” with Palin is what my journalist source suspected: the paper got into an off-the-record deal that backed them into a corner.
What those of us who say – and I say this religiously – the story just doesn’t add up – need, is the piece of paper, the doctor’s statement, the exact quote on background or the information on deep background. Even it it’s to say, “she did gave birth to him.”
But as far as I know, no reporter who has gone up there to write a book, has been able to prove that Sarah Palin is this boy’s birth mother – or that she’s not.
So don’t get me wrong. I still find the tale of Trig’s birth as odd and suspicious as hell. This woman can’t tell the truth. This woman doesn’t tell the truth. And we know from Nixon’s story that the “hoax” was in play a full year before the Watergate break-in. That he was smiling and waving and winning by a landslide knowing full well that his covert ops were in play. So with Palin’s bizarre tale, absolutely anything is possible, also, too.
But we also know that it took two, tortuous, lonely, and isolating years for Woodstein, a few editors, and Katherine Graham, with her proverbial tit in a wringer, to nail down the biggest political story of my lifetime. The Post was laughed at, ridiculed and vilified as a partisan hack rag.
And then there’s Bradlee quoting a Gallup poll showing that a full 50% of the country neither knew, nor cared about Watergate. Sound familiar?
As a previous commenter wrote: the people who don’t have power have to decide that they want it and then decide how they are going to get it.
That’s what bloggers and readers are trying to do. Invent the new way to do this. Have an alternative line of authority, if any, to answer to. However, I still think that the criteria for “making the case” remains the same. Palin might call it a “time tested truth.”
And don’t forget: I am the mother of a 36 and 5/7 weeks, 5 pound, 14 ounce medically fragile preemie who was born at night, not in the morning, in only one city, and treated by a handful of medical professionals who would willingly verify our relationship...and who looked like this at 12 hours old:
Call the 1% that’s missing the “Bradlee factor.” And it’s still missing for me.