Secrecy and Democracy
Trusting "Honorable Men"

excerpted from the book

Challenging the Secret Government

The Post-Watergate Investigation of the CIA and FBI

by Kathryn S. Olmsted

University of North Carloina Press, 1996, paper


When Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, the United States concluded one of the most traumatic chapters in its history. During the Watergate scandal, Americans had been shocked by the crimes of the Nixon presidency. Investigations by the press and Congress had exposed previously unimaginable levels of corruption and conspiracy in the executive branch. The public's faith in government had been shaken; indeed, the entire "system" had been tested. Now, with Nixon's resignation, two years of agonizing revelations finally seemed to be over. The system had worked.

Yet only four months later, New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh disclosed that the government's crimes went beyond Watergate. After months of persistent digging, Hersh had unearthed a new case of the imperial presidency's abuse of secrecy and power: a "massive" domestic spying program by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to Hersh, the CIA had violated its charter and broken the law by launching a spying program of Orwellian dimensions against American dissidents during the Vietnam War. The Times called it "son of Watergate."

These revelations produced a dramatic response from the newly energized post-Watergate Congress and press. Both houses of Congress mounted extensive, year-long investigations of the intelligence community. These highly publicized inquiries, headed by experienced investigators Senator Frank Church and Congressman Otis Pike, produced shocking accusations of murder plots and poison caches, of FBI corruption and CIA incompetence. In addition to the congressional inquiries, the press, seemingly at the height of its power after Watergate, launched investigations of its own. The New York Times continued to crusade against CIA abuses; the Washington Post exposed abuses and illegalities committed by the FBI; and CBS's Daniel Schorr shocked the nation by revealing that there might be "literal" skeletons in the CIA closet as a result of its assassination plots.

In this charged atmosphere, editorial writers, columnists, political scientists, historians, and even former officials of the CIA weighed in with various suggestions for reforming an agency that many agreed had become a ''monster.'' Several policymakers, including presidential candidates Fred Harris and Morris Udall, called for massive restructuring or abolition of the CIA. Media and political pundits suggested banning CIA covert operations; transferring most CIA functions to the Pentagon or the State Department; or, at the very least, devising a new, strict charter for all members of the intelligence community.

Few barriers seemed to stand in the way of such reforms. The liberal, post-Watergate Congress faced an appointed president who did not appear to have the strength to resist this "tidal shift in attitude," as Senator Church called it. Change seemed so likely in early 1975 that a writer for The Nation declared "the heyday of the National Security State', to be over, at least temporarily.

But a year and a half later, when the Pike and Church committees finally finished their work, the passion for reform had cooled. The House overwhelmingly rejected the work of the Pike committee and voted to suppress its final report. It even refused to set up a standing intelligence committee. The Senate dealt more favorably with the Church committee, but it too came close to rejecting all of the committee's recommendations. Only last-minute parliamentary maneuvering enabled Church to salvage one reform, the creation of a new standing committee on intelligence. The proposed charter for the intelligence community, though its various components continued to be hotly debated for several years, never came to pass.

The investigations failed to promote the careers of those who had inspired and led them. Daniel Schorr, the CBS reporter who had advanced the CIA story at several important points and eventually had become part of the story himself, was investigated by Congress, threatened with jail, and fired by CBS for his role in leaking the suppressed Pike report. Seymour Hersh's exposes were dismissed by his peers as "overwritten, over-played, under-researched and underproven." Otis Pike, despite the many accomplishments of his committee, found his name linked with congressional sensationalism, leaks, and poor administration. Frank Church's role in the investigation failed to boost his presidential campaign, forced him to delay his entry into the race, and, he thought, might have cost him the vice presidency.

The targets of the investigation had the last laugh on the investigators. "When all is said and done, what did it achieve ?" asked Richard Helms, the former director of the CIA who was at the heart of many of the scandals unearthed by Congress and the media. "Where is the legislation, the great piece of legislation, that was going to come out of the Church committee hearings ? I haven't seen it." Hersh, the reporter who prompted the inquiries, was also unimpressed by the investigators' accomplishments. "They generated a lot of new information, but ultimately they didn't come up with much," he said.

These investigations illustrate a historic moment in post-1945 American history: the breakdown of the Cold War consensus. As Godfrey Hodgson has pointed out, U.S. foreign policy during the 1950s and early 1960s was supported by a broad, almost universal spectrum of Americans from left to right. This was the foreign policy of the "liberal consensus.'' Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats alike agreed on the need for an aggressive, anticommunist foreign policy, including overt and overt intervention abroad. Even the most liberal policymakers in this era agreed that the president needed extraordinary power and secrecy to meet the Communist threat.

But the defeat in Vietnam and the humiliation of Watergate shattered this consensus. In Congress and the mainstream media, the boundaries of debate suddenly expanded. Elite opinion leaders were willing to question institutions that had never been challenged before. Nowhere was the resulting excitement, conflict, and confusion more evident than in the intelligence investigations. These inquiries provoked a monumental clash between the legislative and executive branches, raising fears that a system stabilized after Nixon's resignation might now collapse. They also prompted a battle within the media, as journalists were forced to reassess their coverage of national security issues for the past three decades.

The stakes during the "year of intelligence," as the New York Times came to call it, were high. The congressional investigators, by exposing the past abuses of the secret government and assessing the risks and benefits of covert action, were challenging the foreign policy of the Cold War. The executive branch, in response, worked frantically to restore the powers of the presidency and to limit the scope of the investigations. Members of the media, for all their enthusiasm about the opportunities to publish prize-winning investigative stories, hesitated to break their long tradition of deference in national security coverage. The public, shocked by the inquiries' revelations, soon became disillusioned with the secret agencies and with the investigators.

The investigations raised basic questions about the nature of power in the post-World War II United States. Had Watergate exposed a systemic problem requiring structural solutions, or was it the unfortunate product of an "outlaw" president and his unethical advisers? After Vietnam and Watergate, should the media and Congress be more skeptical when presidents defended secrecy in the name of national security? Should congressional committees and individual journalists ignore presidential pleas for secrecy? Did the Cold War make it necessary for the government to pursue an amoral, clandestine foreign policy? If so, how could that policy be reconciled with America's view of itself as an open, ethical democracy? After years of accepting governmental secrecy and presidential supremacy in foreign policy, many Americans began asking these questions for the first time in 1975.

Because they confronted these issues, the intelligence investigations can help us understand how members of Congress, the press, and the public interpreted and responded to this moment of crisis for the American system. Despite the transformations caused by Watergate, the inquiries show that American political culture of the 1970S was characterized more by continuity than by change. This resistance to change is shown in three important areas.

First, Congress hesitated throughout the 1970s to assume responsibility for the nation's secret agencies. Immediately after Nixon's resignation, it appeared that members of Congress would reclaim the prerogatives they had conceded to the executive branch after World War II. Many observers have concluded that they were successful in that effort, at least until the advent of the Reagan administration in 1981. Scholars have written of a "resurgence" of Congress during this period, which resulted in a "tethered presidency" or even an "imperiled presidency.'' As Louis Koenig wrote in 1981, "The question is not whether there is an imperial presidency but whether there still is a presidency as that office has traditionally been known.''

But the reports of the demise of the presidency were exaggerated ... The post-Watergate Congress may have been more assertive in many areas, but it was ultimately unwilling to shoulder its responsibilities for overseeing the intelligence community. On this issue, at least, there were distinct limits to the "congressional revolution."

Second, the media proved reluctant during the investigations to confront the national security state. Beginning in the early 1970s, many scholars, policymakers, and journalists concluded that Watergate and Vietnam had transformed the media. After these two epochal events, the argument went, the press became an assertive, independent institution, a full-fledged fourth branch of government determined to serve as an extra check on executive authority. While some people celebrated this development, others were terrified by its implications. Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington was one of the earliest proponents of what Daniel Hallin has termed the "oppositional media thesis.'' Huntington and his successors claimed that the "imperial media" began in the late 1960s and early 1970s to oppose and to question all political authority. Even in the early 1990S, books by Suzanne Garment and Larry Sabato continued to warn of an irresponsible press that pursued political scandals without discrimination.

The journalistic investigations of the intelligence community fit nicely into this paradigm of an aggressive, adversarial press. To many observers, the media's "anti-CIA crusade" of 1975 proved that reporters had a liberal bias and were determined to tear down the nation's defense establishment. The press, in short, had become an arrogant, irresponsible practitioner of "advocacy journalism.''

This study, however, demonstrates that there were definite limits to the "adversarial" nature of post-Watergate journalism. The image of the fearless press, determined to oppose political authority and expose incompetence and corruption in government whatever the consequences, is, as Michael Schudson has noted, largely a myth. Like many myths, it has an element of truth. Some Washington journalists were indeed eager to question the government departments that were open to public scrutiny. And a few reporters, like Hersh and Schorr, tried to remove the veil of secrecy from the national security state. But many others were uneasy about the media's post-Watergate power. In the end, when they wrote about the secret government, most members of the press showed great restraint-and they severely criticized their colleagues who did not.

Finally, the American people, acculturated for years to view their country and their leaders as moral and democratic, were reluctant to acknowledge unpleasant truths about their secret agencies. During the Cold War, the United States had used authoritarian tactics to meet the threat of an authoritarian adversary. But, as William W. Keller has explained in The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover, the liberal state did not like r- to admit that it had violated its ideology in this way. Therefore, the extensive powers of its clandestine agencies were kept secret. This secrecy enabled Americans to assume that the nation's foreign policy goals were compatible with traditional American ideals. But the intelligence investigations brought these secret powers into the open; they forced Americans to acknowledge that their country had tried to kill foreign leaders, had spied on civil rights leaders, and had tested drugs on innocent people. Because this knowledge was very painful, many Americans, including members of Congress, refused to accept it. Secrecy, as journalist Taylor Branch has said, "protects the American people from grisly facts at variance with their self-image.'' The investigations failed in part because Americans, insulated from painful knowledge about their country's activities during the Cold War, did not want to face those facts.

"No major act of the American Congress, no foreign adventure, no act of diplomacy, no great social reform can succeed in the United States unless the press prepares the public mind.

Theodore White, The Making of the President, 1972

At the time that the New York Times published the, [CIA-Watergate] domestic spying expose, most Americans had only begun to learn about the secret government agency known as the CIA. The agency had been established with minimal public debate at the dawn of the Cold War era and had taken on unanticipated duties in relative secrecy over the subsequent years. Congress held hearings on the section of the National Security Act of 1947 that created the C A. But according to historian Harry Howe Ransom, nothing in the published hearings "suggests that Congress intended to create, or knew it was creating, an agency for paramilitary operations." The hearings also never discussed covert operations or,. psychological warfare. The congressmen believed they were simply creating an agency to gather and evaluate foreign intelligence.

As the Cold War continued, however, presidents secretly began directing the CIA to take on new functions. The CIA's evolving Cold War ethos was best articulated in a secret I954 report on its covert operations. President Dwight Eisenhower established the Doolittle committee to avoid a planned public examination of the CIA's most secret directorate. The committee, headed by World War II hero General James Doolittle, endorsed an activist role for the agency and advocated methods previously considered "un-American":

It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of "fair play" must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.

The president, however, decided not to acquaint the American people with the committee's conclusions. The public was not told that the CIA had begun to intervene covertly in foreign countries and that it might need to abandon "long-standing American concepts of 'fair play'" in the process. By keeping the Doolittle report secret, Eisenhower avoided messy domestic debates about these "fundamentally repugnant" actions and ensured that they would continue. Only a handful of congressmen were informed of the details of the CIA's new duties. From time to time, some congressmen would demand more oversight of the agency, but CIA supporters easily managed to defeat these attempts.

Agency officials appreciated this absence of oversight and accountability. Complete secrecy helped to protect their sources and methods. Moreover, the cloak of national security allowed CIA officials to escape public debate over their actions. But at the same time, this secrecy posed a potentially serious public relations problem. Democratic America's spy agency faced a conundrum: How could it generate public support for its activities when most of the public was not told-and did not understand-what it did?

Initially, what historians have called the "Cold War consensus" in American political culture-the almost universal support for anticommunism-helped the CIA to solve this problem. Because of the CIA's unwillingness to publicize its activities, Americans before the investigations drew most of their knowledge about the agency from popular culture. Throughout the 1950S and the early 1960S, during the height of Cold War culture, the CIA enjoyed a romanticized, heroic image in novels and films. Inspired by author Ian Fleming's success in glamorizing the British secret service, many American imitators portrayed America's secret warriors as unblemished heroes fighting the international menace of communism. The CIA promoted this Cold War tradition of spy fiction by encouraging favored thriller authors, even allowing them access to secret files. The movies and television shows of the 1950S and 1960s-such as Mission: Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.-also celebrated America's spies. Popular culture, in short, helped to legitimize the agency.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was another government intelligence agency that enjoyed a glamorous image in popular culture, but FBI officials took a much more active role in creating and shaping this image. Beginning in 1933, bureau boss J. Edgar Hoover turned the FBI into what one scholar has called "one of the greatest publicity-generating machines the country had ever seen.'' The FBI's responsibilities included law enforcement as well as domestic intelligence and counterintelligence. In contrast to the secretive and anonymous CIA officials, FBI publicists readily shared the bureau's accomplishments in all of these areas with the press. They also tried to damage the public image of bureau targets, like New Leftists or civil rights leaders, by leaking derogatory information about them to reporters. Some friendly journalists even served as FBI informants.

Hoover's public relations unit eventually became one of the most influential divisions within the FBI, helping reporters, film and television producers, and writers over the years to sculpt the popular image of the virtuous "G-man." Hoover decided that publicity, instead of hurting the bureau by exposing its "secrets," actually helped to build public support and to prevent attacks by liberals in Congress.

The American press has always viewed itself as performing an essential role in maintaining American democracy. By training its "artillery" on the powerful (as Thomas Jefferson had urged), the press tries to keep the government honest and responsive. In theory, the press serves as a "fourth branch of government," an extra check and balance in the constitutional system.

Journalists have carried out this duty in different ways over time. Up until the early twentieth century, the nation's journalistic "watchdogs" did not hesitate to inject opinion into their stories. Even when the partisan press began to give way to a more "fact-minded" style of reporting in the late nineteenth century, sociologist Michael Schudson has written, reporters still interpreted the news in their own way.

After World War I, journalists started to develop a new system of work ethics: the modern journalistic ideal of objectivity. Because the brutality of the war raised doubts about the reliability of human reason, journalists began to see the need for certain formulas-a credo of "objectivity"- that would enable them to put their biases aside. According to Schudson, the rise of the public relations industry and the persuasive force of wartime propaganda also made journalists "suspicious of the facts and ready to doubt the naive empiricism of the 1890s.'' This devotion to objectivity would govern the profession for the next fifty years.

While they embraced objectivity, however, twentieth-century American journalists retained their traditional belief in the importance of the "watchdog" role of the press. Modern journalists were not supposed to interpret the news, but they were still expected to curb potential abuses by those in power. Even if they were limited to reporting "the facts," they could continue to strike fear into the hearts of the powerful. As New York Times editor and columnist James Reston wrote in 1967, American reporters would never shrink from exposing and criticizing government policies "because, somehow, the tradition of reporting the facts, no matter how much they hurt, is stronger than any other."

In practice, however, American journalists' dual roles as objective observers and watchdogs were not always compatible. Because objective journalists dedicated themselves to presenting all sides of an issue without passing judgment on which side was "the truth," they faithfully reported all statements from top administration officials, whether or not they were accurate. As Tom Wicker has commented, "If the president says, 'Black is white,' you write, 'The president said black is white.' " In renouncing their right to partisan reporting, according to political scientist Daniel Hallin, journalists in turn were granted "a regular right of access to the inner counsels of government, a right they had never enjoyed in the era of partisan journalism." The result of the new doctrine of objectivity was not to free the news of political influence, Hallin states, "but to open wide the channel through which official influence flowed." Objectivity was never the transparent window it claimed to be but rather a means for those in power to dominate the public discussion.

Of course, if Washington power brokers disagreed on an issue, objective journalists were obligated to inform their readers of both sides of the debate. By the end of the 1940s ... no ... debate occurred among political elites on foreign policy. The anticommunist consensus dominated American politics-and the U.S. media [are] trained to disseminate the statements of policymakers without question, reflected this consensus

From the 1940s to the 1960s, journalists and politicians alike shared common assumptions about the Communist threat and the need to protect the operations of America's clandestine soldiers in the Cold War. Just as American popular culture echoed and reinforced the Cold War consensus, so the American press eagerly joined the united front against communism. Washington Post publisher Phil Graham summed up these views in 1954 when he criticized his editorial writers for recommending a thaw in the Cold War. "A year or so ago it was clear to all of us that the Soviet system was one of total evil-one with which nothing but 'self-enforcing' agreement could be made," Graham wrote in an internal memo. "That, in my opinion, has not changed."

A few individual journalists did challenge Cold War assumptions throughout the 1950s, but they did not work for mainstream publications. Carey McWilliams and his colleagues at The Nation analyzed the secret government for their 45,000 readers, publishing special issues on the FBI in 1958 and the CIA in 1962. I. F. Stone, who found himself unemployable during the McCarthy era, wrote biting commentary on Cold War politics and policy in his newsletter. But comparatively few Americans read these publications, and the general press tended to dismiss them as cranky and irrelevant.

At the height of the Cold War, some journalists not only shared common assumptions with the CIA but also worked actively to further its objectives around the world. The number of journalists and news organizations that helped the CIA is hotly contested, partly because of the secrecy of the records and partly because of definitional battles over what it meant to "work" for the agency. Some media organizations provided "cover" for CIA personnel overseas by allowing CIA officers to pose as reporters, while others used stringers or freelancers who also worked part-time for the CIA. Other journalists received occasional gifts or reimbursements from the CIA in exchange for information. According to the Church committee's final report, approximately fifty U.S. journalists had covert relationships with the CIA, about half of which involved money. Watergate investigative reporter Carl Bernstein charged that the total number of U.S. journalists who worked for the CIA was actually much higher. In a controversial article in Rolling Stone, Bernstein claimed that more than 400 American journalists secretly carried out assignments for the CIA from the early 19505 to the mid-1970s. The New York Times alone, Bernstein insisted, provided cover for ten CIA officers from 1950 to 1966. Later investigations by Times reporters failed to locate the formal agreement that Bernstein claimed existed between the newspaper and the CIA. But the investigations did reveal that some Times stringers and staff members had also been paid workers for the agency.

Even when a newspaper or network did not have a formal relationship with the CIA, the agency could still have close ties and mutual interests with its reporters and editors. The early CIA was renowned for recruiting from Ivy League schools. Top agency officials often had attended Princeton or Yale with the publishers or editors of eastern newspapers-and with their reporters as well. Prominent journalists were sometimes friends with CIA officials. For example, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee's brother-in-law was covert operations chief Cord Meyer; Post publisher Phil Graham was a close friend of another covert operations chief, Frank Wisner; and the New York Times publishing family, the Sulzbergers, socialized with CIA directors Allen Dulles, John McCone, and Richard Helms.

In short, the news media of the 1950s and 1960s had close links with the CIA as an institution and with the Ivy League alumni who ran it. They went to the same colleges, attended the same dinner parties, joined the same country clubs, and shared the same assumptions about the CIA's role in the world. They did not question the existence of the Communist threat or the need for absolute secrecy for the warriors who were fighting that threat. They were not necessarily conscious advocates of the Cold War national security consensus; but, as Kennett Love later remarked, "it was the ambient element you lived and worked in. Is a fish aware of water?"

These journalists accepted the statement Richard Helms had made in a speech to newspaper editors that "the nation must, to a degree, take it on faith that we . . . are honorable men devoted to her service." Under these circumstances, the media were not likely to undertake an aggressive investigation of the CIA. They were even less likely to endorse an inquiry that could lead to the exposure of past CIA practices-practices such as the agency's use of the American press.

The cozy relationship between the press and the CIA might have continued indefinitely if not for the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, some American journalists first began to question the truthfulness of their government. They were shocked and disillusioned by the wide chasm between the government's official statements on the war and the daily reality they saw around them. "They could see what was really going on, and they refused, in their reporting, to fake it," wrote one of those correspondents, David Halberstam.

The reporters initially found it hard to persuade their editors and producers back home that the government's spokesmen were lying. One such editor was Abe Rosenthal of the New York Times, a patriotic son of immigrants who had been expelled from Poland after World War II for his fiercely anticommunist reporting. In Rosenthal's view, one of his Vietnam correspondents wrote, "Communism in Poland and Communism in Indochina were the same." Rosenthal was not alone: other media barons at Time, Newsweek, CBS, the Washington Post, and the Times strongly supported the war for several years. The Post's editorialists, for example, were such powerful advocates of the war that they often did "a better job of explaining President Johnson's Far Eastern policies than the president himself," Time commented in 1966.

But even the more conservative editors were influenced by the Tet offensive of 1968. The frightening scenes of the Viet Cong besieging the U.S. embassy in Saigon convinced many journalists that the war, if not wrong, was at least unwinnable. As Daniel Hallin's content analysis of television coverage of the Vietnam War has shown editorial comments by television journalists were 4 to 1 in favor of White House policy before Tet; after March 1968, the ratio was 2 to 1 against the government. Walter Cronkite's own pessimistic assessment after his tour of the Tet fighting showed that the mainstream press had turned against the president. It was not so much the actual fighting that distressed Cronkite as the government's lies.

The press's new eagerness to challenge the government was further encouraged by the relaxation of tensions among the superpowers. While the U.S. government was proving itself less deserving of trust, the Communists at the same time seemed less of a threat. Nixon traveled to China in 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty that same year, and "detente" became part of the 1970s vocabulary. Journalists found a new freedom to question the national security state and to demand that the curtain be lifted on the secret government.

That new freedom was first demonstrated in the Pentagon Papers case. When the New York Times and later the Washington Post decided to print the top secret study of the war commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and leaked to them by Daniel Ellsberg, they crossed a "Rubicon" into a new world of aggressive journalism, according to Times reporter Harrison Salisbury. By refusing to accept the government's definition of "secrecy," the newspapers signaled their commitment to a new, independent, and more powerful role for the nation's press.

Even as Vietnam and Watergate continued to transform American journalism, however, many prominent journalists viewed the changes with uncertainty and trepidation. The traditions of the recent past-deference, trust in official sources, a reluctance to challenge the national security mystique-retained their hold over many reporters and their bosses.

Attacks on the press served a political purpose for policymakers and intellectuals on the right. By discrediting the men and women who had exposed the lies and scandals of the nation's governmental establishment, they hoped to rehabilitate the establishment itself. But many ordinary Americans also seemed uneasy about the media's role in bringing down a president. In June 1973, one-third of the American people agreed with Vice President Spiro Agnew's charges that the liberal press was out to get the president. Shortly after Nixon's resignation, one angry reader, typical of many Americans who believed that the press had grown too powerful and adversarial, asked the editor of the Washington Post: "Now that the Post has dispatched Richard Nixon with one-sided journalism, what new crusade will the Post undertake?" Many Americans believed that the media had become "wholly unaccountable for their actions," the letter concluded.

Some editors and publishers shared these concerns and truly believed that the profession needed to reform itself. Others worried more about the public's perception of their lack of accountability. Journalists were so concerned by the anti-press backlash after Watergate, Time magazine declared in 1974, that "many are torn between self-congratulation and self-doubt." As Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham said in a post-Watergate letter, "A lot of the administration mud and deliberate attacks on the press has stuck-people do think we are unfair and too powerful and that someone should control or at least judge us."

Many publishers also had personal and ideological reasons for restraining their more aggressive reporters after Watergate. Adversarial reporters can offend advertisers, provoke costly libel suits, and anger news sources. They can also irritate the publishers' friends. As Tom Wicker has written, the press, as a member of the establishment, does not want to risk the establishment's disapproval. Elite journalists fear "not just government denunciation but a general attitude among 'responsible' people and groups, even other journalists, that to 'go too far' or 'get too / involved' is bad for the country, not team play, not good form, not t_ responsible."

Because of these deeply held beliefs, many editors and publishers grew apprehensive about the "advocacy journalism" of the 19705. Echoing the concerns of policymakers and conservative intellectuals, some powerful journalists began to express doubts about the new trends.

Among the most prominent to voice this anxiety about the changes in journalism was a woman who had done much to bring them about: Katharine Graham. Woodward and Bernstein's boss caused a mild sensation in the fall of 1974 when she cautioned reporters against becoming too skeptical of officials and "too much a party to events, too much an actor in the drama." In an address before the Magazine Publishers Association, Graham warned the media that excessive distrust of the government could be dangerous: "To see conspiracy and cover-up in everything is as myopic as to believe that no conspiracies and cover-ups exist."

In the same month, the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review expressed a similar concern that the press might "overreach" itself after Watergate. The magazine, published by the prestigious graduate school of journalism at Columbia University, noted that the press had been cast, by default, in the role of the political opposition during Vietnam and Watergate. As a result, politicians and judges might retaliate against the press, the editors wrote. They warned that the media could become too intoxicated with power-a hubris that could lead to a precipitous fall.

Many members of the "fourth branch of government," in short, were afraid of appearing too adversarial and irresponsible. CBS reporter Daniel Schorr first noticed this on the night of Nixon's resignation. Early in the evening, CBS refused to air Schorr's "political obituary" on Nixon. He then overheard producers discussing the need to emphasize "nation-healing" stories. The network, relieved that Nixon had not launched a last-minute attack on his media enemies, decided to begin a "mission of conciliation" that night. Schorr, the CBS reporter most identified with the Watergate story, was not allowed to participate in the panel discussions of the resignation. His bosses apparently feared that he might seem too vindictive.

Ben Bradlee, now retired from his job as editor of the Washington Post, has come to believe that the press in general and the Post in particular pulled back after Watergate. "I think the press was appalled at what had happened as a result of the Watergate investigation," he says. The

Post and its competitors "never had the slightest clue it would end with impeachment." Before Nixon's resignation, the press had not known the extent of its power-and after his resignation, it was not certain that it wanted that power. Subconsciously, editors began to limit the scope of their reporters' investigations. "Editors said, 'Let's watch out for reporters who try to act like Woodward and Bernstein,'" Bradlee notes.

As one of the primary architects of Nixon's downfall, the Washington Post in particular wanted to appear responsible. William Greider, a former reporter for the Post, has written in a 1992 book that the Post took itself much more seriously after Nixon's resignation. "Watergate . . . ironically, became the high-water mark for Bradlee's provocative form of newspapering-the beginning of the Post's retreat to a safer tradition," he claims.

Other news organizations were also beginning to retreat to this safer tradition after Watergate. Many journalists did not want to treat their former friends in government like adversaries, Greider wrote in a 1975 magazine article. "There is a strong wish all over town, a palpable feeling that it would be nice if somehow this genie could be put back in the bottle. It is a nostalgic longing for the easy consensual atmosphere which once existed among the contending elements of Washington." As a result, Greider states, "the press especially tugs back and forth at itself, alternately pursuing the adrenal instincts unleashed by Watergate, the rabid distrust bred by a decade of out-front official lies, then abruptly playing the cozy lapdog."

Challenging the Secret Government

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