myth of journalism holds that every great government scandal
is revealed through the work of enterprising reporters who
by one means or another pierce the official veil of secrecy.
The role that government institutions themselves play in
exposing official misconduct and corruption therefore tends
to be seriously neglected, if not wholly ignored, in the
press. This view of journalistic revelation is propagated
by the press even in cases where journalists have had palpably
little to do with the discovery of corruption. Pulitzer
Prizes were thus awarded this year to the Wall Street journal
for "revealing" the scandal which forced Vice President
Agnew to resign and to the Washington Star/News for "revealing"
the campaign contribution that led to the indictments of
former cabinet officers Maurice Starts and John N. Mitchell,
although reporters at neither newspaper in actual fact had
anything to do with uncovering the scandals. In the
former case, the U.S. Attorney in Maryland had through dogged
plea-bargaining and grants of immunity induced witnesses
to implicate the Vice President; and in the latter case,
the Securities and Exchange Commission and a grand jury
had conducted the investigation that unearthed the illegal
contribution which led to the indictment of the cabinet
officers. In both instances, even without "leaks" to the
newspapers, the scandals uncovered by government institutions
would have come to the public's attention when the cases
came to trial. Yet to perpetuate the myth that the members
of the press were the prime movers in such great events
as the conviction of a Vice President and the indictment
of two former cabinet officers, the Pulitzer Prize committee
simply chose the news stories nearest to these events and
awarded them its honors.
The natural tendency of journalists
to magnify the role of the press in great scandals is perhaps
best illustrated by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's autobiographical
account of how they "revealed" the Watergate scandals. The
dust jacket and national advertisements, very much in the
bravado spirit of the book itself, declare: "All America
knows about Watergate. Here, for the first time, is the
story of how we know.... In what must be the most devastating
political detective story of the century, the two young
Washington Post reporters whose brilliant investigative
journalism smashed the Watergate scandal wide open tell
the whole behind-the-scenes drama the way it happened."
In keeping with the mythic view of journalism, however,
the book never describes the "behind-the-scenes" investigations
which actually "smashed the Watergate scandal wide open"-namely
the investigations conducted by the FBI, the federal prosecutors,
the grand jury, and the Congressional committees. The work
of almost all those institutions, which unearthed and developed
all the actual evidence and disclosures of Watergate, is
systematically ignored or minimized by Bernstein and Woodward.
Instead, they simply focus on those parts of the prosecutors'
case, the grand-jury investigation, and the FBI reports
that were leaked to them.
The result is that no one interested
in "how we know" about Watergate will find out from their
book, or any of the other widely circulated mythopoeics
about Watergate. Yet the non-journalistic version of how
Watergate was uncovered is not exactly a secret-,the government
prosecutors (Earl Silbert, Seymour Glanzer, and Donald E.
Campbell) are more than willing to give a documented account
of the investigation to anyone who desires it. According
to one of the prosecutors, however, "No one really wants
to know." Thus the government's investigation of itself
has become a missing link in the story of the Watergate
scandal, and the actual role that journalists played remains
AFTER five burglars, including James
McCord, who was an employee of the Committee for the Re-election
of the President (CRP), were arrested in the headquarters
of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex
on June 17, 1972, the FBI immediately located three important
chains of evidence. First, within a week of the break-in,
hundred-dollar bills found on the burglars were easily traced
by their serial numbers through the Federal Reserve Bank
at Atlanta to the Miami bank account of Bernard Barker,
one of the burglars arrested in the Watergate. By June 22,
the prosecutors had subpoenaed Barker's bank transactions,
and had established that the hundred-dollar bills found
in the burglary had originally come from contributions to
the Committee for the Re- election of the President and
specifically from checks deposited by Kenneth Dahlberg,
a CRP regional finance chairman, and others. (Copies of
these checks were leaked to Woodward and Bernstein by an
investigator for the Florida state's attorney one month
later, well after the grand jury was presented with this
information-and they "revealed" it in the Washington Post
on August 1.) And in early June, the treasurer of the Republican
National Committee, Hugh W. Sloan, Jr., confirmed to the
prosecutors that campaign contributions were given to G.
Gordon Liddy, who by then was suspected of being the ringleader
of the conspiracy.
Secondly, the FBI, in searching the
premises of the burglars, found, within twenty-four hours
after their arrest, receipts, address-books, and checks
that linked E. Howard Hunt, White House consultant, to the
conspiracy. (This information was leaked a few days later
by the Washington police to Eugene Bachinski, a Washington
Post reporter, and subsequently published in that newspaper.)
The investigation into Hunt led the prosecutors to his secretary,
Kathleen Chenow, who was flown back from England, and, in
early July, confirmed that Hunt and Liddy were working on
clandestine projects together, and had had telephone calls
from Bernard Barker just before Barker was arrested in Watergate.
(Months later, in September, defense attorneys who had been
given the list of prosecution witnesses leaked Miss Chenow's
name to Woodward and Bernstein, who then-after calling her-"revealed"
this information to the public.) Thus, in early July, the
prosecutors had presented evidence to the grand jury tying
Hunt and Liddy to the burglars (as well as Liddy to the
The most important chain of evidence
involved an eyewitness to the entire conspiracy. The day
of the burglary, the FBI discovered a listening post at
the Howard Johnson Motor Hotel, across the street from the
Watergate, from which conspirators sent radio signals to
the burglars inside Watergate (and received transmissions
from electronic eavesdropping devices). By checking through
the records of phone calls made from this listening post,
the FBI easily located Alfred Baldwin, a former FBI agent,
who had kept logs of wiretaps for the conspirators and acted
as a look-out. By June 25, after the prosecutors offered
Baldwin's attorney a deal by which Baldwin could escape
prison, Baldwin agreed to cooperate with the government.
The main instrument for extracting information
from reluctant witnesses like Baldwin was the prosecutors'
skill in threatening, badgering, and negotiating. By July
5, less than three weeks after the burglars were apprehended,
Baldwin sketched out the outlines of the conspiracy. He
identified Hunt and Liddy as being at the scene and directing
the burglary; he described prior break-in attempts, the
installation of eavesdropping devices, the monitoring of
logs of the eavesdropping, and the delivery of the fruits
of the conspiracy to CRP. All this evidence was of course
presented to the grand jury in mid-July. (Liddy's name was
only mentioned in passing in the press on July 22, when
he resigned from CRP, and it was not until the following
October that Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times located
and published an interview with Baldwin. To "top" the L.A.
Times's interview, Woodward and Bernstein erroneously reported
that Baldwin had delivered the logs to three executives
at CRP, Robert C. Odle, Jr., Glenn J. Sedam, Jr., and William
E. Timmons. In fact, Baldwin delivered the logs to Liddy.
In any case, the press was three months behind the prosecutors
in disclosing Baldwin's vital account.) The prosecutors
needed, however, a witness to corroborate Baldwin, since
they realized that any single witness could be discredited
by fierce cross-examination. The locating of Thomas J. Gregory,
a student working as a minor spy for CRP, was critical for
the prosecutors' case since he was able to corroborate important
elements in Baldwin's account. (Gregory's existence was
never mentioned by the press until the trial.)
The prosecutors and the grand jury thus developed an airtight
case against Liddy, Hunt, and the five burglars well in
advance of, and without any assistance from, Woodward, Bernstein,
or any other reporters. The case was presented to the grand
jury and would certainly have been made public in the trial.
At best, reporters, including Woodward and Bernstein, only
leaked elements of the prosecutors' case to the public in
advance of the trial. BY leaking fragments of the prosecutors'
case, Woodward and Bernstein, as well as other journalists,
did of course add fuel to the fire. But even here, they
were not the only ones publicizing the case. Immediately
after the arrest of the Watergate burglars and throughout
the campaign, Senator George McGovern denounced Watergate
in most of his speeches and suggested in no uncertain terms
that the White House was behind the burglary. Indeed, his
campaign staff hired Walter Sheridan, a former FBI agent
on Robert Kennedy's staff, to help "get out" the story.
On June 20, three days after the burglary, the Democratic
National Committee commenced a civil suit against the Committee
for the Re-election of the President that compelled the
responsible officials in CRP to give statements under oath.
The General Accounting Office, an arm of Congress, and Common
Cause, a quasi-public foundation, meanwhile forced Republican
officials to disclose information about campaign contributions
which indirectly added to the publicity about Watergate.
Preliminary legal actions taken by the prosecutors (as well
as the Florida state's attorney) also divulged important
elements of the case. For example, in motions opposing bail
for the defendants, the prosecutors disclosed in a brief
filed June 23, 1972 that Mexican checks were deposited in
Barker's account (although the press, until a month later,
when the checks were literally handed to reporters, failed
to pursue the "money tree" exposed in the bail motions).
In short, even in publicizing Watergate, the press was only
one among a number of institutions at work.