To Shill or Be Shrill
Pussy-Footing Around Bush Impeachment
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, April 20, 2006
That Bob Woodward continues to flack for the Bush administration from his knees is surprising only in light of Woodward’s distant past as the co-author of the Watergate story. But Watergate was his one-hit wonder. From then on he’s been the Sinclair Lewis of investigative journalism, or the Harlequin of Washington—re-applying the same formula and the same narrative methods on different themes: the Supreme Court, the CIA, John Belushi, the Pentagon. It’s no surprise that his best work (All the President’s Men and The Brethren) had the spine of co-authors. And even Nixon, it turns out, was a fish in a barrel. The Washington press corps just hadn’t dared look past the surface of the barrel until Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Mark Felt showed the way. These days almost every Washington reporter who’s aspired to be a Woodward has, on heaps of ironies, become Woodward—minus the all-access pass to he capital’s power boudoirs: Every reporter is a panderer, meek, pliant, as easy to deceive and manipulate as a mutt drooling for a bone. “Sources” know it. In a city flooded with reporters to whom competition is the virtue and truth-seeking a post-modern snicker, Washington’s Rovian mechanic is such that leakers and manipulators are the circus masters.
The Bush Administration’s pathological power-grab couldn’t have succeeded without two allies: the Washington press corps, and Congress. The press corps’ allegiance is beginning to whither (see this week’s Pulitzers). Not to worry. The administration can sit back and enjoy the fruit of five years of court-packing. The federal judiciary is poised to replace the press corps as the executive’s most reliable accessory. The Bush White House has pulled off the perfect crime—executed with the compliance of the victims, covered up with the complicity of the judges. And what’s Woodward doing? He’s turning over his interview notes and memos to the Justice Department.
Still, it’s worth noting that half the Watergate duo hasn’t flipped: Carl Bernstein writes in the current Vanity Fair that hearings on Bush’s high crimes and misdemeanors are due. The call is more symbolic than realistic, like the Bush administration’s “shuffle” this week (Karl Rove isn’t even leaving the White House; he’s altering a word in his job title, and doing what he’s always done: subordinate the national interest to electoral success, while Scott McLellan has been a non-entity for three years). But calling for hearings is the least of it even if we’re all stuck in that cave, made to watch the shadows on the wall compliments of Fox projectionists and their copycats. It’s past time to abandon pretenses of restraint and New York Times-like fears of seeming shrill: the restraint has been the liability all along. The restraint got us into the Iraq war. The restraint got us gobbling whole the mockeries of the war on terror and its neo-Soviet grips on American society (the Department of Homeland Security, the administration’s fetish for secrecy, the media’s stupor in the name of patriotism). Of course Bush’s crimes are worse than Watergate. The evidence isn’t even covered up. It needs no investigation, only tabulation—and, most of all, redefinition. There is no war on terror. There is no spread of democracy. There’s a war on democracy, here at home, and the Bush junta is winning it unopposed.