Media hosted Watergate convicts without revealing their roles in the scandal

Media hosted Watergate convicts without revealing their roles in the scandal


Amid the extensive media coverage of the revelation that former FBI official W. Mark Felt was the secret Watergate source known as Deep Throat, Charles W. Colson and G. Gordon Liddy -- former Nixon aides who served prison sentences for their involvement in the Watergate scandal -- appeared on numerous network and cable news programs, where they disparaged Felt as unethical, dishonorable, "hypocritical," and "not a hero." But several hosts and reporters who interviewed Colson and Liddy failed to disclose Colson's and Liddy's roles in the scandal and their resulting convictions.

Both Colson and Liddy were convicted for their involvement in the Nixon White House's campaign of "dirty tricks," which Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered with help of information from Felt. Colson, special counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his role in the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, one of the many crimes linked to the Nixon administration during the Watergate investigations. (Ellsberg was responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers to Congress and the media.) Colson subsequently served seven months in prison in 1974.

Liddy, a former FBI agent, helped plan the burglary of the Democratic National Convention headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington while on the payroll of President Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. He was ultimately convicted for his role in the break-in, as well as for conspiracy in the Ellsberg case and for contempt of court. He served 4 1/2 years in prison.

Following are cable and network news programs that granted airtime to Colson's and Liddy's attacks on Felt but failed to note their roles in the Watergate scandal or their criminal convictions.

Fox News' Fox & Friends, 6/2/05

Hosts Brian Kilmeade, E.D. Hill and Steve Doocy interviewed Colson. He was identified on-screen as "former counsel for President Nixon":

COLSON: Well, my reaction at first is shock, because that's one of the most trusted positions in government to be the head of the FBI, or the deputy director of the FBI. You've got the private files and secret files of half of the citizens of America. I mean, the last thing you'd ever expect is for that man to go to the press. So hero is not the word I would use, no. I think he -- I'll give him the credit, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was acting nobly, that he was really concerned about the welfare of the country. But he should have walked into the grand jury. He should have walked into the FBI and said we have to see the president. If they called me -- and I dealt with Mark Felt a lot -- if they had called me and said they had evidence of criminal activity going on in the White House, I would have walked into the Oval Office myself, only because you want to deal with that quickly. So I think if he handled it -- if he'd come and dealt with it man-to-man, I know everybody says there was a lot of paranoia in Washington those days, that's a lot of nonsense, people were, the whole government was functioning during this period of time, there was a grand jury sitting. He could have gone to the grand jury.

NBC's Today, 6/1/05

Prior to a one-on-one interview, host Matt Lauer introduced Colson as "President Nixon's chief counsel" and "hatchet man":

COLSON: I'm still in a state of shock because he was a consummate professional. I dealt with him, had great confidence in him. I never thought anybody in such a position of sensitivity in the Justice Department would breach confidences ... I'm sad for him. ... And if the FBI can't be protected to keep confidences, then it shakes you -- it shakes the citizens' confidence in government. I never thought Mark Felt would stoop to this. I -- I'm very sorry to see him, at 91 years old, go out on what I think is a -- a sad note. He was a responsible government official in a high position with great sensitivity. I talked to him always about matters in confidence. Now he goes out in his last days, he'll be always remembered as Deep Throat. ... I think the hero word that John O'Connor [author of the Vanity Fair article naming Felt as Deep Throat] used is really tragic because a hero to me is someone that you want other people to emulate. I want kids to look up to heroes. And to -- to say he was a hero because he broke his trust -- he broke the confidence of the president of the United States. If you're a president of the United States, you've got to have somebody in the FBI you can talk to with the confidence you talk to a priest.

CNN's Inside Politics, 6/1/05
CNN's Wolf Blitzer, 6/1/05
CNN's Lou Dobbs, 6/1/05

The three CNN news programs replayed CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider's report on the Deep Throat story. While Colson is quoted in the report, he is simply identified as a "former Nixon White House counsel":

SCHNEIDER: Felt's critics say if he saw wrongdoing in the White House he had other options.

COLSON: He could have walked into Pat Gray's office, the director of the FBI, and said, "Here are things that are going on in the White House that need to be exposed. The president needs to know about this."

CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, 6/1/05

CNN reporter Candy Crowley filed a report on the Deep Throat story in which she provided a video of Colson's comments, but identified him only as a "former Nixon White House counsel"

CROWLEY: Others fault Felt not for revealing the information but for how he went about it.

COLSON: He easily could have come to the officials responsible if they hadn't acted, then he would resign, have a press conference and that would be entirely honorable. It would be an honorable position for a whistleblower to take.

CNN's Live From..., 6/1/05

Introducing video clips of Colson and Liddy, CNN reporter Kyra Phillips said, "The former No. 2 official at the FBI is being called a hero by his family and many others but not by the many of the president's men, the president being Nixon." They were identified on-screen as "former Nixon aide" and "former Nixon counsel":

LIDDY: According to the story, because he was urged to do so by his family for the money. He was very reluctant to do so, because he feels, and correctly in my view, a sense of dishonor.

COLSON: I was struck, because I knew Mark Felt well and did not believe -- I thought he was a consummate professional, an FBI man who would take the most sensitive secrets, have everybody's personal files in his control, deputy director. I talked to him often and trusted him with very sensitive materials. So did the president. To think that he was out, going around in back alleys at night, looking for flower pots, passing information to someone, it's just so demeaning.

NBC Nightly News, 5/31/05

Host Brian Williams introduced a string of comments on the Felt revelation by saying, "we asked a number of people today, some of whom had a role in Watergate, others who were around to watch the downfall of President Nixon, to look back on those days and tell us what they think of Deep Throat now." He went on to play five clips, including one by both Liddy and Colson, as well as those by former Nixon special assistant David Gergen and by Felt family members. Liddy was identified on-screen as "general counsel, Nixon re-election campaign" and Colson as "former chief counsel to Nixon":

LIDDY: He was a very, very highly placed law enforcement official, number two at the FBI. If such an official gains knowledge and evidence of a crime having been committed, what he is ethically bound to do is go to a grand jury and get an indictment, not selectively leak some information to one source.

COLSON: Well, I think he'll be -- he'll be always known, instead of being deputy director of the FBI with the highest esteem of his colleagues and professional reputation, he'll be known as the -- as Deep Throat. And I think it's a -- it's a sad legacy, I believe.

MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 5/31/05

While host Joe Scarborough introduced Liddy as "one of the men at the center of the Watergate break-in that started it all," he did not mention the fact that Liddy was convicted and served prison time as a result. Scarborough did not bring up his role in the scandal during the one-on-one interview:

LIDDY: This, that if Mark Felt was Deep Throat, he is no hero. He is someone who behaved unethically, in that he did not take his evidence to the grand jury and seek an indictment. That's what he should have done, instead of selectively leak to one news outlet some of the information that he had.

Media Ethics, Misrepresentations of Nixon/Watergate, Past Politicians
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.