Offline Illumination

Dick: Clueless at Watergate

by Uri Dowbenko

Real history is always more fascinating than make-believe, but writer- director Andrew Fleming has chosen the latter in Dick -- his version of Nixon's Excellent Adventure.

Fleming's counterfeit history falls under the guise of retro 70s teen comedy -- a bad Saturday Night Live sketch that goes on and on. In the end, since what you're supposed to believe is that history is just a series of random disconnected events, Fleming becomes a prime candidate for the Forrest Gump Chair of History. Maybe somebody put a curse on Fleming. After all, he made the teen screamer The Craft which some have described as 'a recruitment film for witchcraft." (Note: both witches and masons refer to their activities as "the craft.")

In Dick, the conceit of the movie is that two 15 year old girls Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams) become Official White House Dog Walkers for Nixon (Dan Hedaya). Checkers needs to be taken out "to do his business" and so the girls keep stumbling into history. They bring cookies made with a secret formula from their brother's stash over to the White House. Leonid Brezhnev likes them so much that Nixon tells them that their cookies saved the world from nuclear catastrophe. When the girls ask Nixon to stop the Vietnam War because the brother got drafted, he says it's not his fault. "If you have a problem, talk to Johnson" - - who, of course, is dead.

Saul Rubinek does a great Henry Kissinger impersonation, and Will Ferrell, who looks like a Chevy Chase retread, plays star reporter Bob Woodward, while a blow-dried Bruce McCulloch plays the too-vain-for- you Bernstein.

Since they live in the Watergate Apartments, the girls run into G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer) who tells them, "By the time, you kids are grown, you'll be living in the Soviet Union of America?" Yuck, yuck. That's not a Clinton joke either.

It's supposed to be humorous, but dumbed-down history, even if it's sanitized and phoney, just doesn't play. After all, what's so funny about an American Coup d'Etat, which is how historians have categorized the so- called Watergate Affair?

If you're more interested in that bittersweet era of history, take a look at Secret Agenda (1984) by Jim Hougan, author of the excellent and definitive Spooks. In the introduction, Hougan writes that "'Watergate' then was not so much a partisan political scandal as it was, secretly, a sex scandal, the unpredictable outcome of a CIA operation that in the simplest of terms, tripped on its own shoelaces. There is more, much more, but the point is made: our recent history is a forgery, the by-product of secret agents acting in secret agendas of their own."

CIA operative Frank Sturgis, for example, is quoted in Hougan's book as saying that he "went to see Burt Lancaster in Scorpio. It's funny. The movie's about this CIA guy who's betrayed by the agency. Sorta like what happened to us, you know. I mean it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Watergate was a CIA setup. We were just pawns." (p. 219)

Also according to Hougan Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, author of All the President's Men (1974), has a strong Old Boys Network background. He is the son of a Republican judge and a Yale graduate with a stint in the Navy as a liaison officer for the Task Force 157, an Office of Naval Intelligence operation. This ONI Task Force, using the top secret SR-1 channel, coordinated communiques between the CIA, NSA, DIA, NSC, and the State Department. Most likely Woodward continued his spooky work, while writing for the Washington Post, a cover which quite frankly would be hard to beat.

Woodward himself said that "Watergate was about covert activities [which] involve the whole US intelligence community and are incredible. Deep Throat [Woodward's informant] refused to give specifics because it is against the law. 'fhe cover-up has little to do with Watergate, but was mainly to protect the covert operation." (p. 371)

"Whose covert operations?" asks Hougan. "The CIA's? Task Force 157, the FBI joint Chiefs, NSA, DIA? These were not questions that the Post was willing to raise."

Another excellent treatment of this history is a book called Silent Coup: The Removal of a President (1991) by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin. In the foreword, scholar-journalist Roger Morris calls the book "an excavation of some vital hidden history, of a national scandal within a scandal, and of a literary-joumalistic atrocity of revealing while concealing."

"A distinguishing mark of the American coup [as they refer to Watergate] is that it should remain concealed from its victims and history even after its successful execution," he continues. 'It was -- and has been -- a cruel hoax to pretend that the most powerful institutions of the media did not have the wherewithal to uncover this story, not to mention the train of putative historians and writers who have rehearsed the fiction since."

(Fleming's Dick certainly falls within that camp.) "The result has been an American version of treason of the clerks, nothing less than a Constitutional betrayal of trust," concludes Morris. According to Colodny and Gettlin, Woodward was tapped to join a Yale secret society called the Book and Snake, a less well known version of Skull and Bones. Later as a Navy lieutenant, during his secret Pentagon job from 1969-70, he joined the ranks of other famous former Navy briefers like Indiana Senator Richard Lugar and Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, former CIA deputy director and former NSA chief.

Another former briefer, Fletcher Prouty, author of The Secret Team, wrote that within the government's power centers, "one of the most interesting and effective roles is that played by the behind-the-scenes, faceless ubiquitous briefing officer who sees the important people almost daily." During this time, Woodward traveled to the White House NSC office and had many meetings with General Alexander Haig, fingered as the most likely candidate for Deep Throat. The General's motives in leaking to Woodward and his duplicity while serving as Nixon's chief of staff are a part of history.

In the postscript to the book, the authors write that "the [Washington] Post threatened by the publication of Silent Coup and what it reveals about Woodward's relationship with Alexander Haig, suppressed facts about the book and twisted its coverage hoping to discredit the book before it reached the public."

"Woodward had lied about his Navy career and his briefings of Haig, and the Post, knowing of Woodward's fabrications, then lied to its readers and to hundreds of papers that subscribe to its national wire service in an effort to cover up for Woodward and protect the Watergate myth... [a myth] which sold millions of books and papers, spawned a hit movie, and made investigative reporting seem a profession of glamor and unshakeable integrity," write the Silent Coup authors.

And speaking of myth, are you ready for a comedy called Bill? Imagine -- two girls stumble into a CIA cocaine smuggling operation at the Mena airport, but the Arkansas governor tells them that it's a national security issue and brings them to Washington as intems instead. Cue up the laugh track. It's the retro 90s for the new millennium.

Copyright 1999 Uri Dowbenko.

Uri Dowbenko is CEO of New Improved Entertainment Corp. He can be reached by e-mail at

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