01 June 2005

Nothing to Do With Linda Lovelace

(If you don't get that title, you're too young.) So W. Mark Felt has, as Frankfurter Rüschau put it with a multilingual pun, "Deep Throat outet sich". The same story also remarks "Das Weiße Haus stritt zunächst jede Kenntnis ab, doch brachten Woodward und Bernstein immer neue schmutzige Tricks ans Licht, die im Weißen Haus und wohl mit Wissen von Nixon ausgeheckt worden waren"—a sentence so rife with puns and innuendo that one can't translate it with any real sense of justice. The reaction in the Guardian is almost equally revealing:

Trying to guess Deep Throat's identity had been a Washington parlour game for years, and Mr Felt was frequently mentioned as having both the necessary access to information and a motive. He had been passed over for leadership of the FBI in 1972 when J Edgar Hoover died, and feared the bureau would fall under the political sway of the Nixon White House. Leonard Garment, President Nixon's former White House lawyer, told the Guardian last night that he was not surprised by the news. "I was close but no cigar," Mr Garment said, arguing that Mr Felt's role was part of a wider struggle for power between the FBI and the White House. Asked what he thought of Mr Felt's role as government mole, Mr Garment was ambivalent. "That's too hard to get into a few sentences," he said. "It all depends on where you stand. What you think about sources depends on how you feel about what they're leaking and on where one's loyalty lies. Everyone has reasons for leaking. And Mark Felt had his reasons."

(fake paragraphing removed for clarity)

One must wonder if this revelation had occurred last week—say, last Thursday—if certain European voting outcomes might have been different, or at least closer. Two stories in the Japan Times have interesting implications that way. First, there's a story about Japanese journalists feeling oppressed by the threat of defamation suits—as, absent our First Amendment jurisprudence, I have little doubt would have been Woodstein's fate, all protestations of journalistic integrity (and/or "loyalty") aside. But the Japan Times then goes on to miss the point, or at least what I see as the point, when it prints Lord Howell's shallow assertions that "It is precisely the failure to appreciate how fast the world is changing, and how fundamentally the rise of the network age has altered the whole pattern of international relations—and the character of the EU in particular—that has led to the present impasse." What the EU politicos really don't get is that one doesn't make a Constitution by creating an exhaustive laundry list of rights that focusses on property rights and the statuts quo. It's not even that one creates a Constitution with an exhaustive laundry list of rights; the Soviet Union's "Constitution," for example, did that and maintained gulags worse than any American prison—worse not because they were more brutal, but because the brutality was state policy.

One need not go as far as claiming that "judicial review is the touchstone of Constitutional democracy" to understand the real point of Marshall's admonition that "it is a Constitution that we are expounding." The key is not who is expounding: It is that a Constitution is more than a compilation of statutory authorizations and devices. It is a framework; it is the skeleton upon which one must depend statutory organs and muscle and regulatory (and otherwise official) skin and hair and fingernails to create a government actor. At most, the skeleton determines the limits of those dependent components. The proposed EU Constitution was fatally flawed in that respect. So, much as it pains me to admit that the French are right, in this instance the voters were right. It's rather ironic that Howell advocates the necessity to change with the times without pointing out that the very structure of that document would make real change impossible. Of course, his own tradition is that of an "unwritten Constitution," reinvented every election or so, so just perhaps he doesn't get it.

So, where does this get us? Probably nowhere. Or maybe just to old-school journalists lamenting the passing of the Third Age of journalism. The thing that I find most fascinating, and simultaneously heartening, is that not once in the coverage of the Deep Throat stories in the last 24 hours that I have reviewed—admittedly, it's only a sampling, but it's not just the top three US papers, either—does one find mention of libel concerns. That contrast with Japan and Europe couldn't be more stark… presuming, of course, that one is looking for it.