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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Woodward/Bernstein, good. Mark Felt, bad. What's wrong with this picture?

One of the most interesting side stories of the outing of Deep Throat is the question of self interest. Not a few of Mark Felt's critics have pointed out that money was part of his motivation in going was public. Gosh. A 92-year-old man (in frail health) says he hopes media interest in his famous history might result in a nest egg sufficient to help his grandson finish law school. Oh, the horror. Let's get real. Two years ago Woodward and Bernstein sold their Watergate papers to a university for a cool $5 million. Both reporters' book proposals today earn top-dollar publishing advances, and they command sizeable honoraria for speeches and other public appearances. So, why do we never hear complaints that the two Washington Post journalists are self-serving money grubbers? I don't happen to think that's what they are. Not only do hugely admire their landmark Watergate coverage three decades ago, I think these two reporters both have a right to make as much money as the market bears. Still, what's the reason they've been afforded this permanent status of moral exemplars? Is it that the left still despises Richard Nixon so much that the guys who brought him down deserve an ongoing assumption of saintly motives? Truth be told, it delights me that old Mark Felt beat Woodward and Bernstein to the punch. Where would the Post's dynamic duo be today if Felt hadn't sourced key material? Bob and Carl have said Felt was always a relucant source, which, if true, doesn't support the claim that Felt had an axe to grind. And his goal in helping bring the truth to light had been to get rich, would he have waited all these years go cash out his chips? If we're willing to believe Woodward and Bernstein's motives were high-minded in covering the Watergate story, can we at least extend to Felt the same benefit of the doubt? Even convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy says he acted on principle when he joined forces with a team of burglars who may yet get a Darwin Award for their collective dumbness (for starters, taping the lock of a door easily viewed by the night guard). Three decades later, Liddy's life seems prosperous. This is not to scold Liddy, whom I consider a smart guy who willingly for his past crimes. Here's my point about the G-Man: His Watergate association makes it possible these days for him to make high-paid speeches, which he has every right to do (unless of course he decides to take up residence in North Korea or Berkeley). Now I'll freely admit there's a key difference between Liddy and Felt — the former did jail time; the latter didn't and never will. It's safe to assume Felt has lived in a private hell for the past three decades. And, not to bring up long settled accounts, Richard Nixon never did jail time — but he too paid a political price, a vast one. And he died a wealthy man. (It seems reasonable to speculate that Nixon's grandchildren won't have college tuition blues.) So before we single out Mark Felt for impure motivations, show me a list of key Watergate players whose involvement in the scandal damaged their long-range earning capacity. If money's going to be made from this week's disclosures, I'm hoping the Felt family walks away with a bonanza.