No Watergate in Trump’s White House

There are no Bernsteins or Woodwards among today’s journalists capable of taking down a U.S. presidency

By ANGELO PERSICHILLI

The Hill Times (May 15, 2017)

“In Firing Comey, Did Trump Unleash the Next Deep Throat?” This question was the headline of a story last week on The New York Times.

Since Donald Trump’s victory last year, there are many politicians and pundits expecting the new president of the United States to fall under another Watergate scandal. Not me.

James_Comey_FBI_photo.t58174038.m800.x7df121bb-200x200The Watergate scandal was the result of many factors. Of course, at the centre of the event we had a paranoid, arrogant president with no strong moral commitments. We also had a Deep Throat willing to cooperate without taking the lead. But, most importantly, we had two hard-working, intelligent, and risk-taking journalists, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, supported by a credible newspaper, The Washington Post, and a courageous editor, Ben Bradlee.

Presently, even if we have a president whose behaviour makes Richard Nixon look like Mahatma Gandhi, we will never again have a Watergate because there is an essential element missing: two hard-nosed journalists and an intelligent editor.

Bernstein and Woodward were investigative journalists whose motivations were not politically based. They were not looking for popular support to force Nixon’s resignations. They were only doing their job to prove that the person who was supposed to defend the American Constitution was abusing it for political gain.

Today, media have launched a political campaign against Donald Trump, and not an investigative activity. Trump’s stunning victory, despite all the major American media institutions campaigning against him for over a year, speaks volume about their own (lack of) credibility and weaknesses.

“In Firing Comey, Did Trump Unleash the Next Deep Throat?” asks the New York Times. They got it all wrong. First, it was not Deep Throat who created Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. In fact, it was Bernstein who first suspected that there was something major behind the break-in into a Watergate hotel room. From there, a difficult and courageous investigation started to connect it to Nixon.

With Trump, they don’t need a Deep Throat. I am sure there is much more behind Trump and his team operations. However, what is already out there and in the open should be enough for credible media to stop the new commander-in-chief.

But the problems with the media are not caused by Trump. In fact, it is the other way around.

Former executive editor of The Washington Post, Leonard Downie, wrote in 2012, meaning well before Trump stormed into American politics, that “now, 40 years after Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote their first stories about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate office building, the future of investigative reporting is at risk in the chaotic digital reconstruction of journalism in the United States.”

He also said that “resource-intensive investigative reporting has become a burden for shrunken newspapers struggling to reinvent themselves and survive. Non-profit start-ups seeking to fill the gap are financially fragile themselves, with their sustainability uncertain.

Now that Trump has fired the director of the FBI, American media hope to find the smoking gun to impeach Trump.

There is no smoking gun to find. It is all in the open; the president of United States fired someone who was investigating him and his administration. The New York Times noted that this is not the first time he’s crossed a line of his predecessors would not have: “Once again, Donald Trump has done something that no president before him dared to do. This time, he has fired an F.B.I. director engaged in an active and continuing investigation of his own campaign. The decision reflects President Trump’s most autocratic instincts, showcasing his contempt for the independence of federal investigators as well as for the basic search for truth.”

Nixon fired the special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal, Archibald Cox. That was the beginning of the end of his presidency.

Will the firing of James Comey be the beginning of the end of Trump? I wish, but I am not optimistic. Not because he is strong, but because media is weak.

Angelo Persichilli is a freelance journalist and a former citizenship judge for the Greater Toronto Area. He was also a director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper and is the former columnist for Toronto Sun, Toronto Star and political editor of Corriere Canadese, Canada’s Italian-language newspaper in Toronto.

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