The Press and Watergate  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   February/March 2013

The Press and Watergate   

By Unknown

I found Max Holland's "Watergate Reconsidered" essay (Fall) interesting for the information it added, based on his research, about the true motives of Mark Felt, better known as Deep Throat, Bob Woodward's renowned source in the book and movie "All the President's Men." But I disagree with his choice of words in his nut graph when he characterizes the media's role in the scandal dismissively, writing, "To be sure, the press played an instrumental, possibly irreplaceable role," followed by saying that, "Yet contrary to the myth fomented by the book and movie, the media did not save the day with truth as its only weapon."

I made a careful study of "All the President's Men," rereading it several times, when I was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer (1979-2008) and used it to teach reporting to journalism majors as an adjunct instructor at Temple University in Philadelphia from 1994 to 2007 and as a fulltime instructor for the 2000-2001 academic year at Penn State University at State College. I found it inspirational to some of my more serious students, in part because of a few paragraphs in the book's opening chapter. There we learn of the important roles that two unheralded Washington Post reporters played in the newspaper's first stories about the Watergate break-in. Both of them were police reporters, doing one of the most vital but unappreciated and underrated jobs in journalism.

One, Alfred E. Lewis, provided key details about the burglary that helped elevate the first story to page one status, thus sharply increasing the chances it would not be overlooked by Post editors and other journalists. The second was Eugene Bachinski, who had police sources who provided Woodward notes from the address books of two of the Watergate burglars, including the curious notations under conspirator E. Howard Hunt of "W. House" and "W.H." Those notes were instrumental in giving the "Woodstein" team the foundation of their next Watergate story, raising questions about the burglars' White House connections, and reason to start relentlessly pursuing other leads.

I never thought that the media "saved the day" in the only scandal in our history leading to the resignation of a president. Nor do I think of the book and movie as fomenting a myth about the media's role in Watergate. Of course, federal law enforcement authorities and congressional investigators had to rise to the occasion and do their parts in bringing down Richard Nixon and his co-conspirators. But there's no way to know if, or how long, it may have taken to find the truth without the good shove given to the story of Watergate by old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting.

Tom Belden

San Antonio, Texas