George Will is under fire for distorting the history of Watergate from an expert source -- Richard Ben-Veniste, chief of the Watergate task force.
Will, in a March 6 column, deceptively portrayed Robert Bork as a hero who protected the Watergate prosecution, but his defense of Bork rests on omitting critical details -- including the fact that Bork actually moved to abolish the task force that was looking into the scandal.
In his ode to Bork, Will pointed to Bork's role in firing Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, arguing:
On an October Saturday, when Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, Richardson and his deputy resigned, urging Bork to execute Nixon's lawful order, which he did. By the two resignations, Bork became acting attorney general, in which capacity he protected the ongoing investigation of Nixon.
In reality, as Ben-Veniste noted in refuting Will's campaign to make Bork a Watergate hero, Bork quickly began undermining the investigation:
Indeed, far from championing an independent investigation that would allow recourse to the judicial process, Bork signed an order on Oct. 23, 1973 -- three days after firing Cox -- abolishing the Office of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. Bork's support for Nixon's position, if successful, would have kept secret the most devastating evidence against Nixon and his closest associates. It was only after the firestorm of public revulsion following the Saturday Night Massacre that Nixon backed down -- producing seven subpoenaed tapes (less 18½ minutes of deliberately erased conversation on one of them) -- and acceded to the demand to appoint a new special prosecutor to replace Archibald Cox.
Will's disingenuous recounting of Bork's role, based largely off Bork's posthumous autobiography, also sidestepped a key detail that emerged in those memoirs. Bork wrote that after he became acting attorney general and fired Cox, Nixon subsequently offered to reward the attorney with a seat on the Supreme Court, as reported by the Associated Press:
Shortly after he sent Cox a two-paragraph letter, he was taken in to see Nixon. Bork says the resignation and firings should have been called “The Saturday Night Involuntary Manslaughter” because Nixon didn't plan the episode, but blundered into it.
It was in that conversation that Bork says Nixon for the first and only time offered up the next Supreme Court seat.
Will the Post hold Will accountable for presenting a distorted history of Watergate?