An update to my post yesterday about “Deep Throat,” Obama and the news media — from Leonard Downie Jr, recently retired editor of The Washington Post. Here’s from his article, “Could We Uncover Watergate Today?“; he says we could, but it would play out quite differently.
In an age when the media have been turned upside-down by the biggest shifts in audiences and economic models since the advent of television, my two biggest questions about whether we could still pursue a story like Watergate center on resources and verification. Many Americans, including opinion leaders in Washington and elsewhere, simply didn’t or wouldn’t believe The Washington Post’s reporting about Watergate during its early months — not until we were joined by the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS News, Judge John J. Sirica, the Senate Watergate committee and the special Watergate prosecutor.
In today’s cacophonous media world, in which news, rumor, opinion and infotainment from every kind of source are jumbled together and often presented indiscriminately, how would such an improbable-sounding story ever get verified?
As newsrooms rapidly shrink, will they still have the resources, steadily amassed by newspapers since Watergate, for investigative reporting that takes months and even years of sustained work.
These questions are not just about holding presidents accountable to the American people, as vital as that is. The answers could affect anyone whose conditions could be helped by great journalism, such as the wounded Iraq veterans whose care at Walter Reed Hospital has been greatly improved because of investigative reporting by Dana Priest and Anne Hull in this newspaper.
Despite the fame that came to Woodward and Bernstein after the book and movie “All the President’s Men,” these questions aren’t about the greater glory of journalists either. In fact, Woodward, Bernstein and The Post were under almost constant attack during the early days of Watergate. Near the end of “Frost/Nixon,” when Langella’s Nixon refers to those “sons of whores” in the news media, a friend turned to me and whispered, “He’s talking about you.” I played only a supporting role in editing some of our Watergate coverage, but even after all these years, that still felt good.