People always ask me about Roswell and the aliens and UFOs, and it turns out the stuff going on that’s top secret isn’t nearly as exciting as you expect.
~President Barack Obama/November 17, 2015
Every president since Harry Truman has been asked about Roswell and the Nevada Air Force testing facility commonly known as Area 51. Due to the highly classified nature of activities conducted there, it is at the center of multiple conspiracy theories claiming the site is where an alien spacecraft crashed in the early 1950s. Such rumors intensified as a result of the government’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge the existence of the facility until June 2013, following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
As an admitted political junkie, I too have fantasized about unfettered access to the nation’s deepest, darkest secrets. But not whether there are remains of aliens in an underground fault a la Independence Day. My interests lie elsewhere. What dirty laundry about his detractors did J. Edgar Hoover keep in a private file cabinet that protected his tenure at the FBI for 37 years? And of course, despite presidential promises to the contrary, why has each administration continued to withhold from public view still classified documents pertaining to John Kennedy’s assassination?
It makes you wonder if Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men is a metaphor for a paternalistic federal government which believes the American people “can’t handle the truth.” Both in the past and in the present. Has the White House under Donald Trump become Area 45, a federal facility shrouded in secrecy protected by an attorney general who sees FOIA as an annoyance rather than a tool to ensure transparency within the public sector?
Yesterday, thanks to Bob Woodward, Donald Trump, in his own words, confessed, “You’re damn right I ordered the Code Red!” However, instead of being hauled off by MPs, Trump suggested he has done it more than once and will do it again. In foreign policy. About systemic racism. Bragging about classified weapons systems.
As I’ve referenced in a previous post, comedian David Steinberg revels in those occasions, e.g. Watergate, when we get “to see the torn underwear under America’s tuxedo.” And despite concerns to the contrary, we always seem capable of handling the truth. That is why on his first day in office, President Joe Biden needs to heed the advice of those who recommend the formation of a bi-partisan Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although they may not admit it publicly, many Republicans and conservatives, if they truly fear Biden will usher in an era where unrestrained presidential power will be used to implement a radical leftist agenda, should also welcome such a panel.
Woodward has chiseled a peephole into Area 45. To understand the bigger picture and address the legal and moral shortcomings which allowed it to be constructed in the first place, we need to unlock the gates and air out the windowless recesses. Citizens have a right to see an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. The interpreters’ notes from Trump meetings with Vladimir Putin. The complete transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky. Communications between the White House, Trump Campaign Committee and the Department of Justice related to ongoing investigations, pardons and commutations and the firing of district attorneys and inspectors general. And more.
Not only can we handle the truth, we must demand it and put every succeeding occupant of the Oval Office on notice that this is the standard going forward.
In 2010, I team-taught a course at Miami University titled, “Entrepreneurship and the Future of Journalism,” with a colleague in the Journalism Department. While much of the syllabus focused on changes in what interests news consumers and the impact of technology, my goal was to help these aspiring reporters and editors think like entrepreneurs. Lesson #1 was, “Every potential story is an opportunity, but more importantly it is a call to do more homework than the story requires.” To no one’s surprise, I would use Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as examples. In particular, demonstrating how what began as a back-page story about a break-in at the Watergate proved to be so much more as Wood/Stein (as they were often referred to by Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee) kept peeling away the layers of the onion. Each time revealing more of the saga.
At the end of the lesson, I wondered aloud where the next Woodward or Bernstein would come from. What epic story would bring them to the forefront of journalism? Win a Pulitzer Prize? Yesterday, we got the answer. The next Bob Woodward is still Bob Woodward.
For what it’s worth.