I’m having trouble getting going this today. I looked around at the latest news, and I started to feel exhausted. But I’m resisting sinking into that feeling. I have to believe there is some way for us as a country to recover from the Trump poison. At least we got some good news yesterday when Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Pelosi announced that the House could vote on the Build Back Better bill this week.
Now Democrats will need to convince voters how great these accomplishments are.
Today’s news is filled with revelations from the book “Betrayal,” by Jonathan Karl, released today. In her review of the book in The New York Times, Jennifer Szalai focuses on Karl’s (along with other journalists) apparent blindness about who and what Trump was: In Another Trump Book, a Journalist’s Belated Awareness Steals the Show.
…[I]n his new book, “Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show,” Karl comes across as almost poignantly ingenuous and polite to a fault, repeatedly flummoxed by what he saw in the last year of the Trump administration. “Front Row,” which had the unfortunate timing of being published in March 2020, before the consequences of Trump’s governance were fully laid bare, began with a solemn tribute to “objectivity and balance” and a complaint that “the mainstream media coverage of Donald Trump is relentlessly and exhaustively negative.” Just a year-and-a-half later, after 750,000 American Covid deaths and an attack on the Capitol, Karl allows that the “Trump show” may have in fact been more sinister than mere theatrics after all.
“I have never wavered from my belief that journalists are not the opposition party and should not act like we are,” Karl maintains in “Betrayal.” “But the first obligation of a journalist is to pursue truth and accuracy. And the simple truth about the last year of the Trump presidency is that his lies turned deadly and shook the foundations of our democracy.”
According to Szalai, Karl repeated writes in the book that he is shocked by Trump’s behavior. From a description of Karl’s face-to-face interview with Trump:
During the…interview, Trump reminisced about the speech he gave on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before the attack on the Capitol, calling it “a very beautiful time with extremely loving and friendly people.” Karl, at least inwardly, was aghast. “I was taken aback by how fondly he remembers a day I will always remember as one of the darkest I have ever witnessed,” he writes, adding that Trump seemed to justify the death threats made against his own vice president. “It boggled my mind,” Karl says.
It did? The author’s expressions of surprise are so frequent and over-the-top that they are perhaps the most surprising parts of this book. “Betrayal” is less insightful about the Trump White House and more revealing of Karl’s own gradual, extremely belated awareness that something in the White House might in fact be awry. Events strike him as “wacky,” “crazy,” “nuts.” He delves into the outlandish conspiracy theories around the presidential election, earnestly explaining why each of them is wrong. He scores a number of on-the-record interviews with Trumpworld insiders — nearly all of whom insist that even as they publicly sided with Trump, they were bravely telling the president some very tough truths in private.
This is so typical of what we saw from journalists during the Trump years. They repeatedly tried to normalize Trump’s behavior and some are still doing it. But Trump showed us who again and again before he ran for president and especially during the 2016 campaign. Yet Karl was still shocked by what Trump said in the interview–even after he (Trump) refused to concede the election and led a serious coup attempt.
More revelations from the book:
In “Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show,” scheduled to be released today, Karl reports that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell tried to enlist a Pentagon official to help overturn the election.
According to the book, Flynn — who had just received an unconditional pardon from President Trump after pleading guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI during the Russia probe — made a frantic phone call to a senior Trump intelligence official named Ezra Cohen (sometimes referred to as Ezra Cohen-Watnick), who previously worked under Flynn at both the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Council.
“Where are you?” Flynn asked the DoD official, who said he was traveling in the Middle East.
“Flynn told him to cut his trip short and get back to the United States immediately because there were big things about to happen,” according to the book. Karl writes that Flynn told Cohen, “We need you,” and told the DoD official that “there was going to be an epic showdown over the election results.”
Flynn, according to the book, urged Cohen that “he needed to get orders signed, that ballots needed to be seized, and that extraordinary measures needed to be taken to stop Democrats from stealing the election.”
“As Flynn ranted about the election fight, [Cohen] felt his old boss sounded manic,” Karl writes in the book. “He didn’t sound like the same guy he had worked for.”
It gets even crazier.
“Betrayal” also reports that Sydney Powell, Flynn’s former lawyer who was then advising President Trump, called Cohen shortly after the Flynn conversation and tried to enlist his help with one the most far-fetched claims about the election, involving then-CIA Director Gina Haspel.
“Gina Haspel has been hurt and taken into custody in Germany,” Powell told Cohen, pushing a false conspiracy theory that had been gaining steam among QAnon followers, according to the book. “You need to launch a special operations mission to get her,” Powell said.
Powell, according to the book, was pushing the outlandish claim that Haspel had been injured while on a secret CIA operation to seize an election-related computer server that belonged to a company named Scytl — none of which was true.
“The server, Powell claimed, contained evidence that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of votes had been switched using rigged voting machines. Powell believed Haspel had embarked on this secret mission to get the server and destroy the evidence — in other words, the CIA director was part of the conspiracy,” Karl writes.
Powell wanted the Defense Department to send a special operations team over to Germany immediately: “They needed to get the server and force Haspel to confess,” Karl writes.
All of this was too crazy even for Trump loyalist Cohen, yet these are the people Trump was listening to after the election.
Hayes Brown at MSNBC: Jenna Ellis’ memo on stealing the 2020 election holds a lesson for Democrats.
After losing the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump was obsessed with finding a route to remain in power. In September, we learned that John Eastman, a conservative lawyer working with Trump’s legal team, went so far as to write a two-page memo for how to throw out President Joe Biden’s win before Congress could certify it in January.
And in the last week, we’ve learned that Eastman wasn’t alone in taking notes on a criminal conspiracy. At least two other people prepared memos to justify Trump’s reinstallation as president. This collection of memos shows more clearly than ever that those closest to the former president were dedicated to finding some loophole to keep him in power. Their mentally thin, ultimately self-serving assertions acted as fuel to Trump’s delusions, which he then passed on to his followers — most spectacularly, of course, at his rally ahead of the riot on Jan. 6….
ABC News first reported Sunday that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows emailed Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff on Dec. 31 to pass on a memo from Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis. Ellis — whom you may recall from her many failed attempts to reverse the election in court — “outlined a multi-step strategy,” according to Karl:
On Jan. 6, the day Congress was to certify the 2020 election results, Pence was to send back the electoral votes from six battleground states that Trump falsely claimed he had won.
The memo said that Pence would give the states a deadline of “7pm eastern standard time on January 15th” to send back a new set of votes, according to Karl.
Then, Ellis wrote, if any state legislature missed that deadline, “no electoral votes can be opened and counted from that state.”
That scheme aligns with one of the scenarios that Eastman laid out in his longer Jan. 3 memo. And at first glance it seems like a valid off-ramp that would let Trump save face and allow time to investigate the “fraud” that he had alleged. It’s not dissimilar in that sense from the arguments that Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., made in their refusal to vote to certify the election.
Crucially, though, the plan’s real goal depended on another plot that was underway inside the Trump administration. The Justice Department was under pressure in the weeks after the election to issue a letter to the states Trump falsely claimed to have won declaring that there was enough “significant concern” of fraud to warrant special sessions of their legislatures. Those legislatures controlled by the GOP — like Georgia’s and Arizona’s — would then provide the electoral votes needed to put Trump over the top under Ellis’ proposal.
Here’s the promised warning for Democrats:
Whether we like it or not, there are numerous loopholes and vagaries in our method of choosing a president. None of them have been remedied since 2020. And there are now multiple examples for the next would-be coup leader to draw from when exploiting the flaws inherent in the electoral system. If anything, Republican-controlled states have been moving to codify those flaws for their own benefit, making it easier for legislatures to overturn the will of the people.
I’ll end with this from EconoTimes: Capitol insurrection: Carl Bernstein says infamous memos are ‘blueprints’ of a coup.
According to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, the infamous memos drafted for Mike Pence to overturn the election results is a blueprint of a coup.
Bernstein weighed in on a recording of Trump and ABC journalist Jonathan Karl’s conversation, where the former president did not deny that he told Pence that if he does not overturn the 2020 election results, he is a “p***y.” The Watergate reporter said that there is more to the former president’s comments and touched on the memos drafted by lawyers John Eastman and Jenna Ellis. The memos detailed how Pence could overturn the 2020 elections, which Pence ultimately refused to do.
“I think what we’re seeing in these memos particularly are blueprints for a coup,” said Bernstein. “The actual blueprints in document form in which the president of the United States, through his chief of staff, is sending to Mike Pence’s, the vice president’s staff, a blueprint to overturn an election, a blueprint for a conspiracy led by a president of the United States to result in an authoritarian coup in which the election is stolen.”
Bernstein added that there is nothing that comes close to what happened in the 2020 elections and that it is all documented in writing. The Watergate reporter noted that more records are needed to determine what the former president said and did, especially on January 5 and January 6. Bernstein added that the House Committee must act fast to find the answers in case the GOP regains the majority in the House in 2022.
That’s it for me today. It is all so exhausting. But we have to hold onto hope somehow, don’t we? Please let me know your thoughts on this or any topic in the comment thread.
Poor Bob Woodward! The only way he can get attention nowadays is by whining and crying and generally creating a tempest in a teapot.
Yesterday Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen posted one of their patented “Behind the Curtain” pieces: Woodward at War, in which they dramatically revealed the inside story of Woodward’s little spat with the White House. This is the sort of story only the Villagers really care about, but when they care about something, they insist on forcing their opinions about it on the rest of us. It was the subject of the first hour of Morning Joe for yesterday and today, and the focus of countless media reports and blog posts throughout the day yesterday. Woodward must be in heaven with all this attention. From Politico:
Bob Woodward called a senior White House official last week to tell him that in a piece in that weekend’s Washington Post, he was going to question President Barack Obama’s account of how sequestration came about — and got a major-league brushback. The Obama aide “yelled at me for about a half-hour,” Woodward told us in an hourlong interview yesterday around the Georgetown dining room table where so many generations of Washington’s powerful have spilled their secrets.
Digging into one of his famous folders, Woodward said the tirade was followed by a page-long email from the aide, one of the four or five administration officials most closely involved in the fiscal negotiations with the Hill. “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today,” the official typed. “You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”
Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. “ ‘You’ll regret.’ Come on,” he said. “I think if Obama himself saw the way they’re dealing with some of this, he would say, ‘Whoa, we don’t tell any reporter ‘you’re going to regret challenging us.’”
Horrors! “I think you will regret staking out that claim” is a “major league brushback?” Either Nixon and his men were quite a bit wimpier than we all thought, or Woodward is a lot touchier now than he was in the Watergate days.
In an update, Vandehei and Allen revealed that the White House adviser who supposedly yelled at Woodward over the phone and then “threatened” him was Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council. This morning they published the actual e-mails between Sperling and Woodward. Frankly, I was underwhelmed. Follow me below the fold to read them.
Read the rest of this entry »
In Washington, D.C., the winter solstice sun reaches a maximum angle of only 27.7º above the horizon at solar noon. In the more northern city of London, the sun takes an even shorter path, climbing only 15.1º in the sky. And just south of the Arctic Circle, the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik sees the midday sun climb no higher than 2.1º above the horizon.
Here’s some other ways that humanity has celebrated the day in the past from National Geographic.
Throughout history, humans have celebrated the winter solstice, often with an appreciative eye toward the return of summer sunlight.
Massive prehistoric monuments such as Ireland’s mysterious Newgrange tomb (video) are aligned to capture the light at the moment of the winter solstice sunrise.
Germanic peoples of Northern Europe honored the winter solstice with Yule festivals—the origin of the still-standing tradition of the long-burning Yule log.
The Roman feast of Saturnalia, honoring the God Saturn, was a weeklong December feast that included the observance of the winter solstice. Romans also celebrated the lengthening of days following the solstice by paying homage to Mithra—an ancient Persian god of light.
Many modern pagans attempt to observe the winter solstice in the traditional manner of the ancients.
“There is a resurgent interest in more traditional religious groups that is often driven by ecological motives,” said Harry Yeide, a professor of religion at George Washington University. “These people do celebrate the solstice itself.”
I like to remind people that Mithra is the real reason for the season. Despite what Fox News says, the original happy holiday for the Romans on December 25th was the birthday of the virgin born Mithra. Vatican City was built on his huge temple. Too bad we might never get to excavate it.
Mithra, legend says, was incarnated into human form (as prophesized by Zarathustra) in 272 bc. He was born of a virgin, who was called the Mother of God. Mithra’s birthday was celebrated December 25 and he was called “the light of the world.” After teaching for 36 years, he ascended into heaven in 208 bc.
There were many similarities with Christianity: Mithraists believed in heaven and hell, judgement and resurrection. They had baptism and communion of bread and wine. They believed in service to God and others.
In the Roman Empire, Mithra became associated with the sun, and was referred to as the Sol Invictus, or unconquerable sun. The first day of the week — Sunday — was devoted to prayer to him. Mithraism became the official religion of Rome for some 300 years. The early Christian church later adopted Sunday as their holy day, and December 25 as the birthday of Jesus.
Mithra became the patron of soldiers. Soldiers in the Roman legions believed they should fight for the good, the light. They believed in self-discipline and chastity and brotherhood. Note that the custom of shaking hands comes from the Mithraic greeting of Roman soldiers.
It was operated like a secret society, with rites of passage in the form of physical challenges. Like in the gnostic sects (described below), there were seven grades, each protected by a planet.
Since Mithraism was restricted to men, the wives of the soldiers often belonged to clubs of Great Mother (Cybele) worshippers. One of the women’s rituals involved baptism in blood by having an animal- preferably a bull – slaughtered over the initiate in a pit below. This combined with the myth of Mithra killing the first living creature, a bull, and forming the world from the bull’s body, and was adopted by the Mithraists as well.
When Constantine converted to Christianity, he outlawed Mithraism. But a few Zoroastrians still exist today in India, and the Mithraic holidays were celebrated in Iran until the Ayatollah came into power. And, of course, Mithraism survives more subtly in various European — even Christian — traditions.
So, somebody needs to remind Fox News that Constantine was the one that stole December 25th from the Mithraists. They should direct their outrage at him.
Speaking of Fox News, there’s something you should read on the Dread Pirate Murdoch and his attempt to install a US President. The story gets some column space from Carl Bernstein writing for The Guardian. It’s about said dread pirate’s attempt to waylay the US presidential election by trying to get Petraeus to run. Bernstein’s big question is why weren’t the press all over this?
The Murdoch story – his corruption of essential democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic – is one of the most important and far-reaching political/cultural stories of the past 30 years, an ongoing tale without equal. Like Richard Nixon and his tapes, much attention has been focused on the necessity of finding the smoking gun to confirm what other evidence had already established beyond a doubt: that the elemental instruments of democracy, ie the presidency in Nixon’s case, and the privileges of free press in Murdoch’s, were grievously misused and abused for their own ends by those entrusted to use great power for the common good.
In Nixon’s case, the system worked. His actions were investigated by Congress, the judicial system held that even the president of the United States was not above the law, and he was forced to resign or face certain impeachment and conviction. American and British democracy has not been so fortunate with Murdoch, whose power and corruption went unchecked for a third of a century.
The most important thing we journalists do is make judgments about what is news. Perhaps no story has eluded us on a daily basis (for lack of trying) for so many years as the story of Murdoch’s destructive march across our democratic landscape. Only the Guardian vigorously pursued the leads of the hacking story and methodically stuck with it for months and years, never ignoring the underlying context of how Rupert Murdoch conducted his take-no-prisoners business and journalism without regard for the most elemental standards of fairness, accuracy or balance, or even lawful conduct.
When the Guardian’s hacking coverage reached critical mass last year, I quoted a former top Murdoch deputy as follows: “This scandal and all its implications could not have happened anywhere else. Only in Murdoch’s orbit. The hacking at News of the World was done on an industrial scale. More than anyone, Murdoch invented and established this culture in the newsroom, where you do whatever it takes to get the story, take no prisoners, destroy the competition, and the end will justify the means.”
The tape that Bob Woodward obtained, and which the Washington Post ran in the style section, should be the denouement of the Murdoch story on both sides of the Atlantic, making clear that no institution, not even the presidency of the United States, was beyond the object of his subversion. If Murdoch had bankrolled a successful Petraeus presidential campaign and – as his emissary McFarland promised – “the rest of us [at Fox] are going to be your in-house” – Murdoch arguably might have sewn up the institutions of American democracy even more securely than his British tailoring.
An interesting little survey result of university students put a smile on my face for a variety of reasons. It’s actually a few months old and I some how missed it. That’s to BB for letting me know why my students always looked so sleepy on the way into the lectures for all those years. I was an economics major so ….
In a survey of several thousand English undergraduates by Studentbeans.com, economics majors are more likely to have more sexual partners than their peers other fields. A budding Ben Bernanke had an average of 4.88 sex partners since college started. Compare this to the struggling Comparative Religion major who has had an average or 2.13 partners, or the mournful Environmental Science major who has slept with only 1.71 people. It is not even a contest.
Maybe it’s just be cause we’re great at data gathering and we keep count. Or maybe not.
Congressman Barney Frank in his last days in office and is giving many interviews. He talks openly about a lot of interesting things.
Later, after recounting a controversy over an attempt by a male prostitute to blackmail him, he said, “I always have thought prostitution should be legal” and said that ultimately women were “worse off” without legalized prostitution.
Frank also believes that those who vote against gay and lesbian rights but who are in the closet deserve to be outed, explaining, “Yes, I believe the policy should be that people have a right to privacy but not to hypocrisy.”
Frank discussed recent comments made by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia when asked by a Princeton student about his writing on same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian issues. “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” Scalia told the student.
“I was glad that he made clear what’s been obvious, that he’s just a flat out bigot,” said Frank, going on to call the explanation “quite stupid.”
This has to be the biggest taxpayer supported boondoggle in the history of boondoogles: “The Cost of Romney’s Government-Assisted Transition: $8.9 Million”.
One of the less scintillating milestones of the 2012 election was marked by the General Services Administration, when Mitt Romney became the first candidate to take advantage of the Presidential Transition Act of 2010. The Act, spearheaded by former Sen. Ted Kaufman, provides resources for major candidates to start planning for their presidency long before Election Day. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, TIME acquired documents from the GSA that show the scope–and cost–of this unprecedented government-assisted transition.
In 2010, legislators said the main goal of the Act was to bolster national security by ensuring that candidates are prepared to take office, and that they don’t shy away from transition planning for fear that they’ll look presumptuous. To that end, the law stipulates that the federal government will provide certain resources to non-incumbent candidates after their nominating convention. The GSA says final costs are still being tabulated, but the initial estimated cost for Romney’s pre-transition phase is around $8.9 million.
Last week, the Romney press corp wrote a formal complaint regarding the charges that they say far exceed any other campaign. Today, after getting no response from on high, some of the press corp alerted American Express that they are contesting the charges.
Citing examples of “exorbitant charges” for food and holding costs, the press corp detail in their letter to the Romney campaign, “Some examples: $745 per person charged for a vice presidential debate viewing party on Oct. 11; $812 charged for a meal and a hold on Oct. 18; $461 for a meal and hold the next day; $345 for food and hold Oct. 30.”
These are no small outlets fighting back against the Romney campaign; signing the letter are the higher ups from the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Agence France-Presse, Washington Post, Yahoo, Buzzfeed, and Financial Times. This isn’t their first rodeo.
They also have questions about food ostensibly provided for them but eaten by the campaign staff. “These costs far exceed typical expenses on the campaign trail. Also, it was clear to all present that the campaign’s paid staff frequently consumed the food and drinks ostensibly produced for the media. Were any of the costs of these events charged to the campaign itself, to cover the care and feeding of its staff?”
Earlier Buzzfeed reported that the campaign went all out at the viewing party, providing massage tables and lavish food and booze. Unfortunately, these perks weren’t discussed with all of the media that are now being charged for them.
That certainly sounds like the way an enterprising CEO screws their projects to me. Good thing he didn’t get his hands on the national treasury.
So, that’s it for me this morning … Carry on!!
What’s on your reading and blogging list this morning?
Nora Ephron, who gained a devoted following for her perceptive, deeply personal essays and parlayed that renown into a screenwriting career of wistful romantic comedies such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail,” the marital exposé “Heartburn” and the whistleblower drama “Silkwood,” died June 26 at a hospital in New York. She was 71.
The death was confirmed by her friend Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist. She died of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, with which she was diagnosed six years ago.
As a young woman, Ms. Ephron modeled her self-deprecating and deadpan writing style on Dorothy Parker, part of the Algonquin Round Table of sophisticated New York writers and humorists that also included Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman. Of the philandering husband in her 1983 novel “Heartburn” — modeled on her marriage to former Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein — Ms. Ephron wrote he was “capable of having sex with a Venetian blind.”
In time, Ms. Ephron became a social confederate of New York playwrights, filmmakers and wits, including Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and Calvin Trillin; Washington journalists including former Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee and his journalist wife, Sally Quinn; and a Hollywood coterie that included Rob Reiner, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin and Steven Spielberg.
The New York Times calls her a “woman of letters.”
She was a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director — a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men. More box-office success arrived with “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.” By the end of her life, though remaining remarkably youthful looking, she had even become something of a philosopher about age and its indignities.
“Why do people write books that say it’s better to be older than to be younger?” she wrote in “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” her 2006 best-selling collection of essays. “It’s not better. Even if you have all your marbles, you’re constantly reaching for the name of the person you met the day before yesterday.”
Nora Ephron was born on May 19, 1941, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the eldest of four sisters, all of whom became writers. That was no surprise; writing was the family business. Her father, Henry, and her mother, the former Phoebe Wolkind, were Hollywood screenwriters who wrote, among other films, “Carousel,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Captain Newman, M.D.”
“Everything is copy,” her mother once said, and she and her husband proved it by turning the college-age Nora into a character in a play, later a movie, “Take Her, She’s Mine.” The lesson was not lost on Ms. Ephron, who seldom wrote about her children but could make sparkling copy out of almost anything else: the wrinkles on her neck, her apartment, cabbage strudel, Teflon pans and the tastelessness of egg-white omelets.
Ephron’s first marriage, to writer Dan Greenburg, ended after nine years. In 1976 she married Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward had broken the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post a few years earlier. “Heartburn,” her 1996 novel, found humor in the ruins of her marriage to Bernstein, who, she said, had an affair while she was pregnant with their second son. The Bernstein-based character was played by Jack Nicholson, the Ephron-based character by Meryl Streep, in the 1986 film version.
Streep had also starred three years earlier in the Mike Nichols-directed “Silkwood,” a drama based on the real-life story of a labor organizer at a nuclear-processing plant whose whistle-blowing was abruptly ended when she died in a car accident.
Ephron’s third marriage was to journalist Nicholas Pileggi, who adapted his 1985 book “Wiseguy” into the movie “Goodfellas” (1990), directed by Martin Scorsese.
Pileggi survives her, as do her two sons from her marriage to Bernstein, Max and Jacob.
I loved Ephron’s humorous essays, and her novel Heartburn was absolutely hilarious. I had no idea she was the model for the Sandra Dee role in Take Her, She’s Mine–a romantic comedy starring Jimmy Stewart as the worried father of an attractive teenager. I wasn’t wild about some of Ephron’s sappy movies like You’ve Got Mail, but Silkwood is one of my all-time favorites. As an aside, I don’t think most people really believe Karen Silkwood’s “accident” was anything other than murder.
Rest in peace, Nora. You’ve left us far too soon.
There are lots of interesting books coming out this month, so thought I’d preview a few of them. I pre-ordered the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, which comes out today. I have the first two volumes, and I admit they’ve just been sitting on my bookshelf for years unread. I thought I might read vol. 4 first, since it covers the Kennedy assassination and Johnson’s first few years as President. Then maybe I’ll be inspired to read the earlier volumes. Caro is 77 this year. I hope he has time to finish this series, which is considered one of the greatest biographies of all time.
Another interesting book that is being released today is Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The book is an investigation of the giant corporation beginning with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and ending with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Salon published an excerpt from the book on Sunday.
Also coming out today is It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. The authors had an op-ed in the Washington Post a few days ago to preview the book: Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
And then yesterday there was a bit of a media circus over a book that will be released next Tuesday, May 8: Yours in Truth, by Jeff Himmelman–a biography of Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post back when it was a real newspaper. New York Magazine published an excerpt from the book that led to a fascinating back and forth over what I think are some pretty minor issues about the Washington Post’s Watergate coverage. The fascinating aspects of the story are the reactions of the people involved: Himmelman, Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein.
Jeff Himmelman worked for years as a research assistant to Bob Woodward, helping him with articles for the WaPo, as well as Woodward’s book Bush at War. Woodward was Himmelman’s mentor.
My office was on the third floor of Bob’s house, down the hall from the framed apology from Nixon’s press secretary that sits at the top of the staircase. I was back working as Bob’s research assistant for a few months, after having more or less lived in his house from 1999 to 2002. Bob had been my first real boss, hiring me when I was 23. I’d been with him on September 11, as he charged toward the Capitol while the plane presumably targeting it was still in the air, and had helped him begin Bush at War, the first of his blockbuster portraits of the Bush presidency that were a late turning point in his legendary career. As a reporter, I was in awe of him. I had also gotten to know Carl Bernstein, who called often and sometimes stayed in the guest bedroom on the other end of the third floor. I still remember the charge I got out of relaying Carl’s phone messages—Bernstein for Woodward.
Carl was important to Bob, but Ben Bradlee was something entirely different. Bob revered him, and so I did, too. I had only met Ben once, for a few seconds in Bob’s kitchen, but I had seen All the President’s Men. When Bob said, “I told them they should hire you,” I leaped at the chance.
Woodward’s mentor had been Ben Bradlee, long-time editor of the WaPo. So naturally when Woodward suggested Himmelman as a co-author of a memoir by Bradlee, Himmelman was thrilled. Eventually, Bradlee decided he didn’t want to write the book, but he was fine with Himmelman writing a biography. Bradlee generously opened up his archives to the young writer. All of which led up to a mini-Shakespearean tragedy.
Himmelman discovered that Bradlee had on a few occasions questioned whether Woodward’s portrayal of his relationship with Deep Throat had been embellished–perhaps the story about the signals he used to schedule meetings (using a flowerpot on Woodward’s apartment balcony, which has one of the best stainless steel juliet balconies by the way) with the mysterious source wasn’t quite true or perhaps there were more or fewer meetings in the parking garage than Woodward had described. Bradlee had told an interviewer in 1990:
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.
To me, that’s a big *so what?* Those details aren’t integral to the Watergate story.
The second big revelation in yesterday’s New York Magazine article was that one of Carl Bernstein’s anonymous sources had actually been had actually been a grand juror in Judge Sirica’s investigation. If that had ever come out, Woodward and Bernstein would have been jailed. The two young reporters and Bradlee had made the decision to approach some of the grand jurors, although it would have been a crime for the jurors to reveal any of the evidence. It was risky, but frankly, I have no problem with it. Journalists should take risks. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
In early December, Judge John Sirica was told by prosecutors that a grand juror had been approached by the Post reporters but had revealed nothing. Incensed, Sirica called Woodward and Bernstein into court two weeks later and warned against any further meddling. “Had they actually obtained information from that grand juror,” he wrote later, “they would have gone to jail.” According to the Post’s lawyers, who negotiated on their behalf, Sirica almost locked them up anyway.
Before the scolding from Sirica, Bernstein visited the apartment of a woman he identified, in the book, as “Z.” She wouldn’t talk to him in person, but she slipped her number under the door. “Your articles have been excellent,” she told him, advising him to read their own reporting carefully. “There is more truth in there than you must have realized,” she said. “Your perseverance has been admirable.” She sounded, Carl thought, “like some kind of mystic.”
Through an old memo from Bernstein, Himmelman learned that this woman was actually a grand juror, although Bernstein didn’t know that when he first approached her. They used her as a source in All the President’s Men without revealing her identity. Again, I have no problem with that. No one is going to jail for this now.
But Bob Woodward especially is very upset. Bernstein is concerned, but less than Woodward, who IMHO is self-involved, pompous ass. Anyway New York Mag published a response from Woodward and Bernstein along with Himmelman’s article.
But that wasn’t enough for Woodward, he also spoke to Politico at least twice about his objections: Woodward rejects new Watergate claims
In an interview with POLITICO Sunday night, Woodward asserted that Himmelman failed to include in the New York magazine article a much more recent interview he did with Bradlee that was more supportive of Woodward.
“There’s a transcript of an interview that Himmelman did with Bradlee 18 months ago in which Ben undercuts the [New York magazine] piece. It’s amazing that it’s not in Jeff’s piece,” Woodward said. “It’s almost like the way Nixon’s tapings did him in, Jeff’s own interview with Bradlee does him in.”
According to Woodward’s reading of the transcript, Bradlee told Himmelman: “If you would ask me, do I think that [Woodward] embellished, I would say no.”
Bradlee and wife Sally Quinn also defended Woodward to Politico. Poor Woodward–stabbed in the back by his beloved protege: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child! (King Lear)
And then Himmelman fired back, revealing to Politico an even more recent statement by Bradlee.
That interview between Bradlee and Himmelman took place on March 9, 2011, just two days after Woodward met with Bradlee and Himmelman at Bradlee’s house to encourage them not to publish the potentially damaging quotes from his 1990 interview.
In the 2011 interview, which Himmelman provided to POLITICO and are included in his forthcoming biography of Bradlee, Bradlee reiterates his initial doubts about Woodward’s reporting.
“I wanted to be crystal clear about it, so I just went ahead and asked him,” Himmelman writes. “‘You said what you said in 1990, and there’s a record of it…’”
Himmelman: “And you don’t retract it?”
Bradlee: “I don’t.”
If, like me you’re still fascinated by the Watergate story and by political journalism generally do go read the Himmelman article in NY Magazine. The part I found most interesting was how upset Woodward was by these minor revelations–he even begged Himmelman not to include them in the book and convinced Bradlee to also ask that Himmelman leave them out of the book. Woodward tried to convince Himmelman himself and then showed up at Bradlee’s house to enlist his mentor’s help. From the NY Mag. article:
When Bob arrived, he didn’t look like he’d slept a lot. We shook hands, but only in the most perfunctory way. Ben sat at the head of the dining-room table, and I sat to Ben’s left, facing Bob. There was no small talk. Bob had brought a thick manila folder with him, which he set down heavily on the table in a way that he meant for us to notice. When Ben asked what it was, Bob said, “Data.” Then he asked Ben what he thought of the whole situation.
“I’ve known this young man for some years now,” Ben said, meaning me, “and I trust his skills and his intent.” Then he looked down at the transcript and said, “Nothing in here really bothers me, but I know there’s something in here that bothers you. What’s in here that bothers you?”
Bob went into his pitch, which he proceeded to repeat over the course of the meeting. He would read the “residual fear” line out loud, and then say he couldn’t ﬁgure out how Ben could still have had doubts about his reporting so many years after Nixon resigned. This was the unresolvable crux of the problem, and one they circled for the duration of the meeting: How could Ben have doubted the ﬂowerpots and the garage meetings, when the rest of the reporting had turned out to be true? Bob thought this was inconsistent and hurtful. Ben didn’t. Bob tried everything he could to get Ben to disavow what he had said, or at least tell me I couldn’t use it. Ben wouldn’t do either of those things. “Bob, you’ve made your point,” Ben said after Bob had made his pitch four or five times. “Quit while you’re ahead.”
Clearly Bradlee agrees with me that this is no big deal. But Woodward is worried about his legacy. Sorry, Bob. You already sold out your legacy by becoming the Bush administration’s court stenographer.
Bob turned to me. I had worked for him; he had given an impromptu toast at my wedding. You know me and the world we live in, he said. People who didn’t like him and didn’t like the Post—the “fuckers out there,” as Ben had called them—were going to seize on these comments. “Don’t give fodder to the fuckers,” Bob said, and once he lit on this phrase he repeated it a couple of times. The quotes from the interview with Barbara were nothing more than outtakes from Ben’s book, he said. Ben hadn’t used them, and so I shouldn’t use them, either.
The article ends with the further revelation that the original tape of the 1990 interview has disappeared from the archive.
“What does that mean?” Ben asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think Woodward’s got it?”
“Maybe,” I said. He laughed, and then I laughed. The Watergate parallels were a little much, though we were surely imagining things. “His reaction to this thing was off the charts.”
“Off the charts!” Ben said. “It suggests that he’s really worried. That it might be true.”
Who cares about these little revelations about a long ago scandal? I don’t. Sadly, if Watergate happened today, it would be just a minor blip on the political radar. Huge scandals and abuses of power are now routinely ignored or defended by the supine and power-worshiping corporate media. But the insight this story provides into the psychology of Bob Woodward is fascinating.
Sorry this ended up being so long. I hope you’re not all bored stiff. So what’s on your reading list today?