Truth v. fiction

November 2, 2018

I recently heard a TV commentary describing the Watergate scandal of the 1970s as “quaint” and “pedestrian.”

 

That’s quite a comment, given that Watergate forced a president to resign, sent a number of his associates and appointees to prison and carved out a previously unchallenged label as America’s worst political scandal in its 200 year plus history.

 

On the other hand, I don’t dispute that Donald Trump in less than two years has carved out a position vis-à-vis scandal far overshadowing Richard Nixon and Watergate. It’s now up to Special Counsel Bob Mueller to fill in the details, which regardless of anything the president does, will eventually be laid before us.

 

Donald John Trump is famously averse to reading to the extent that his tweets and vocabulary suggest to some that he barely knows how to do it. If he did read however, I would suggest that he take a look at some of the huge volume of literature, fictional and non-fictional, that has grown out of Watergate.

 

Thomas Mallon, a long time chronicler of Washington, D.C. took on Watergate in his recent novel titled—surprise—Watergate. A central character is Fred LaRue. You had to have lived through it or read a bit about Watergate to recall LaRue, a quiet southerner who raised and moved a lot of money around, helping to support the burglars who broke into the Democratic National Committee, where LaRue coincidentally had an apartment.

 

How quaint, breaking into an office and rifling files, when Russian hackers are willing to take care of the job! Without entering the U.S.

 

As Mallon imagines it: “As LaRue reentered the living room, he heard Magruder saying that Hugh Sloan, the buttoned-up kid who was the campaign treasurer, had come to him today, upset to say the least, with news that the money found on the burglars could be traced back to the CRP [aka/CREEP, Nixon’s reelection committee]. And this: “The president’s strategy,” said [Attorney General John] Mitchell, “is to look as if we’re cooperating even while we claim executive privilege for everyone down to the janitor. And, oh yeah,” he remembered to add, “the president says we’re supposed to draw everyone’s attention to the ‘good things’…” LaRue smiled. “[Chuck] Colson says the return of the POWs equals one thousand Watergates.”

 

And there’s Roy Hoopes’ novel, A Watergate Tape. It’s a fairly conventional whodunit drawing literally on lots of Watergate material from the journalism of the day. Journalist Ray Hartley gets entrapped in the scandal like most of the D.C. population when an old friend informs him that—if something bad happens to him—he’ll receive a tape that will explain. Bad turns out to be either his suicide or murder on the beach and eventually Hartley gets the tape, though it’s not one of Nixons.

 

As did mystery novels of an earlier day (think Nick and Nora Charles of the Thin Man), Harley is blessed with a wife who is has a lot of good instincts. Talking about the huge number of top level resignations going on at the time: “Were they going to try to plea bargain and get immunity or a lighter sentence for telling everything they knew? Or were they going to fall on their sword for Richard Nixon?  “Not likely,” said Dory. “I bet they’re scrambling all over each other to see who can get a deal.”

 

Sound familiar? Definitely worth a read.

 

Truth versus fiction? In one recent day, the Saudi government came up with the most outrageous explanation for what became of their fellow countryman Jamal Kashoggi at their embassy in Istanbul. Never mind that those 15 Saudis sent to meet with Kashoggi were lugging along a bonesaw, with which everyone except Donald Trump believes they used to make mincemeat of a mild dissident. The Saudis claimed that a 60-year-old pudgy guy died in a brawl with those 15 guys, but somehow, they can’t produce the body. And then there was the first indictment of a Russian person for cyber-interference in the 2018 election, suggesting that Putin’s folks haven’t given up on this sort of activity. There were more stories to come.

 

Watergate may have been pedestrian, but at least it—not the ensuing coverup—ended with the break in.

 

And speaking of books, let me say goodbye to a real book man, Mark Foster, who I just learned died in Wisconsin. Mark became the mentor and lifelong friend of a 14-year-old kid who hung around Paul’s Book Store in Madison until he got a job there. Mark went on to a distinguished career at the UW Library, where he supervised digitalization of many of its holdings. Mark and I hauled a lot of books out of Madison attics and resold them on State Street. Mark always kept his hand in as a bookseller and some of the volumes he sent my way are a part of the collections at the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam.

 

Adios Mark and I hope you find the volumes you are looking for, however obscure they may be.

 

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