Lessons from Watergate

By Christopher Harper

As a young reporter, I covered part of the Watergate story, including the offices of Howard Baker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee that investigated President Nixon and his administration.

What I remember most of all was the bipartisan nature and transparency of the hearings in the Senate and the later those in the House—a stark difference to what’s happening now.

On February 7, 1973, the U.S. Senate voted 77-to-0 to approve a resolution to establish the select committee to investigate Watergate, with Democrat Sam Ervin named chairman the next day.

The hearings held by the Senate committee were broadcast from May 17 to August 7, 1973. The three major networks of the time agreed to take turns covering the hearings live. An estimated 85 percent of Americans with television sets tuned in to at least one portion of the hearings.

Baker and Ervin, both Southern lawyers, shared the spotlight, with little pretense of partisan politics. Baker became well known for his question of Nixon aides: What did he (Nixon) know, and when did he know it?

As established under the Constitution, the House needed to consider the issues for impeachment. Here, too, the representatives put aside most partisan antics.

On February 6, 1974, the House voted 410-4 to authorize the Judiciary Committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president. During the debate over this measure, Chairman Peter Rodino, a Democrat said, “Whatever the result, whatever we learn or conclude, let us now proceed with such care and decency and thoroughness and honor that the vast majority of the American people, and their children after them, will say: This was the right course. There was no other way.” House Republican leader John Rhodes said that Rodino’s vow was “good with me.”

Nevertheless, the House committee was not as transparent as the Senate investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee opened its formal impeachment hearings against the President on May 9, 1974. The first twenty minutes were televised on the major U.S. networks, after which the committee switched to closed sessions for the next two months. Altogether, there were only seven days of public hearings.

When the committee finally voted on articles of impeachment, the tallies included bipartisan support, with roughly one-third of the Republicans and all of the Democrats supporting the three articles that were passed.

Furthermore, a group of prominent GOP legislators convinced Nixon he should resign.

At almost every step of Watergate, Democrats and GOP may have disagreed. Ultimately, however, they sought the truth in a bipartisan and relatively transparent way.

That’s an important lesson the Democrats should consider.

The Wall and its lessons

By Christopher Harper

From the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Cold War shaped most baby boomers.

Like me, almost every boomer spent some time under classroom desks in a rather idiotic drill during and after the Cuban missile crisis. Somehow being under a desk would save us!

The Vietnam War also was a reaction to the Cold War—an attempt to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. Obviously, it didn’t work.

I had the opportunity to spend time behind the Iron Curtain both before and after the fall of Communism.

What struck me most about Soviet domination before 1989 was how difficult the lives of people in Eastern Europe were under Communism.

It was difficult to find food, proper medicine, and hope.

I recall twisting my ankle in Poland. I struggled into the hospital and noticed how the shelves were empty, and the equipment was aging. The doctor told me the ankle wasn’t broken, and he didn’t have much to help me with the pain. Fortunately, a nurse found an elastic bandage to help me hobble around for the next few days.

In Bulgaria, the hotel offered lobster on the menu. One of my colleagues decided to order some. The waitress didn’t speak much English, so she came out with a shellfish that was encrusted in ice because it was caught years ago. The message, however, was clear. Perhaps my friend should order something else.

For years, my wife and I had wanted to visit what was then called Czechoslovakia. Because I was a journalist, I was unable to get a visa even though I only wanted to be a tourist. The government did not allow American journalists to visit for any reason. Fortunately, we were able to visit the Czech Republic after the end of the Soviet empire.

Although Eastern Europe has had its share of difficulties after the end of communism, the streets are brighter, the hopes are higher, and the freedoms are greater.

The lesson that every American should take away from the fall of the wall is how much better life is in Eastern Europe. All you have to do is look at the economies of Poland, Hungary, and other countries that lived behind the wall and under the boot of Soviet oppression.

Moreover, it’s critical to realize that socialist doctrines, such as government control of essential industries, never worked in the Soviet Union and its empire and won’t help the United States in the years ahead.

Forty years later: the media and the Iran hostage crisis

Forty years ago this week, I traveled to Iran to cover the takeover of the U.S. embassy, an event that embarrassed the United States and the administration of Jimmy Carter.

What isn’t debated on this anniversary is how badly I and the rest of the news media reported what happened.

First, the hostage-takers weren’t “students,” the moniker that still sticks today. A.J. Caschetta, a lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, provides some interesting background.

For example, author Tim Wells interviewed most of the hostages for his oral history, 444 Days: The Hostages Remember (1985). Few called their captors “students,” using various terms: Iraniansradicalsmilitantsterroristsgoonsguardsknuckleheads, turkeys, and assholes.

One of the key leaders of the hostage-takers was Hossein Sheikholeslam, who convened press conferences for the legions of international journalists that flocked to Tehran. But he hadn’t been a student since the early 1970s when he attended the University of California at Berkeley. His proficiency in English also made him suitable to interrogate the hostages. Sheikholeslam “may have been trained in interrogation techniques,” wrote William Daugherty, one of only four CIA officers stationed at the embassy on November 4.

Another ringleader, Mohammad Hashemi, wasn’t a student. He spent his time with friends forming a group called “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line,” which gave orders to those who showed up to protest outside the U.S. embassy. They wore laminated photos of Khomeini around their necks and pinned to their jackets.

The hostage-takers “strictly allied with Khomeini and the new mullah establishment,” according to Mark Bowden in Guests of the Ayatollah (2006). As Bowden puts it, they “were all committed to a formal Islamic state and were allied, some of them by family, with the clerical power structure around Khomeini.”

Second, the news media didn’t understand how big the story would become. The foreign editor of Newsweek, where I worked, told me the takeover wouldn’t last more than a day or so. It went on for 444 days!

Newsweek didn’t put the story on the cover until three weeks after the takeover occurred and then only as a part of an overall analysis of the burning of the U.S. embassy in Libya, the Russian influence in the Afghanistan government, and Islamists taking over Mecca.

The U.S. television networks were so unprepared that only one ABC News radio reporter had a valid visa to get into Iran. As a result, ABC had exclusive coverage for several days, laying the groundwork for “America Held Hostage” and then Nightline.

Third, many journalists thought the religious government of Iran had to be better than the Shah. How wrong we were!

I will now say an act of contrition. I hope other reporters do the same. 

The First Amendment under attack

The First Amendment should undergo significant changes, including jail time for hate speech and false news reports.

These findings come from a recent poll and analysis by the Campaign for Free Speech. See https://www.campaignforfreespeech.org/free-speech-under-dire-threat-polling-finds/

The organization found that 51% of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated and should be rewritten. 

The poll found that 48% believe “hate speech” should be illegal. (“Hate speech” is not defined but left up to the individual participant.) Of those, about half think the punishment for “hate speech” should include possible jail time, while the rest think it should just be a ticket and a fine. More millennials and Gen-Xers think hate speech should be made illegal—as do women, blacks, and Hispanics. The various regions in the United States think roughly the same.

The fundamental problem with regulating hate speech is who defines it? The courts have generally shied away from restricting hate speech because of that issue. The most important U.S. Supreme Court case that could be applied is Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, a 1942 decision in which the court put forth the “fighting words” restriction on speech.

Chaplinsky was arrested for provocative statements made in the town square. While being transported to the local police station, he called the town marshal “a damned fascist and a racketeer.”

Justice Frank Murphy defined fighting words: “There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting, or ‘fighting’ words, those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”

But some legal scholars think the lower courts have defined fighting words in an inconsistent way, while others think the decision remains a threat to free speech.

Whatever the case, an arrest for using fighting words is a rarity. One happened a few years ago here in Philly when a local teacher got in a cop’s face and threatened him and his family.

An estimated 57% think that the government should be able to take action against newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false. Only 35% disagree with the statement, with the rest undecided. Men and women poll about the same—as do various sections of the country. The only slight difference is that millennials rise to a level of 61%.

Surprisingly, in my view, the poll found that many think the government should impose jail time for those who publish fake news. A total of 56% said that journalists should only face a fine, but the other 46% said that actual jail time should be imposed on the offenders.

The implications of the poll seem obvious, but the ramifications not so much.

The poll does underline the antipathy of the public toward the media, and it comes from all age groups, geographic regions, income brackets, and races.

The media would be well served if they did not ignore the bitterness toward news organizations from just about every group.

The bitterness of losers

Two of history’s most pathetic losers made the news this past weekend, mainly because of their bizarre antics.

Hillary Clinton decided to call out presidential wannabe Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian agent.

Seriously? This attack comes from someone who has managed to cover up all of her wrongdoings from Benghazi to Whitewater.

The evidence is scant, mainly an ill-informed visit to Syria and a meeting with its butcher president.

The apparent reason for Clinton’s attack goes back to 2016 when Gabbard backed Bernie Sanders and the notion that Gabbard might run as a third-party candidate—something she has vowed not to do.

In her bitterness campaign after the election, Clinton blamed a third-party candidate for her loss to Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, another loser, Mitt Romney, has jumped on the impeachment bandwagon.

In 2016, Romney denounced Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud,” and warned of the “trickle-down racism” that would accompany his election. After he won, Trump briefly considered tapping Romney as his secretary of state but decided not to do so. And in the years that have followed, the tension between the two men has gotten worse.

In an incredibly pathetic display, Romney apparently opened a Twitter account under a pseudonym: Pierre Delecto.

If Trump pulled either of these stunts, the Democrats would be adding another article to their impeachment campaign.

If two losers aren’t enough, it appears that Michael Bloomberg may be considering joining the Democrat clown show because he’s worried about Elizabeth Warren winning the nomination.

That means that Bloomberg, the old white guy who’s richer than Trump, would be 79 by the time he entered the White House in 2021.

I guess it’s not difficult to understand why this trio want to remain in the limelight, but it’s time for someone to tell each of them how bitter and silly they look.

Fake news and me

One of my daughter’s colleagues recently asked me if I worked as a journalist.

“No,” I replied. “Neither am I a mass murderer.”

It wasn’t exactly like Peter denying Christ three times. But I am no longer proud of the job I did for more than 20 years and have taught students to do for nearly 25 years.

Although I have had a variety of difficulties with the mainstream media in recent years, I hadn’t jumped completely on the fake news bandwagon until the Ukrainian phone call and impeachment. The media in American have become so shrill–a partisan press without a purpose other than to attack Trump. That doesn’t apply to all reporters and editors, but I think it applies to a significant number, particularly among the media elite.

As a result, journalism has fallen on hard times in the eyes of the public. It’s been a long time since journalists have been held in high esteem, but many people looked to the news media to provide some insight into the issues of the day.

Every morning, I start my day by reading several websites, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. I’ll usually check CNN and Fox News and may listen to the radio talk shows for 30 minutes or so.

I don’t read many opinion pieces because I find the analysis wanting, particularly from DaTimes and DaPost. It seems like all they want to do launch a new screed against Donald Trump.

Over the past decade or so, I have been advocating a change in how news organizations go about their business. The old standards of fairness, balance, objectivity, and a few others have been long gone from what I see.

In my view, the tenets should emphasize accuracy, transparency, and professionalism.

Transparency is one that sticks in the craw of most journalists. I want their political views, campaign contributions, past history of advocacy, and even tax records available to readers and viewers—much of which reporters and editors ask of politicians.

Michael Schudson, the noted analyst of journalism, wrote recently in The Columbia Journalism Review, that the issues transcend the current battle between the press and Trump.

“[T]he old days of ritually objective news reporting (he said/she said) are not gone but have been reduced in importance from the 1970s on, as mainstream outlets have increasingly emphasized analysis in news coverage—not quite so much ‘who, what, when, where’ as ‘why.’ There has been a profound cultural shift in journalism during this period. The limitations of straitjacketed objectivity came to be understood and journalism began to embrace the necessity of interpretation, as both quantitative studies and journalists’ recollections attest,” Schudson wrote.

“News organizations should have to explain themselves—to communicate the difference between the news department and the editorial page (more than a quarter of Americans do not understand the distinction); to show how they gather their news; to clarify why they sometimes cannot divulge their sources,” he added.

I hope journalists will listen to Schudson because I have failed in my mission to convince my former and current colleagues.

Whatever the case, I am no longer proud to call myself a journalist. I don’t think I am alone.

On her majesty’s service

It’s been almost 40 years since I met British diplomat Gordon Pirie and his wife, Maria, at the coffee shop at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran.

Iranian militants had just taken American diplomats hostage in what would be become an ordeal of 444 days.

As a reporter for Newsweek, I was trying to figure out what was going on. Gordon provided me with important insights into what was happening.

Unbeknownst to me and the rest of the world until two decades later, Gordon played an important role in saving a number of American hostages who had managed to escape the takeover of the U.S. embassy.

The Times of London provided an account of his derring-do to correct the errors of Argo, a 2013 movie about the hostage crisis that gained critical acclaim but had little to do with the facts.

Gordon and a colleague, Martin Williams, learned that the diplomats had holed up in the southeast part of Tehran.

The two men drove around and made contact with five fugitive diplomats. A sixth found his way to the Swedish embassy and joined them in hiding 10 days later.

Gordon and Williams were meant to take the Americans back to the British embassy, but as it was occupied, that was out of the question. They decided to go instead to Williams’s home in the British compound in the northern suburbs.

The Americans’ relief was palpable when they made it to the relative safety of the compound, where Maria, who is Italian, cooked up pasta.

Eventually, the Americans went to the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and were spirited out of the country on January 28, 1980, bluffing their way through passport control at the airport in Tehran as Canadians from a film crew created by the CIA for their escape.

Just as the CIA’s role in springing the Americans was not declassified until 1997, so the British decided to keep quiet fear of further inflaming relations with the Iranian regime.

Over the years, my wife Elizabeth and I spent many hours with the Piries, who moved across the street from us in Beirut and down the street from us in Rome.

We often regaled one another with memories of how Gordon, who was fluent in Farsi and several other languages, helped us bargain with Persian carpet sellers to get the best price possible.

In Rome, our apartment looked into the love nest of the Italian finance minister, who brought numerous young ladies there for his extramarital affairs. We’d turned off the lights and peered from behind the curtains to see what new woman he’d decided to wine and dine. We justified our Peeping-Tom approach as research into Italian politics!

Last year, Gordon, who was in his 80s, ran into the inevitable problems of getting older. I was able to visit him, and it was as if we hadn’t spent a day apart from one another.

Sadly, Gordon died a few weeks ago. He was a tribute to his work as a diplomat throughout the world. More important for me, he was a dear friend who will sorely missed.

A thank you to Bill Clinton

I would like to thank Bill Clinton for making me a conservative.

Before Clinton’s impeachment, I had a voting record that usually tilted toward the integrity of the candidate rather than his party. I supported George McGovern, Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale, and H. Ross Perot.

But Clinton’s sexual antics in the White House and subsequent perjury about them brought me into the conservative branch of the GOP.

It’s worthwhile recounting those days as the Trump impeachment process begins.

Simply put, the accusations against Trump and the media’s handling of the “facts”—are decidedly different than 20 years ago.

For example, Newsweek sat on a story about the sexual affair between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky because the magazine didn’t think it had enough confirmation about the accuracy of the account.

Think about that for a moment. A news organization actually trying to make sure it had a story right before publishing it. [Transparency note: I worked for Newsweek].

Matt Drudge, a Hollywood gossip reporter, got wind of the story and put out a story on his website that Newsweek was holding the report. It was the first major online scoop and pushed Drudge into the forefront of the news business. The publication of Newsweek’s caution or coverup—I’m not really certain which one—launched the online news industry, which dominates information throughout the world.

Ultimately, the House of Representatives passed two of the four articles of impeachment:

Article I charged that Clinton lied to the grand jury concerning:

  1. The nature and details of his relationship with Lewinsky
  2. Prior false statements he made in a deposition
  3. Prior false statements he allowed his lawyer to make characterizing Lewinsky’s affidavit
  4. His attempts to tamper with witnesses

Article III charged Clinton with obstruction of justice in a case brought by Paula Jones, who had accused him of sexual harassment:

  1. Encouraging Lewinsky to file a false affidavit
  2. Encouraging Lewinsky to give false testimony if and when she was called to testify
  3. Concealing gifts he had given to Lewinsky that had been subpoenaed
  4. Attempting to secure a job for Lewinsky to influence her testimony
  5. Permitting his lawyer to make false statements characterizing Lewinsky’s affidavit
  6. Attempting to tamper with the possible testimony of his secretary Betty Currie
  7. Making false and misleading statements to potential grand jury witnesses

I thought that Clinton should have been removed from office, but both articles failed to get the 67 votes in the Senate necessary to kick him out of the White House.

It’s rather ironic that had these “high crimes and misdemeanors” been discovered today, I am relatively certain that the #MeToo movement would have driven Clinton out of office.

Whatever the case, Clinton’s actions and the impeachment proceedings had a profound effect on me. Thank you, Bill!

The truth about hate crimes

Hate crimes have been rampant under President Trump, amounting to a horrendous rate of 0.005 percent of the incidents tracked by the FBI.

That’s right. Despite the narrative that this administration has ushered in a climate of hate, the number of crimes is almost statistically insignificant.

Although every hate crime is abhorrent, I think it’s important to keep such incidents in perspective.

The most recent statistics from the Department of Justice and the FBI from 2017, an estimated 1,247,321 violent crimes occurred nationwide, a decrease of 0.2 percent from the 2016 estimate.

Of these incidents, hate crimes represented about 8,000 cases. Murders across the nation were double that. Rapes were 20 times higher. Burglaries were forty times worse.

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

Although anti-Islam/Arab incidents rose after 2001, the numbers are relatively small. Moreover, blacks and Jews faced more attacks. Following are the statistics:

In 2017, law enforcement agencies reported that 4,832 single-bias hate crime offenses were motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry. Of these offenses:

 48.8 percent were motivated by anti-black or African-American bias.
 17.5 percent stemmed from anti-white bias.
 10.9 percent were classified as anti-Hispanic or Latino bias.
 5.8 percent were motivated by anti-American Indian or Alaska Native bias.
 4.4 percent were a result of bias against groups of individuals consisting of more than one race.
 3.1 percent resulted from anti-Asian bias.
 2.6 percent were classified as anti-Arab bias.

Hate crimes motivated by religious bias accounted for 1,679 offenses reported by law enforcement. A breakdown of the bias motivation of religious-biased offenses showed:

 58.1 percent were anti-Jewish.
 18.7 percent were anti-Islamic (Muslim).
 4.5 percent were anti-Catholic.

Simply put, the data don’t back up the narrative presented by the media and Democrats that hate is running rampant in the United States, But neither group has ever let the facts stand in the way of a bad story, particularly when the target is Trump.

The other opioid crisis

After many years of back and knee pain, I got a prescription for hydrocodone from my doctor.

I rarely use the pills—about once or twice a month—but the government overreaction to the opioid crisis has left me and others feeling like crack addicts.

I used to get 30 pills every six months. But new government and insurance regulations force me to make an appointment every two months. That costs me $20 per session.

I have to provide a urine sample every time I see the doctor, who agrees that the restraints are extremely silly for people who don’t abuse their medication.

But my complaints about overreaction are far less serious than those who need pain relief.

The Washington Post wrote an excellent story—yes, that Washington Post—about how the opioid “crisis” has created massive problems for people who use pain drugs legally.

The news organization provided the story of Hank Skinner, 79, of Alexandria, Va., who has had seven shoulder surgeries, lung cancer, open-heart surgery, a blown-out knee, and lifelong complications from a clubfoot. He has a fentanyl patch on his belly to treat his chronic shoulder pain. He replaces the patch every three days, supplementing the slow-release fentanyl with pills containing hydrocodone.

“But to the Skinners’ dismay, Hank is now going through what is known as a forced taper. That’s when a chronic pain patient has to switch to a lower dosage of medication. His doctor, Hank says, has cut his fentanyl dosage by 50 percent — and Hank’s not happy about it. He already struggles to sleep through the night, as Carol can attest,” The Post reported.

Tami Mark, senior director of RTI International, a North Carolina think tank, said the changes in drug prescriptions might be a serious mistake. She has conducted one of the few formal studies of forced programs to cut back on legal prescriptions.

“This national effort at ‘de-prescribing’ is again being undertaken with limited research on how best to taper people off opioid medications,” Mark told The Post. “You can’t just cut off the spigot of a highly addictive medication that rewires your brain in complex ways and not anticipate negative public health consequences.”

The opioid “crisis” is a classic example of how government underreacts to a problem and then overreacts to it, leaving people angry and confused. These people—like me—aren’t drug addicts or criminals. They’re people with pain who were just following a doctor’s orders.