Feldstein's Deplorable Review

tags: books, Watergate, journalism, journalistic ethics

John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt in announcing his role as Watergate’s supersource Deep Throat and cowrote the 2005 Vanity Fair revelation piece, I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat.  John cowrote a book with Felt in 2005, A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat,’ and the Struggler for Honor in Washington and coproduced the 2016 movie, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White Housestarring Liam Neeson.  John frequently writes and lectures on media bias, and is the author of the new book, Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism.

Editor's Note: last week, History News Network reposted to our Roundup an essay by Mark Feldstein, a highly critical review of John O'Connor's new book Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today's Partisan Advocacy Journalism. The review was originally posted on Max Holland's Washington Decoded websiteMr. Holland has extended the opportunity to Mr. O'Connor to post a rebuttal on Washington Decoded alongside the original review. That rebuttal may be viewed in full here (link opens .pdf). HNN was asked by Mr. O'Connor's representatives to post a substantive portion of the content of the rebuttal and link to the full essay, which we are happy to do in the spirit of fair play and exchange. Mr. Holland has also published a response from Mr. Feldstein to the rebuttal.

As always, HNN's reposting of opinion essays from around the web reflects the editor's judgment about the interest of the material to historians and readers of history, without endorsement of particular positions.

I write in response to the review by Mark Feldstein, hopefully to initiate a needed debate about the accuracy of modern investigative reporting, which often resorts to the Washington Post’s Watergate journalism as an “ethical shield” against criticism. Feldstein’s piece unwittingly demonstrates this reflexive defense mechanism.

Feldstein picks around the edges of the inconsequential parts of Postgate, but ignores the book’s major thrusts. Since these deal with central journalistic issues, shouldn’t a journalism academic address these major issues, and, to the extent appropriate, call out my errors? One would think so. Unlike my prior book, my criticisms of the Post’s Watergate journalism in Postgate are central to the work, and, if unrefuted, devastating.

They are:

1) The Post, with studied intent, [Washington Decoded Editor: allegedly] concealed and misrepresented major portions of the Watergate evidence;

2) Bob Woodward breached three of four protective promises to his iconic source, Deep Throat, and anticipatorily breached the fourth by stating his intention to name him at death;

3) To prevent the slight risk of exposure of 1) and 2), the Post largely successfully executed a dishonest “catch and kill” regarding Felt’s story in our book, A GMan’s Life.

To distract attention from these deadly blows, which Feldstein did not ward off, he quarrels with the inconsequential, without disclosing the central themes of Postgate. One of the book’s “errors” which Feldstein notes, for example, is my description of Anthony Lukas’ Nightmare as the “definitive” and “most widely respected summary of Watergate.” That is nonsense, Feldstein asserts, “Stanley Kutler’s 1991 effort, The Wars of Watergate, is the best.” I am not alone in thinking that Lukas’s work was very wellwritten and remarkably insightful, while considering Kutler’s book good but dry, ploddingly written, engorged with unnecessary detail, and inferior in comparison. But this is clearly a matter of opinion, not fact, and if the most grievous of my “errors,” I stand vindicated. 

Read entire article at Washington Decoded

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