Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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Deep Throat II

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For 30 years after the event, Watergate junkies played the Deep Throat parlor game. Who could the secret source be?

Deep Throat led Woodward and Bernstein to the big story that ultimately brought down Richard Nixon. Deep Throat had to be a swashbuckling, street smart, mysterious patriot – a kind of modern day Scarlet Pimpernel.

The movie All the President’s Men reinforced the myth. The great Hal Holbrook, handpicked by Robert Redford for the role because of his stature, played Deep Throat, with all menace and gravitas that Redford wanted.

Well, just a few years ago, we learned who Deep Throat actually was. He was no Pimpernel and no Hal Holbrook. He was a disgruntled employee. Mark Felt was passed over to be head of the FBI. He wasn’t trying to save the country, he wanted to extract an insider’s revenge.

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Maybe one moral is: Do not necessarily ascribe a noble motive to an anonymous source.

The “senior official in the Trump administration” who announced himself as a part of the resistance within the government in a New York Times op/​ed, but namelessly, may have his own agenda. He, or she, may not be brave; he may only be virtue signaling, or vengeful.

And we cannot assume high motives for the Times, either, since, from Day 1 of the administration it has made clear that it regards the president as illegitimate and unworthy, and therefore deserving of total resistance by virtually any means. Journalistic fairness and balance may be legitimately compromised, the Times seems to think, in the case of a president who presents an “existential threat” to the country.

Maybe that would be true if Donald Trump really were the modern, moral equal of Hitler, as many journalists have convinced themselves he is.

Conservatives would argue that Mr. Trump has been a more constitutional president, thus far, than Barack Obama.

But what better way for the Times to destroy its credibility than by creating anti-Trump news as it has with the op/​ed?

There are three questions to be asked about the anonymous essay that go to the heart of the matter:

1) How did this article make us safer from the alleged instability and unsuitability of Mr. Trump?

Everything in the article has been alleged before and nothing new was said or substantiated by specific example. The only new thing is that someone allegedly close to the president (bureaucratically) is willing to say what Times columnists have said for two years. The paranoia and fortress mentality of the White House will only deepen now, and, logically, so will the isolation and dysfunction there.

2) If a high level official within the administration really does fear for the country, would not the effective, and patriotic, thing be to resign in protest?

Quit and say why.

If Robert McNamara, who, in later life told us he was opposed, all along, to the Vietnam War he helped to execute had resigned in protest while secretary of defense, the war might have ended four years earlier.

But the eminences in Washington never resign in protest. There is not one instance. They tell us what they really think through back channels or in memoirs. That way they never lose access to think tanks, speaking fees, and cocktail parties.

3) Because of the anonymity of the op/​ed it is impossible to judge the veracity of the picture painted in it — of the president as essentially loopy and incompetent. If it comes from someone at the third or fourth tier of government, an ambassador or assistant secretary, it is little more than cocktail talk. If it came from the chief of staff or vice president, it would be the end. Thus, again, the need for a name to be attached for this J’Accuse to have any meaning.

Interestingly, after Robert Gates left the Obama Administration (he served as secretary of defense both for President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama and he also did not resign in protest), he wrote a book that was quite critical of Mr. Obama. He called the president indecisive and in over his head. He said the president did not believe in his own war strategy in Afghanistan. Mr. Gates put his name to his critique. And the book made a small splash. But no one said the president should be driven from office before his term was up.

In the end, the anonymous op/​ed may, may say more about the culture of Washington and elite journalism than the prospects of the Trump presidency. Someone who speaks out anonymously is either genuinely risking his or his livelihood, or a coward and a poseur. And no one who works at the highest level of government is ever going to go hungry.

If you believe the nation is at risk, Deep Throat II, come out of the shadows.

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