Michael Miner: Sometimes a Sophoclean Melodrama is Just a Flowerpot

Roundup: Talking About History

Michael Miner has been a Chicago journalist since 1970.

BradleeThe excerpt from a new biography of Ben Bradlee that ran the other day in New York magazine is a long story that turns on a small remark about Watergate. As far as the history of Watergate is concerned, what Bradlee apparently said in 1990 is revisionism of utter insignificance. Besides, history is constantly being tinkered with. But among journalists, Watergate is mostly myth, and in myth the quests are forever noble, the deeds forever daring, and virtue forever triumphant. If you’re remembered as a slayer of dragons, you won’t want it to come out that you used rat poison.

The story is called "The Red Flag in the Flowerpot." The cast of characters consists of Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post at the time of Watergate and father figure to Bob Woodward, young and relentless reporter who made his name uncovering Watergate scoops; and Jeff Himmelman, Woodward’s protege at the Post who, thanks to Woodward, was invited by Bradlee to sort through boxes of Bradlee’s old papers with an eye to writing a book about him.

The text is extracted and adapted from that book—Himmelman’s new biography of Bradlee, Yours in Truth.

The critical passage: In 1990 Bradlee was interviewed by Barbara Feinman, who was helping him write a memoir. Bradlee was talking about Watergate, and he allowed: “You know I have a little problem with Deep Throat. Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? . . . and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage . . . There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.”...

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