President Donald Trump’s battles with special counsel Robert Mueller investigation are being compared to President Richard Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre. But recent comparisons between Trump and Nixon are based on historical fallacies promoted by mainstream media and Hollywood.
By S.T. Patrick
Evaluating CNN’s recent coverage of the predictably named “Russiagate” story reminds informed viewers that lazy journalism and bad history can exist, even on the hallowed airwaves of what the mainstream media regrettably defines as the upper echelon of modern news.
In its attempt to compare President Donald Trump’s tensions with special counsel Robert Mueller to Richard Nixon’s October 1973 firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, CNN has enlisted Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to validate its flawed hypothesis. Woodward and Bernstein famously detailed their Watergate era reporting in the 1974 book All the President’s Men.
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman’s likeable big screen portrayals of “Wood-stein” helped carve for The Washington Post darlings a permanent place in the journalistic pantheon of Big Media. Watergate revisionists such as Len Colodny staunchly deny that the Trump-Nixon comparison, as well as Woodward and Bernstein’s role in the original story, are legitimate.
Colodny, the author of Silent Coup: The Removal of a President, has tangled with Woodward and the Watergate story for close to 30 years. Colodny’s work documents a thesis that Watergate was not about a break-in at all. There were break-ins, which Colodny believes were ordered by Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean, but the real story of Watergate centers on a shadow government set up by Nixon early in his presidency that inadvertently allowed Gen. Alexander Haig to climb the ranks of Nixon appointees. When Nixon became vulnerable as a result of the Watergate break-ins, Haig then ran a shadow government whose primary goal was to oust Nixon.
In a Feb. 10 piece for CNN.com, Woodward and Bernstein called Trump’s battle with Mueller “an eerily similar confrontation” to Nixon’s firing of Cox, now termed the “Saturday Night Massacre.” The constant comparison of Trump to Nixon has become an outlandish obsession. What Americans are getting isn’t Trump; it’s CNN’s Trump. And the Nixon being portrayed isn’t the historical Nixon, either; it’s Woodward and Bernstein’s Nixon.
An example is the opening line of Gloria Borger’s March 3 CNN.com article, “The Great Unraveling: Trump’s Allies Are Really Worried About Him.” Ms. Borger opens the article, writing, “Not since Richard Nixon started talking to portraits on the walls of the West Wing has a president seemed so alone against the world.”
That Nixon is the one portrayed in Woodward and Bernstein’s second book, The Final Days (1976), the story of Nixon’s final year in office. It shows a president that is crazed, neurotic, crying, praying, hyper-paranoid, and frothing with every emphatic syllable.
Borger’s source is simply called “One source—who is a presidential ally.” Woodward popularized the use of an unnamed source, the most famous of which became the euphemistically named Deep Throat. Though Woodward outed FBI Associate Director Mark Felt as Deep Throat in 2005, some researchers still believe he was a composite character.
Others have for decades believed Deep Throat was Haig, who, not so coincidentally, was also the hero of The Final Days. Haig tested the bounds of disloyalty and illegality in ways that Woodward and Bernstein spun as saving the country from a president that had flown off the rails.
Though Woodward told Colodny in 1989 that he had “never met or talked to Haig until sometime in the spring of ’73,” Colodny’s research unearthed a biography that contradicted Woodward’s claim.
Colodny confirmed that Navy Lt. Woodward in 1969 and 1970 manned the Pentagon’s secret communications room. In that position, Woodward often transmitted back channel messages to and from Nixon and Henry Kissinger. During this time, Woodward also delivered messages to Haig, Kissinger’s deputy at the National Security Council.
When Colodny and co-author Robert Gettlin wrote that Woodward had briefed Haig as early as 1969, Woodward fired back. “I defy you to produce somebody who says I did the briefing,” Woodward said. “It’s just, it’s not true.”
Colodny and Gettlin confirmed the Woodward-Haig relationship with two high-level sources, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and Woodward’s own former commanding officer, Adm. Thomas Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This is also in direct contrast to how All the President’s Men—the book and the film—portrayed Woodward. He had worked closely with important Nixon administration appointees, despite the film portraying him as a lucky, young reporter whose hard work and shoe-leather muckraking led him to stumble upon the story of the decade.
Bernstein, in his recent CNN appearances, has had even harsher words for Trump. “We have no reason to believe almost anything that Donald Trump says,” Bernstein told CNN. “What is so extraordinary about him and his presidency is the incessant, compulsive, continual lying. . . . We’ve never had a president who lies like this . . . even Nixon.”
Bernstein then reinforced the comparison to Anderson Cooper on “AC360.” In comparing Trump’s rejection of Russian collusion to Nixon’s denials of a Watergate cover-up, Bernstein said, “Ironically enough, you’re dealing with the same allegations in some way.”
With Woodward acting as the smooth scrutinizer and Bernstein as the hit man, CNN has passionately pushed the Trump-Nixon comparison at every turn. Colodny, a self-admitted liberal Democrat, is turned off by it. If Woodward lied about his relationship with Haig, lied about his early ties to Nixon appointees, lied about the complete source list for the Deep Throat information, and lied about giving briefings at the White House, Colodny believes any comparison Woodward and Bernstein make comparing Russiagate to Watergate is both self-serving and inapposite.
In an interview with this writer, Colodny denied that any comparison between the two presidents should be made. However, it may be worth pondering whether there is a valid comparison to be made regarding a more modern Silent Coup thesis itself. Are establishment insiders plotting Trump’s demise with the aiding and abetting of those he trusts? Could Trump’s Haig be a frequent visitor to the West Wing today? And will it take close to 20 years for revisionist researchers to uncover it all?
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as a respected educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News” show. You may email him at [email protected]