American Pie 15.07.05

If the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward – pressed to reveal the
identity of Deep Throat – had agreed to do so 30 years ago, would
history have been changed? Would President Nixon have had to resign?
Would some of his White House staff not have gone to jail?

These
questions are being asked in the light of the jailing of New York Times
reporter Judith Miller (left) for refusing to disclose sources of a
similar controversial story she was working on two years ago. The Deep
Throat story, many now say, underlines the important role that
anonymous sources play in today’s journalism. Bob Woodward’s new book,
The Silent Man – his behind-the-scenes story of how top FBI official
Mark Felt helped him expose the White House involvement in the
Watergate scandal – suggests that in today’s climate, when reporters’
rights to keep their sources secret are under attack, it would be hard
to keep the identity of someone like Deep Throat secret for very long.
Actually the book throws little new light on the story. For example, it
doesn’t explain how Felt managed to monitor the secret signals – a
flowerpot with a red flag on the terrace of Woodward’s apartment – that
indicated a meeting was necessary in the secret underground garage. And
how did Vanity Fair scoop the Washington Post, which assiduously
protected Deep Throat’s identity for so many years? Woodward speculates
it may have been because the FBI man was upset when he learned his
codename was based on the chief character in a notorious porn movie.

In
the scores of stories written about the jailing of Judith Miller,
little has been said about the woman at the core of the story: the
secret CIA agent whose identity, it’s claimed, was leaked to Miller by
someone she has consistently refused to name. In fact the agent is now
back at work. After a year’s leave of absence, Valerie Plame, the wife
of a former US diplomat, now has a new job at the CIA. The agency won’t
say what, but it is no longer undercover. The 42-year-old mother of
five-year-old twins is as discreet as ever about her work. None of her
neighbours in Washington ever suspected her secret role. Most were
incredulous when the Washington Post revealed her secret in July 2003.
In fact Plame joined the CIA soon after leaving Pennsylvania State
University in 1984 with a degree in journalism. Her job was to keep
track of weapons proliferation, while posing as an analyst for a
civilian company in Boston. She also had an office at CIA headquarters
in Langley, Virginia. She didn’t even reveal her undercover job to her
husband until just before they married. He gave up his diplomatic post
three months later and is now a business consultant. Last year he wrote
a book about the build-up to the war in Iraq, in which he suggested
that President Bush had exaggerated the threat of Iraq’s attempts to
build nuclear weapons, a claim that supposedly angered the White House
and may have led, some say, to the “outing” of his wife. His wife has
no plans to write about her work.

Still they come out… 32 new
magazines hit the newsstands here in the second quarter of 2005. Major
launches included Celebrity Living, a new weekly lifestyle magazine
from American Media, and Hearst’s Weekend, described as a “leisure
magazine”. Still to come is Condé Nast’s Men’s Vogue due to make its
debut in September (Press Gazette, 8 July). Since the beginning of the
year, according to the Magazine Publishers’ Association, a total of 107
new magazines have been launched, including eight in Spanish, a
burgeoning market here. If this keeps up a new record may be set –
eclipsing last year’s 156 launches.

The exodus of old-time
readers from print to online continues. The latest Nielsen research
shows 21 per cent of web users, who still rely on papers for their
news, nevertheless read their paper online. The paper with the most
online readers is the NY Times, which lately has been hitting 11.3
million visitors a month. No 2 is USA Today, with 9.2m log-ins and the
Washington Post is third with 7.4m.

Although the survey shows the
majority of newspaper readers still turn to traditional print editions,
the shift away is steadily increasing.

The latest ABC figures
show the average daily circulation of American newspapers declined l.9
per cent in the first six months of the year and now stands at just
over 47m. Sunday circulation has fallen 2.5 per cent to 51m. And who
are turning to the web most? Men.

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