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Opinion

Nixon's henchmen lecture us on ethics

History's latest con happened right before our eyes Tuesday

night. We thought we'd settled in to watch the nonstop cable news when

suddenly our television screen was transformed into Alice's looking glass.

All reality was backward. But perhaps only the old-timers in our midst knew

it. For millions of viewers were not even born when those faces that just

popped up in the looking-glass/screen were all the president's men, once in

power and then in disgrace, more than three decades ago.

Richard Nixon's ex-convicts - who did jail time for their crimes against

democracy and then profited from their crimes by writing books and becoming

celebrities - had returned to work one more con. Nixon's former senior White

House assistant, Charles Colson, and the Nixon team's burglar-in-chief, G.

Gordon Liddy, worked the cable news circuit, expressing moral indignation that

the FBI's former deputy director, W. Mark Felt, was Deep Throat.

He was the source who had blown their cover by feeding facts to the

Washington Post's Bob Woodward - truths that helped land many in jail and drove

Nixon from office.

"I was shocked because I worked with him closely," Colson said on MSNBC.

"And you would think the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of

Investigation, you could talk to with the same confidence you could talk to a

priest." Then on CNN: "I was shocked, because ... I talked to him often and

trusted him with very sensitive materials. So did the president. To think that

he was out going around in back alleys at night looking for flowerpots, passing

information to someone, it's . . . not the image of the professional FBI that

you would expect."

Ah, image. Conjure Colson, with Nixon and others in the Oval Office, as

Nixon orders a burglary at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Meanwhile on CNN, Liddy tells Paula Zahn: "I view him [Felt] as someone who

violated the ethics of the law enforcement profession." Then, back on MSNBC,

Liddy brags that not only had he plotted the burglary of the Democratic Party's

Watergate offices but, "I planned the Brookings break-in." It wasn't done,

Liddy said - "too expensive."

When the face of Nixon's speechwriter Pat Buchanan appeared on our

looking-glass/screens, some viewers might have expected a refreshing,

ruminative literary perspective about Felt and the Watergate era. Then Buchanan

spoke: "I think he's a snake."

"Here is an individual," Buchanan explained, "sneaking around at night

leaking things to damage the president of the United States in the middle of a

campaign. And I don't see what is heroic about ... that."

The sound you hear is the sound of one journalistic mind boggling because

this was never about heroics, just a helping hand. Those of us who were

journalists investigating Watergate - and there were many, from a score of news

organizations in addition to The Washington Post - understand the importance

of having the FBI's No. 2 man on call and willing to confirm things we'd heard

yet couldn't quite prove.

Lost in the wailings of Nixon's men is the one thing Americans need to know

to understand Felt's dilemma. Felt couldn't go to his boss. J.Edgar Hoover had

just died and Nixon had replaced him with an unqualified Nixon loyalist -

L.Patrick Gray III, who proved his worth by destroying documents and slipping

others to officials running the White House cover-up. Felt couldn't go to the

attorney general; John Mitchell was attorney general when he presided over the

Watergate break-in planning and, after leaving to run Nixon's campaign, was

replaced by a Nixon loyalist not trusted by many FBI hands. Felt couldn't go to

Congress - the Senate Watergate Committee didn't exist yet. Felt certainly

couldn't go to Nixon or all the president's henchmen.

So he helped his young reporter friend, Bob Woodward. And, three decades

later, these Nixon criminals popped up on our looking-glass/screens, doing

their shtick. They wailed like pro wrestlers pounding the mat in feigned pain.

But occasionally even they told the truth. As when Liddy, who went from

jail to Hollywood and black-bag jobs to talk radio, said on MSNBC: "There's

great life after Watergate."

Colson and Liddy worked the cable news circuit, expressing moral

indignation that the former FBI deputy director was Deep Throat.

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