Saturday, December 20, 2008

Irony that slices like a hammer.

Mark Felt has died. If you didn’t know it, he was better known as “Deep Throat”, the anonymous informant who helped bring down the Nixon Administration.

Like many of his kind, he didn’t run to the press to tell his story out of ethical considerations, but from a violated sense of entitlement. He was a frustrated place seeker who blamed Nixon for his lack of advancement and used the Washington Post to get his revenge.

Now comes that same Washington Post with a strange sort of eulogy for the old whistleblower…

Deep Throat's death comes as no shock to the nursing-home atmosphere that sometimes looms over American newspapering these days, where we tend to log on each morning and ask, while chewing soft food, who's dead now? (Or, who's been laid off? Who's stopped subscribing? Who's stopped delivering? Who's decided to close their Washington bureau?)

Is this a commemoration of the passing of a snitch, or of the industry who depended on his sort?

A couple of lines later the question is inadvertently answered…

Without a single byline he inspired thousands and thousands of campus misfits to get journalism degrees, each one of them in pursuit of bad haircuts, smoking habits and the next Deep Throat, the next huge story. Any "-gate" that followed or may yet follow feels incomplete without its own Deep Throat.

Write the truth as best you can? Bring a sense of order to chaotic events? Quietly and humbly perform a service for your community? No way baby; we’re looking for heads to hang on the wall. Journalism morphed into a blood sport, and while the great hunters were out stalking their prey, the locals with webcams, and internet connections were back looting the camp.

Deep throat was aptly nicknamed. He was man with no animus toward the administration he brought down, and no love for the instrument he used. He was an out of town businessman hiring a call girl for something he felt entitled to.

Like a self-destructive habit, the client the call girl relied on is the thing that killed her. Live by the rat, die by the rat. Those in power might not be very competent at any useful job, but know how to leak a story and knife a rival without leaving fingerprints. The misfits with bad haircuts and willingness to self-deceive met with fake whistleblowers as well as real ones and didn’t care about being used because they were getting the story.

That’s the problem: The hooker as a business model only works until someone younger and better looking comes along. Then the choice becomes leave the trade or lower your standards hoping to hang on for a little longer.

The news industry is doing both.

The article ends an admonition that Mark Felt shows us what is truly important in the newspaper business…

The best way to appreciate Mark Felt is to work the phones, take notes and figure out how to get that which is off the record, on.

Kind of like someone on the deck of the Titanic saying, “Build ships with more lifeboats.”


James R. Rummel said...

Good post.


GM Roper said...

Dolly sent me over. (OK, and Mark helped.

Good post, and right on the spot. Deep Throat was a hack in serch of glory out of a sense of entitlement.