So yesterday I had a series of exchanges with a couple of conservatives about how I think the fact that many Republicans are focusing on Benghazi suggests that they think they’re going to lose: they don’t have anything else. You can see those exchanges here and here.
The first of the complaints I received about my comment rested on a series of statements about Watergate that I think I fairly debunked in my response. But it also made a reference to how the media conspired to cover up the Benghazi disaster just like the media covered up Watergate.
Which got me thinking.
First, as I said in my reply, the media didn’t cover up Watergate, it EXPOSED it. Two entrepreneurial Washington Post — a mainstream media source if ever there was one — reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, were the first to explore the Watergate break in and cover up in any detail. While their reporting did not bring Nixon down (contrary to popular myth), it was their work that turned Watergate from a minor break in to the scandal that destroyed a President. You can read all about it or see their work depicted in their book All the President’s Men, or the film version with the same name, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford.
Likewise, it was media sources that broke the story about Benghazi. And, it should be added, broke it quickly: the Watergate break in (and its associated scandals involving the White House operation known as the “plumbers”) took years to expose.
The notion that it was a “media conspiracy” to protect Nixon and/or Obama is just absurd.
Second, while my respondent insisted that the media protected Nixon, that certainly would have been news to Nixon himself. My respondent claims to remember Watergate and the era (as do I), but seems utterly unaware that Nixon hated the media. Hated it. The Watergate tapes are filled with his loathing, sneering comments about reporters, as well as his efforts to have the FBI and the CIA undermine reporters’ and critics’ credibility. It takes a remarkable mind to imagine Nixon as having been protected by the media. That it took years to expose Watergate was not the result of a media cover up. it was the result of the fact that the President of the United States used his vast powers to enact a multi-layered, Gordian knot of a conspiracy. A conspiratorial knot that took a while and several court cases, including one of my favorites, United States v Nixon, to untangle. (I think it’s amazing that the government can sue the president in this country. Freaking amazing.)
Third, my conspiratorial respondent also forgets the commercial incentive that media sources have to expose government wrongdoing. Most media is for profit in the US, meaning that if you have a story that is going to generate vast attention—and thus sales, web hits, and other revenue-generating actions—you have a commercial incentive to go ahead with the story. The notion that the media actively protects someone they might make profit from exposing runs afoul of simple commercial logic … and the existence of tabloids, the Drudge Report, FOX News and Perez Hilton. (I am trying to figure out how to purge that name from my memory banks, but am failing.)
Fourth, and finally, my conspiracy-minded interlocutor forgets the fact that reporters have a career incentive to break a big story. Bob Woodward, in particular, has made his entire career following up the Watergate story with intimate portraits of policy-making in Washington, DC. Thus, let’s say I “knew” that Barack Obama was really a Kenyan Muslim member of the Communist Party. (Only one of those things bars you from being president by the way, but this is the world, so, whatever.) Why wouldn’t I show what I have? My career would be made, particularly on the right. I could be famous, get invited to all the “in” parties, and probably get rich. And I am going to sit on this, why?
It is easy to see conspiracies. It is almost never worth thinking about them. And while it is true that even paranoids have enemies, it is also the case that some things are true and some things are false. One of the true things is that the press did not protect Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Another is that the press is not protecting Barack Obama on the Benghazi tragedy.