"We have the information, but no documents - not even photocopies," said Ben Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post, to his friend Gordon Manning, CBS news chief, when asked for papers proving what had been published about Watergate. Though the documents did not exist, the sources (which the reporters kept secret) were so reliable and various that Walter Cronkite, the TV news guru, made a report on the case, and from then on it snowballed. The advisors and spokesmen of Spain's ruling Popular Party (PP) would do well to read the memoirs of Bradlee and of Katherine Graham, owner of the Post, and the books by Woodward and Bernstein on Watergate, to learn what not to do when a political party faces a scandal revealed in the press.
The first reaction of Republican Party chairman, Bob Dole, was to accuse the Post of connivance with the Democratic candidate McGovern, who faced Nixon in the 1972 elections. "The Republican Party has been the victim of a bombardment of false, unfounded allegations," he said, adding that "the Post's reputation has fallen so low, it has almost completely disappeared." The White House spokesman, Ron Ziegler, said that the paper's articles were "based on rumors and insinuations, and attempt, by association, to find culprits; but no connection has been found between Watergate and the White House, because none exists." Meanwhile, Nixon's campaign chief spoke at length about the false nature of the accusations as attested to by "half a dozen investigations."
When matters such as the Bárcenas papers come to light, we often hear calls for responsibility addressed to journalists
President Nixon decreed a sort of news blackout for the country's two chief dailies (The Washington Post and The New York Times) while giving statements and interviews to friendly newspapers, which filled their front-page space with White House denials. The break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters by former CIA operatives, whose arrests proved to be the tip of the iceberg in the Watergate case, happened in June 1972. Only five months later, Richard Nixon was elected president by a large majority: some 60 percent of the votes, in every state except Massachusetts. But the formal charges laid against those implicated in Watergate, in March 1974, was the beginning of a chain of events that made Nixon's position unsustainable, and he resigned in August of that year. During the whole process, Henry Kissinger, who took care to maintain his friendship with Katherine Graham, harped on the undesirability of publishing news prejudicial to the prestige of the White House at a time when US leadership was crucial to the future of the free world.
The journalists and editors of the Post are now heroes of our profession, but at the time they were called irresponsible, liars, traitors and tale-tellers. They were pressured, spied on, threatened and ridiculed, even being ostracized by their colleagues. Now no one doubts their signal contribution to the system of liberties in their country.
When matters such as the Bárcenas papers come to light, we often hear calls for responsibility addressed to journalists when they publish material that affects the governance and economic stability of the country. Sometimes these calls proceed from sincere concern; but in general they express nothing more than the desire of those in power to censure the news. Journalists are not responsible for the consequences of the facts they publish. Their only duties are honesty and due diligence in verification of what they write. The persons responsible for the disagreeable consequences of a situation are those who committed the deeds in question, or encouraged, tolerated or concealed them. We believe, then, that a careful reading of the Watergate case may help our country's political leaders to measure their words in accordance with the old Spanish saying: "One is the owner of one's silences, and prisoner of one's words."