Last Friday 40 years ago, Dick Nixon quit. He babbled a few words, jumped on a helicopter after performing his standard idiot’s wave, and flew home to somewhere near the house his daddy built.
I watched most of the episode, or at least the most-dramatic parts, on varied-sized television screens in the TV-repair department at a Sears, Roebuck, Co., store in Gainesville, Fla. — a place far, far away, but as an emotion, could’ve happened yesterday.
Although at the time intrigued more by Mott the Hoople than Watergate, I followed the news fairly close, knew Nixon was an asshole, and as a then-recent graduate of the University of Florida’s journalism school, could already appreciate that heady enthusiasm created by the Woodward and Bernstein effect: ‘This story was so attention-getting that many were attracted to the idea that journalism could really make a difference, and that this would be a career path that could be rewarding and meaningful.’
(Illustration found here).
And it was — for a little while anyway.
On that bright August, Nixonian day in 1974, however, I was still working on the loading dock at Sears, a part-time job for my last two years at Florida, but shifted to full-time when I couldn’t find a job after graduation — just one among millions of others, victims caught in most-likely the actual end to the fabled American Dream, the 1973-75 recession.
I’d already applied to a few newspapers in the region, but nothing, just not hiring. Eight months and much-emotional turmoil later, I landed a police reporter’s gig at the Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Alabama, and for a few years enjoyed news reporting at its best. And the newsroom at the Advertiser, a bunch of young, confident reporters, was during that period, full of that journalism goodness.
Read about them days here, if you like.
Times and more times, and suddenly a generation later, and in reversal — this morning, Sharyl Attkisson on George Stephanopoulos’ ABC News interview show with a comment on those potent journalism days of yore (via Mediaite):
“I think that we’ve gone backwards since that time when we really felt empowered as journalists,” Attkinson said.
“I’d like to think of what would happen today during a Nixon-type scandal.
“Nixon would basically refuse to turn over tapes to Congress, his aides would refuse to testify to Congress or would take the fifth or lie to Congress today.
“Woodward and Bernstein would be controversialized on social media by special political interests.”
“Then at the end Nixon would go on a popular late-night comedy show, during which time he would refer to his attackers as people who were political witch-hunters who believed in Area 51 type conspiracy theories,” Attkinson concluded.
Fairly close. Attkisson, ironically of course, also her own modern-journalism story. And has been ‘controversialized,’ too. I left newspapers and journalism in the late 1970s, re-entered 20 years later — and shit-on-a-stick, the change was a night/day difference. Newsrooms had shrunk to a desk or two, and the bottom line, the one-and-only factor.
And journalism wasn’t the only entity to suffer — John Dean in The Fiscal Times this morning:
Most of the reforms that Congress created post-Watergate have gone by the wayside.
I think Citizens United is a travesty.
The [Supreme] Court has become a mini-legislature on campaign finance.
They’ve gotta have very, very, very open disclosure laws which tends to inhibit people from throwing money into the process.
Or they have to have accountability.
Democrats have to get more involved in this.
They can’t play the game if both sides don’t play by the same rules.
Dean was Nixon’s legal counsel, and big Senate Select Committee witness during Watergate — he actually did lick the Dick. He’s also written a new book, ‘The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It,’ which works off the infamous White House tapes. Dean discussed the book in Time on Friday — the money quote:
While working on this book, I became aware of a number studies conducted after Watergate, research with well-tested findings by psychologists and economists who examined risk-taking and decision-making by people in a “loss frame”—that is, a situation in which none of the options is good.
Study after study demonstrated how decision-making becomes remarkably illogical in conditions like that which the president faced in Watergate.
Nixon, who boasts during the recorded conversations of this period of his prowess as a poker player, initially tried to bluff his way through the scandal with small bets.
As he kept losing, however, the more exposed he became, and the more he was inclined to risk.
Nixon’s defenses were, in effect, a series of increasingly bad bets.
Had I known in March 1973 what I know today, when warning him of a cancer on his presidency I would have also cautioned him about the nature of decision-making when there are no acceptable choices.
The prudent thing for a person in a loss frame who must make a decision is to discuss the problem with someone who is not in that loss frame.
What happens when everybody’s in that ‘loss frame’?
And in this age of mass data/information via the Smartphone are part of that frame?