Perhaps Watergate Leak Credit Should Go To The FBI More Than To Woodward And Bernstein

from the investigative-journalism-at-work... dept

We've talked in the past about how those complaining about the supposed "loss" of investigative journalism, if newspapers go away, are wrong. First, investigative journalism of the kind that people think about (i.e., Woodward and Bernstein breaking Watergate) is a relatively new phenomenon, and was not a common part of newspaper journalism until just a few decades ago. Second, very few newspapers put that much in the way of resources towards investigative reporting anyway. Third, there's nothing stopping other organizations from doing investigative reporting -- and we've been seeing a growing range of new online publications that focus on investigative reporting and do a great job of it. But a separate point is that it's often really not the investigative reporters who uncover the story, but the folks involved in the news themselves -- and those folks rarely get credit for providing the info that makes the journalistic effort possible.

Over the weekend, the news came out that the NY Times actually had the Watergate story before Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post. The acting director of the FBI leaked it to the Times just before Mark Felt, the associate director of the FBI, leaked it to the Washington Post (and became immortalized as "Deep Throat"). As Jay Rosen points out, this really means the FBI "broke" the story just as much as Woodward and Bernstein did. If there's a story that needs to get out there, never underestimate the folks on the inside for leaking it to get it out there -- and then there will be no shortage of folks to help spread the news. Again (so people don't misinterpret this), I'm not saying investigative reporters aren't needed -- but that not all of the story comes from the reporters themselves. And, on top of that, there are a growing number of publications willing to pick up the slack.


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    identicon
    TheStupidOne, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:44pm

    Only terrorists leak information to the press.

     

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      Kill the Internet, May 27th, 2009 @ 9:55am

      Simpleton author fails to distinguish Source from Story

      Moron:

      Crediting the FBI (a source) with being the first to "leak" the story to a newspaper (The Washington Post) without understanding the distinction might be the dumbest thing you've ever written.

      And that is saying a mouthful.

      The FBI was charged w investigating the breakin, which is their job. Leaking some of what they discovered to the Post and NY Times--didn't make the story. It simply corraborated what WB already had discovered.

      The Times gets ZERO credit for knowing and not reporting. That means nothing. In fact, it is a shameful mark on its legacy.

      But failing to distinguish the two entities--and the roles they play--merely proves how out of touch--and intellectually limited--you really, truly are.

      Sigh...

       

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        Mike Masnick (profile), May 27th, 2009 @ 1:02pm

        Re: Simpleton author fails to distinguish Source from Story

        Moron

        Starting with an insult makes you that much more credible.

        Crediting the FBI (a source) with being the first to "leak" the story to a newspaper (The Washington Post) without understanding the distinction might be the dumbest thing you've ever written.

        We're always striving to top ourselves.


        But failing to distinguish the two entities--and the roles they play--merely proves how out of touch--and intellectually limited--you really, truly are


        Concluding on an insult as well.

        The point, which you seem to have missed entirely, is that the information was going to get out one way or another. It's great that W&B did a great job getting the info out, and the NYT failure to follow up is a shame. But none of that was the point. The point was that the idea that W&B were the sole reason the info got out is clearly not true. Thus, if they weren't around, someone else would have gotten the story out... just as if newspapers go out of business, others will still do investigative reporting.

        I'm sorry you feel that what we wrote was the stupidest thing we've ever written, but at worst, it appears we merely failed to make our point clear, since you misread it. So, I'm sorry if we didn't explain ourselves clearly, though I still feel the insults are unwarranted (and unbecoming).

         

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    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 3:15pm

    Wikileaks has done more to the blow the lid off corruption stories than any reporter ever has. More accurately, Wikileaks has provided a better mechanism for whistleblowers to expose the nefarious deeds of their employers.

     

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    Oscar Wilde, May 26th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

    Wikileaks provides a mask.

    "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."

     

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    Hank Ross, May 26th, 2009 @ 4:10pm

    I thought the same thing when I saw that story.

    It's interesting because when it was revealed that Mark Felt was Deep Throat some people said it was because he was disgruntled about being passed over for the director position after Hoover died.

    Which also begs the question if any of Watergate would've come to light if Hoover hadn't died.

    One of the best scenes in Oliver Stone's "Nixon" is the one when they're all on the presidential yacht and they start joking about getting a call from Hoover asking for President Harding. That guy was in power in Washington for a loooong time.

     

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    Bettawrekonize, May 26th, 2009 @ 6:54pm

    "and those folks rarely get credit for providing the info that makes the journalistic effort possible. "

    (sorry for stating the obvious again) but that's often because they don't want to receive credit. If they do, there will likely be consequences (ie: lose job under some other pretext, treated unfairly, discriminated against, mistreated by other employees, etc...).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 8:13pm

    How how much did the Washington Post pay Mark Felt? Woodward and Bernstein stole his IP and exploited it to make themselves rich and famous. What did they pay him?

     

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    Hank Ross, May 26th, 2009 @ 9:39pm

    If The Times' tip came two months after the break-in, that would have been two months after Woodward had started on the story, having first reported on the arraignment of the burglars the day after the break-in. "The tip was the stories we were doing in the Post that they didn't follow up," Woodward added.

    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003976386

     

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    Michael, May 27th, 2009 @ 4:49am

    The thing is that the tip isn't the story - the point about Woodstein is that the Post paid two full time reporters to work on a single large story for a long period of time. The issue related to journalism is that not many would make that kind of investment any more... though not many ever made that kind of investment.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2009 @ 6:59am

    > the FBI "broke" the story just as much as Woodward and Bernstein did.

    "Breaking" a story means being the first to publish. It's certainly not meant as the person who leaked it. Since the Post was the first to publish, they broke it.

    PS: Felt was also with FBI, so even if you give credit for breaking a story to the source, that remains with the FBI.

     

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    Andrew D. Todd, May 27th, 2009 @ 7:33am

    How to Leak on WikiLeaks.

    The way for a leaker to be credible on WikiLeaks is to reproduce very large quantities of material, both "smoking guns" and routine office paperwork, especially the kind of stuff which goes on the internal mailing list, or which is readily accessible to a lot of people inside the organization. Once the stuff is published, bloggers can compare it against published information to see if it is consistent. Assuming it is consistent, the leak is either authentic or a very skilled and laborious forgery. With luck, multiple outsiders who have privately communicated with the office which is being leaked will come forward to say publicly that certain documents are authentic, and that they cannot see how anyone outside the said office could have gained access to them. If Mark Felt had been contemplating anonymous publication, he would no doubt have made a collection of memoranda which could not be specifically traced to him, and used them as a means to establish credibility.

    Given that the officials were collectively willing to leak, they could have found means to do so.

     

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