It’s been over a week since President Trump vowed to unmask the author an anonymous op-ed piece Sept. 5 in the New York Times. The item, more a report than an op-ed, details a “resistance” group at the White House intent on keeping the place — and the United States — safe from Trump’s unpredictable “impulses” and mood swings.
Welcome to the latest episode of “Shoot the Messenger,” a drama in which we look so hard for an “anonymous source” that we neglect underlying ills. The “fake news” media must be the problem.
It is a wasteful exercise. It does not matter. If you are so caught up in games, then go play “Monopoly.” Searching for a news media leaker is about as useful as assuming the “Monopoly” will teach you a thing about real estate.
It could be a long wait. Deep Throat appeared as a source who helped break open the Watergate scandal in 1973. But Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward never named him. Deep Throat unmasked himself, at age 92 in a Vanity Fair piece in 2005 after his daughter persuaded him he didn’t have to wait until he died to get recognition.
Secrets rarely keep forever. Participants slowly repeat the secret to a trusted family member or friend, always under a further pledge of secrecy. But like a sprawling family tree, there are so many secrecy pledges that the secret is told — often long after it matters.
Mark Felt (Deep Throat) was a career FBI agent and its acting director when he was called to the White House by the ultimate boss, Richard Nixon, in 1971. Nixon was “climbing the walls” over leaks to the New York Times about upcoming arms talks with the Soviets. His aides wanted them stopped, even if it involved wiretaps. Felt was dubious, realizing the proper route would require a court order. He found a “switchblade mentality” at the White House.
Felt and Woodward spent years denying the identity of Deep Throat. “He beat it into my head,” Woodward would later say. “Secrecy at all costs, no loose talk.” The secret started to loosen only in 1999, when Woodward visited Felt, then 86, in California and his daughter, who’d heard all the rumors, began to wonder anew. Even Woodward’s co-writer, Carl Bernstein, didn’t know who Deep Throat was.
Felt wasn’t seeking Nixon’s downfall. He was a career FBI agent — and its acting director — who felt rules were being trampled. He and Woodward had met by chance outside the FBI.
It also didn’t hurt that the public came to be sympathetic. The relationship, portrayed in the film “All the President’s Men,” featured actor Hal Holbrook, shown in the shadows of a dark parking garage. You can do worse than being portrayed by Hal Holbrook.
Pressure is on at the White House again in 2018. Dozens may be interviewed under orders of a chief looking for “treason.” The entire electorate knows that Trump will leap to retaliate if provoked. Who divulged to the nation the “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” acts of their boss?
In the end, it doesn’t matter until we hear an about an idea to repair a defect in the chief executive’s branch.
What controls are there? The Constitution mentions limits on the Chief Executive, or the Executive Branch. Congress can pass laws, but the Executive paints and executes them. We are taught in school about “checks and balances.” But they’re painfully slow, like getting around was in the times they were written. Impeachment, some believe, is a remedy. It gets rid of an individual but no other cast of characters. The 25th Amendment provides for temporarily stuffing the president in a “Time Out” closet. But both are difficult to trigger, and were written before political parties learned to put loyalty before duty.
Mark Felt was a career FBI agent dedicated to duty. In years following Watergate, he periodically questioned whether he’d breached some duty, or loyalty, by guiding Bob Woodward through stories the Washington Post ran about the financing of those who broke into the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee and turned out to be financed by the Republican Party.
How crazy it that? No one believed it until it was documented, much through money trails detailed by Woodward’s sources and then run by Felt for accuracy. This came before the public was buying that Nixon and his crew would be so brazen. This came before the bulk of the media accepted what the Washington Post was reporting. That didn’t come until Walter Cronkite decided one night to air it on the “CBS Evening News.”
It’s fine to be distracted and play games looking for the “anonymous” rat who wrote the New York Times. A better ending story might be how a fix was devised for a problem which has plagued the Executive Branch for years. It’s like an aortic aneurysm, there from birth, ready to burst at a suddenly mortal moment before we’re ready. It’ll never really fail — until it does.
The writer (firstname.lastname@example.org)is a founder of the Aspen Daily News and appears here on Sundays.